Placebo. The Follow Up.

There was a bout of depression in my late 20’s. You could say there were reasons.

After moving 2000 miles back to Pennsylvania, we relocated to Michigan. I gave up a promising career to allow for my husband’s advancement. It made sense, economically, but I was struggling to find my way, changing jobs 3 times in the first year.

At the same time, my mother was dying. We had many unresolved issues. There was sorrow, guilt, regret.

I got through it all somehow, without doctors or medications.

The 30’s were amazing, highlighted by the birth of our children. We were still on the move, relocating to New York, then Maryland, each time closer to family.  I was happily adjusting to life as a stay- at- home mom.

Another move came just before my 40th birthday, this time to South Carolina. We found our home, settled in quickly, met friendly new neighbors.Moving

I put my youngest on the bus to Kindergarten, and I fell apart.

They say that moving is the third most stressful life event, right after death of spouse, and divorce.

We had made 6 major geographic moves in less than 20 years.

This time, I didn’t wait for other symptoms. I saw a psychiatrist.

As soon as I sat down, I suggested that I might be manic depressive.

I spoke of my mother’s history, my father’s legacy of depression, my grandfather’s institutionalization; genetic cards stacked against me.

I detailed my own experience with depression and anxiety.

He took notes. He agreed. His diagnosis… “atypical mood disorder.”

He prescribed lithium, saying that when I felt better, I could go off of it for a time; advice which was rejected by later professionals.

For many years, through more relocations and new doctors, I managed. I would go off medication, sometimes for a 2 year stretch.

There was no recurrence of depression, a few episodes of hypomania, mostly characterized by bouts of frenzied energy, reduced sleep, irritability. Was this illness, or the normal stress that comes with parenting ?

It made me wonder. Was I wrong to diagnose myself ? Was I carrying the bipolar label forward of my own choosing? Was I using lithium as a means to handle stressful periods of  life when it was not clinically necessary? Was it my new placebo ?

As I approached retirement age, I was tired of it all. The 3 month doctor visits, blood tests, constant monitoring of liver, thyroid, other organs that might be compromised.

I just stopped. All of it.

That was years ago. I’m still here.

Life still presents its challenges. I manage them as best I can.

Will I ever need medication again ? Probably. Maybe.

For now, I pay attention to basics… diet, exercise, vitamins,  sleep patterns.

It seems to be working for me, with the love and support of family and friends.

The best placebo of all.

This is the follow up to Placebo.




This entry was posted in Depression, Family, Health Issues, Mental Health and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

62 Responses to Placebo. The Follow Up.

  1. I think most of us have suffered depression in our late teens/early 20s, some more severe than others. I remember deliberate overdosing on over-the-counter sleeping pills in my mid-20s. Obviously, it didn’t work because I’m still here today. In those days, seeing any kind of mental health professional carried a serious stigma, so I learned to deal with it. For me, the one thing that always worked was visualizing my problems as a huge boulder at the top of a cliff. By slowly and steadily pushing that boulder, it would eventually tumble over, taking the worry with it. It was a silly mental exercise, but it did work – probably because I needed it to.

    Everyone handles depression differently. Maybe that medication was what got you through for all those years, until you learned that you had the real support of family and friends.

  2. Victo Dolore says:

    I love your ending. 🙂

  3. Love the strategy (this coming from an anti-Meds fanatic)

  4. amommasview says:

    That’s a great approach and I’m glad it worked for you. I hope you can stay away from the meds forever.

  5. I must admit that I’ve struggled to maintain mental and emotional equilibrium during all the changes in my life over the past couple of years. I can, therefore, relate to much of what you’ve written here. Well done for writing so eloquently about mental health. It needs to stop being so taboo.

    • I started talking about it early in my blogging, Laura. I moved on, but it has come up recently. It was time to address it. Thanks for commenting. All families have been affected in some way, it really shouldn’t be something we can’t discuss openly.💕

      • In Britain, mental health issues are even more taboo. I remember panicking about the impact on my teaching career when I developed stress related depression. Later, when I developed postnatal depression – which manifested as an anxiety disorder – I did not tell anyone (other than my husband and doctor) about it, not even for years afterwards. It’s seen as a sign of weakness and a cause for shame. Honestly, it’s people like you being brave and sharing your experience that makes me willing to speak up and admit that I too have had mental health difficulties and ongoing emotional battles.

      • We still have a long way to go, Laura, talking about it and sharing our stories may make it a bit easier to open up in the future. I see a lot of promise in the next generation. That makes me hopeful that the stigma might be reduced one day. 💕

    • Tracey says:

      Yes, Laura! My thoughts too!!

  6. lbeth1950 says:

    It is worrisome coming from a family with mental illness. Makes you suspicious of every mood.

  7. dyane says:

    You might be able to stay away from meds. I researched this for my first book proposal and discovered Dr. Liz Miller, Britain’s first female neurosurgeon and the only subject in Stephen Fry’s acclaimed documentary “The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive” to be stable without meds for a decade. I learned that a very small percentage of those with bipolar can do this, but sadly I’m not one of them. Lithium is my mainstay and worth the risks. Yesterday I spoke with a mom who is younger than me (I’m 45) and has taken lithium for 23 years! No bad side effects, she has led a full & rewarding life as a wife, mom and teacher. I had never met anyone who took lithium that long and was doing so well, so that inspired me. I do all the “right” things apart from meds so I’m hoping I’ll emulate her in terms of being able to keep on taking lithium. My life is finally getting better, right? 😉 Gotta stick around for the long term so I can deliver those motivational speeches!!! I’m glad you’re doing well, and we glad we’ve connected over the ‘net through our admiration for Matt Foley!

    • There are so many new drugs, with complex side effects. My mom took lithium in the 1950’s, but complained about being lethargic. It’s been around a long time. I’m glad it’s working for you, Dyane. I took it for most of 20 years. Family knew, friends did not. I am sad that I felt the need to keep it a secret. We all need to get past the stigma. Thanks for all that you do. 💕

  8. dyane says:

    p.s. sorry for the typos – I wasn’t able to expand the comment window to see what I was writing – oops!

  9. We are all so individual, Van, and what works for one person, may not work for another. Whatever you did got you here. I would suggest that the love and support of family and friends is not a placebo at all, but a real and essential part of mental health. It’s the foundation that gives us the strength to deal with our challenges whatever they may be. ❤

  10. markbialczak says:

    Good for you all the way around, Van. Your self-awareness is much to be proud about, I think.

  11. Thanks for sharing all of this and being so honest. Very helpful to everyone!

    • I hope so, Lynn, thanks. 💕

      • I was surprised at what you had to say!! We all have these “things” that no one can see. We had the “perfect” family! God fearing perfection!!!! but truly it was hell! so, you speaking about this is so important! It makes me feel very good right now, after recent visit fighting ptsd, depression etc. and feeling quite inadequate at age 53!! So, hearing this well it makes me see you are human! your blog is amazing, very talented, but you are human!! Thanks!! 🙂

      • Human, for sure. I think we’d all be surprised to know how many seemingly “perfect” families have the same issues. Some are just better at hiding it from the world. It should be no different than diabetes, heart disease, etc. but somehow, it is. And we fear the truth. Stay strong, Lynn. And thank you for the compliment. 💕

  12. George says:

    Much admiration for the way you have handled this, fighting it in many different ways. I know however you choose to deal with this in the future, you’ll do so intelligently. Best wishes, Van.

  13. You sought help when you felt you needed it…very commendable. Your openness and authenticity are invaluable. Shining light on mental illness and family histories….keeps a much needed conversation going💜

  14. I trust peace will stay

  15. LaVagabonde says:

    I know it’s hard to tell via online communication, but the tone of your posts is balanced, even when you speak of dark things. I also come from a family of serious mental illness and have dealt with depression and anxiety and various quirks – (I don’t agree with labeling every eccentricity a disorder until it seriously affects your life). Nowadays many go on meds at the first sign of emotional discomfort, but as you said, so much can be handled with diet, exercise, and various other home treatments. I know you’ll be fine. 🙂

    • I fought so hard to not be defined by these issues. I’m happy to have achieved some balance. Thank you for noticing, Julie. We learned early how to keep family issues a secret. It’s something we don’t even talk about with each other as adults. That’s tragic, and makes it hard for each generation to handle. ❤️

  16. Thanks for sharing as that is the only way that people will talk about mental health issues and it becomes less of a taboo subject. I went into a introspective tailspin after losing a baby late in pregnancy 40 years ago when the treatment was get back out there and have another one. In the UK you did not discuss depression even within a family and no counselling was offered. We get caught up with labels, and psychiatrists have those in abundance. If we are totally honest we are all a little out of kilter from time to time. Sometimes meds are necessary but hopefully not for the long term. Good for you for making the effort to be led by lifestyle choice but never be ashamed of needing extra help when necessary.

  17. You sound incredibly self aware, Van.

  18. I am pleased that you have found peace Van, and hope that you have seen the last of those meds!

  19. olganm says:

    Lithium has many pluses and minuses, and it is a risky medication but can be very useful too. For what you say you know your own symptoms very well and have found a way to manage them. And if you need medication, I’m sure you’ll seek out help. As long as you and those around you know what to be aware of, keep going strong. Needing medication is not a weakness. We usually don’t question it when we need it for a physical condition, but sadly mental illnesses are seen as a sign of weakness and they are not. If anything, the strength necessary to live with some of the symptoms is incredible. Be well. ♥

    • There are so many new medications out there. I know many folks who have tried them, and switched each time a new one enters the scene, with very mixed results. I don’t even like taking aspirin, have been resistant to drugs for physical issues also. But, I’ll remain watchful, and accept help when needed. Thanks for thoughtful words, and for sharing your expertise, Olga. ❤️

  20. badfish says:

    I love this post…so open and honest. And yeah…can we really trust a doctor to diagnose you after you’ve told him? Maybe. I used to live in El Paso, and they said there was lithium in the water. Those were fairly happy days for me. Moving on….

  21. Soul Gifts says:

    You’ve learnt to monitor and manage yourself and let go of labels. Congratulations !!

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