A Serotonin Deficiency Is Not A Character Flaw, Repeat As Needed

This month has not been an easy one, friends.

I’ve had an ongoing battle with depression that is a direct result of a hormone based mood disorder called PMDD.

I hate typing all that out any time I do share this because it sounds so clinical when the struggle is in fact very personal. The condition itself on the other hand is a fact I’ve come to terms with. My name is Rebecca, I’m 28, I have brown hair, brown eyes, and I’ve managed my PMDD symptoms for 15 years. If you’ve been following for a minute, you’ve seen me reference it before (and I’ll likely do so again).

Depression, in the general sense that I experience it, is the term I use to describe my brain’s serotonin-deprived slog through the day-to-day. It doesn’t make my life qualitatively worse (unless you count the insomnia and the days blurring into weeks), but shades it with a coat of pessimism and disinterest.

I’ve spent my 20s consciously rejecting the cool detached nihilism adopted by many of my peers.

When my PMDD symptoms border on unmanageable, that work is undone. My anxiety spikes, my thinking bends towards the worst, and I lose my patience for socializing which in turn further isolates me. At best, I just kind of want to disappear into inconsequential celebrity gossip while scrolling my phone and call it a day. At worst, I want to disappear altogether.

Growing up, my parents (like many immigrant parents) didn’t have the language to address subjects like depression or anxiety. They were overwhelmed by the panic attacks that plagued my teenage years and unequipped to provide the unencumbered adolescent youth they thought food, shelter, and wifi alone should’ve guaranteed.

Over a decade later, I’m a grown woman that has been married to the love of her life for all of 59 days and I’m awake at 6am reflecting in wonder at the same challenge my parents faced.

How could I possibly be depressed when I am safe in a first-world country eating cubed cheddar cheese with at least three throw blankets in my line of sight and a cupboard full of snacks should this cheddar run out?

It’s easy to joke about it now I guess, but even after all these years and the progress cultural dialogue has made on the subject of mental health, I still internalized the idea that depression is not a privilege when I am so privileged.

Just shake it off.

The source of all the trouble I’ve experienced this month is I stopped taking my antidepressants in early December due to a gap in health insurance. Once my prescription was refilled, I didn’t want to become beholden to SSRIs again.

What if a zombie apocalypse occurred and Lexapro just wasn’t a thing I could pick up with my conditioner at CVS anymore? What if I have another gap in my health insurance? Would I just have to white-knuckle it again, hope for the best and start the cycle over as I’m doing now?

And I have been white-knuckling it.

I sat on my prescription for weeks because I believed if I could just tolerate living without antidepressants, I would somehow be more equipped for my own life and longevity than if I were to take them.

Last week, this fallacy bubbled up to the surface when I had a few shaky experiences that left me feeling embarrassed and juvenile, demanding I come to terms with varying degrees of my own selfishness. I was met with a self-loathing of the searing sort. You know—the kind of angst that threatens to tear a portal of Stranger Things proportions into the world, demonstrating you were from the upside down all along.

In turn, R has been challenging me to have grace towards myself this month, this year. And, as I’m discovering in new ways every day, it is a challenge. He sees how ruthlessly I drive myself and demand a place in the world, sometimes at the expense of my own health. This is the same man that had to convince me not to get on a flight to Israel that would have required me to travel in return to Las Vegas the very same week while I was packing to leave with the worst sinus infection of my life. I was determined to make it to both work trips, my health or that of other passengers be damned. (See? Selfish.) I finally ended up listening to him and canceled the trip to Israel to get some rest, later heading directly to Vegas on the legs of some much-needed recuperation.

I let him into the wild expanse of my tumult once again when I called him from the CVS parking lot last week, tears streaming down my face staining the tie-dye hoodie I had purchased the night before. The bleary mascara streaks on my pastel sleeves almost would have been comical if I hadn’t felt so exceptionally tragic. He told me to give myself a break for a second and I listened. I began taking my prescription again that night.

Three days after, I had dinner with R’s brother and sister-in-law and I was struck by how easily I laughed, sinking into an ease towards myself and my place in this small world at the dinner table. It wasn’t until that moment that I realized I had been sacrificing this simple peace at the altar of self-sufficiency.

How easily my joy returned that evening felt like running into an old friend in the most unlikely of places. One I missed.

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Author: RJ Bohyn

My name is RJ, I'm a writer and consultant based in the South. If you're reading this, you've arrived at the corner of the internet I've cultivated to share life, reflections on faith, style, and just about everything in between with those generous enough to read.

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