Baby Steps Toward Mental Health

This tiny tablet is the first step of the next stage of my search to find mental wellness. (How sad is it that I kinda love the color?)


Those of you who also suffer from mental illness may recognize that little pill as buproprion, an off-brand of Wellbutrin. This is the second time I’ve been on this particular medication, but last time it was also the only antidepressant I was taking. I eventually had to switch off of it because it made me feel like I was coming out of my skin. Now, it’s been added to my psychotropic cocktail as an augment to the escitalopram I’m already taking in order to boost my psychological energy. Less than 24 hours being back on the Wellbutrin and my skin is already a little twitchy, my head feels like it’s on fire, and my eyes feel like they could just come tumbling out of my head at any point if I turn too quickly. (But! I’m actually getting things done, and that’s not nothing.)

And still, I’ll take that over the sense of despair and despondency that has clung to me for more than a year now.

I have, in the past year, been the closest to suicide I have ever been in my life. Doing battle every day with feelings of worthlessness and self-loathing eventually takes its toll. The sense of isolation wears on you, grinding away little bits of who you are over time. I’ve been close to giving up more times this year than I can count. Early in the year, I even resorted to cutting — just shallow scratches with a razor blade; I’m not a complete masochist — my hands and arms. I know. It’s not terribly common for a white male in his mid-30s to start cutting himself. But it allowed me to deal out, in small doses, the kind of punishment on myself that I felt like I deserved. It was a short-lived habit, but I’d be lying if I didn’t still have days where I want to cut on myself some more. The pain and heat from those cuts gave me a measure of control over the way I felt and therefore had a paradoxically therapeutic effect. I could stave off the worst of my depressive episodes by parting the skin on my arm — just a little bit — and give myself a tiny reprieve.

I’ve been spiraling for months. The counseling I was in during the first half of the year helped — until I had to back out of it because it was becoming difficult to keep appointments due to increasing busyness at my new job. Literally all the energy I had every day went into my job in an effort to keep from losing this one, too, so the subsequent exhaustion at the end of every day made it easier to justify to myself making poor decisions in my home and farm life, decisions that have negatively impacted my family and my relationships with those around me.

Hence the reintroduction of Wellbutrin into my life. Two very close friends encouraged me earlier this week to visit my family doctor again to see about modifying my medication. Yes, the Wellbutrin still makes me feel odd and a little manic. But after the apathy of the past year (and more), this is far preferable. Per my doctor’s instructions, I’m also working on getting in to see both a psychiatrist, for long-term maintenance of my medications, and a clinical psychologist, because sometimes talking about your troubles with someone who can be objective is a solution, too.

I’d be lying if I said I wanted to do any of this. I hate that any of it is necessary, that I can’t just fix myself and be done with it. But I can’t, and I need help from people more equipped to keep me on my feet. I’m nervous and scared, but maybe also a teensy, tiny bit hopeful, too. Just the fact that I’m writing this down at all is an improvement. I haven’t felt like writing much of anything for more than a year. As much as the Wellbutrin makes my skin crawl, it does seem to give me a little more of myself back, and for that I’m grateful.

Little steps forward, people. Little steps.

6 thoughts on “Baby Steps Toward Mental Health”

  1. Jim, I have nothing but sympathy for what you’re going through. I was myself on a cocktail of three antidepressants for a number of years (bupropion, cipralex and mirtazipine) and under psychiatric care at the time. Depression scared the hell out of me but the medications gave me what I most needed: time. I will add my recommendation to those you’ve already received about receiving psychiatric care so that your medications can be properly adjusted.

    1. Lately it’s scared me, too — when I’ve been able to feel anything at all. The last year and a half or so has probably been worst I’ve dealt with. It’s certainly felt infinite and hopeless, hence the suicidal ideation. I’m hopeful that with psychiatric oversight, I might actually be able to claw my way out of this hole I’m in.

  2. Oh Jim, good for you for doing something you didn’t want to do. I myself have been on various antidepressants for years. Including cocktails. I in fact just switched and was really really wacked out for a while due to a dreadful doctor. When I was in NY I saw a physiatrist and he did really help. They know a lot more than the regular doctors about the meds and their side effects. I’m fixing to find one here in little ol’ TN. Depression is SO very hard and what you said resonated a lot with me. It seems “silly” but the last month while I was switching meds was really terrible. I have learned though that the meds DO help. You just have to stick with them and try different things. I actually adjusted the darn dose myself. She said I could take x amount if I needed to and bam it worked. But it was really bad. Take the steps as slow as you need but keep moving forward. There are people who care and there are reasons to go on. You just have to find the reason that will pull you through. For me for the longest time it was my horse Merlin. And to some extent it still is. Maybe my husband but more my horse. The only time I was really scared was when the thought of him couldn’t stop the dread. He has been my reason. Go find yours. Good luck. Positive thoughts will randomly be sent to you! (long distance)

    1. Two of my biggest reasons for going on have been my kids. I love them both dearly and don’t want to miss a moment of watching them grow up. At the same time, they can also be two of my greatest motivators for giving up because my depression tells me they would be better off without me in their lives. It’s that latter voice that scares me the most because of how damn compelling it is.

  3. Hi Jim! Haven’t talked to you for ages, but hopefully my popping in will be a reminder that there are other flawed human beings all over the country (at least!) who feel that the world is a much better place with you around. I, although our struggles are unique to us, often have found that I need to forgive myself for the fact that today is a wreck and just look forward to closing my eyes for the night and tell myself “Tomorrow is new, tomorrow can be better.” There is no guarantee, but there is possibility. It would be wrong and pointless to compare my struggle/story with yours, but you are not alone– and I know what it is to feel hopeless and depressed beyond reason. I myself am just embarking on the journey of finding a medication that will work well for me.

    On a spiritual note, what comes to mind that I’d like to share with you is one of my favorite descriptions of God in the OT: “the God who sees me.” (Gen 16:13ff; do a search sometime on phrases like “I have heard” “I have seen” “outcry” and quite a theme emerges in the Bible.) Even when relief doesn’t come we can take comfort in the fact that God is not blind or deaf to our suffering. He sees and cares and hasn’t abandoned you. And for what it’s worth, I will be praying for you daily.

    It sounds weird to say, but I am proud of you for being willing to talk about your journey. Remember that it is not easy, but you are not alone. Love you brother!

    1. Thanks for the encouragement, Rapha! And from my perspective, it’s not weird. It is touching, and I appreciate it more than you know. As I’ve discussed my daily challenges here, I continue to be surprised by the number of people who have expressed both pride and gratitude at my openness — which in itself feels undeserved because I feel like I’m still being terribly opaque. But I’m grateful that my writing and experiences have resonated with people, that it has opened doors for discussion, and that it has brought me some of the encouragement I have so badly needed.

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