I’ve been living with a secret, and this secret has caused me to feel a lot of shame.
I run a company called YAY! LiFE!...and I suffer from anxiety and depression.
Anxiety and depression have been my constant companions since my mother died of cancer when I was ten years old. Everyone called me “sensitive.” I was anorexic and bulimic in my teens, and I self-medicated with drugs and alcohol in my twenties and thirties.
I’ve even contemplated suicide at different times in my life.
This past year, my depression got so bad that I could hardly make it through a family dinner. It took extreme effort to sit there and pretend that I was okay and make small talk with my husband and stepdaughter. I started excusing myself while they were still eating to retreat to the bedroom. I felt like an outsider and like I didn’t belong.
Normal, everyday tasks like running errands, filled me with anxiety.
The shame I felt with my inability to feel joy or gratitude for anything good in my life only compounded my negative feelings. I felt like I “should” be able to make myself feel better, and boy did I try.
I eliminated alcohol.
I changed my diet, eliminating processed sugar, gluten and soy.
I started going to therapy and had EDMR treatments.
I started working out for 30 minutes a day.
I started a daily meditation practice.
I had energy healings.
I took all sorts of herbal supplements.
Doing these things benefited me, and I have no regrets about incorporating them into my life. I would feel glimmers of relief… but then the heaviness would overpower me again.
It was like I had a slow gas leak of negativity oozing into my brain.
I’ve spent my life devouring self-help books as a way to keep my head above water. Recently I was reading a book that asked, “What would the epitaph be on your tombstone?” My first thought was, “Here lies Rachelle. She tried really hard,” which led me to feel even more sad.
I was tired. Actually, I was EXHAUSTED.
I felt like my husband and stepdaughter would be better off without me because I felt like such a wet blanket in their lives.
Externally, I’m high functioning—most people would never guess how much I was suffering inside, even my husband. I could fake it like a pro and still get everything done, all while I was living with an aching emptiness and constantly feeling as if I was holding back tears.
I felt like a fraud running a positive lifestyle branded business called YAY! LiFE! What did I know about living a YAY! LiFE!?
YAY! LiFE! was the opposite of how I felt.
I hid my pain because I was ashamed of my suffering. I was constantly trying to find an external reason for my deep sadness and anxiety so I could fix it. Shouldn’t I be able to fix it?
But no matter what I changed and what I tried I couldn’t shake the heaviness. Depression was like this wall between me and my experiences—it felt like I was experiencing my own life as an outsider.
From an Instagram post by Liz Gilbert, I discovered the book, “On Being Human,” by Jennifer Pastiloff. It’s a memoir of her life and her struggle with depression.
It changed everything for me.
She shared how one morning she woke up without her obsessive thoughts once she started taking antidepressants. I was incredulous with my internal dialogue, “You mean I could feel better? That’s a POSSIBILITY?” My brain couldn’t even wrap itself around what that would be like.
I’d considered killing myself, but never once considered going on medication.
I had absorbed my anxiety and depression so firmly into my identity and life, that I didn’t mention it to any of my physicians. I took my symptoms on as a personal defect.
I couldn’t remember life without feeling anxious or sad, so I couldn’t imagine life without feeling anxious or sad.
But here was Jennifer Pastiloff, a spiritual teacher who changes lives all over the world…openly sharing that she’s on antidepressants and how they’ve helped her. It was an awakening and the ultimate permission slip. (Huge shout out to Jennifer Pastiloff! Go get her book!—“On Being Human”)
I was nervous when I made the appointment with my general practitioner. I felt apologetic to be asking for antidepressants. I was afraid she wouldn’t write me a prescription—like she would throw me out of her office and tell me to, “Suck it up and start appreciating my life!” or “You want something to cry about? I’ll give you something to cry about!”
So, obviously that didn’t happen.
I’ve been on antidepressants a few months now, and the relentless, anxious thoughts have disappeared! The constant, underlying sense of dread lurking just beneath the surface is gone! I still feel anxious when I’m presented with certain problems, but it feels manageable as it moves through me.
Mostly what I’m experiencing is a huge sense of relief.
This visual from Lord of the Rings, when Grima Wormtongue bewitched Theoden, will hopefully give you a visual of what my depression and anxiety felt like.
It felt like a spell I couldn’t break free of, no matter how hard I tried.
And now I wonder, “Why didn’t I get help sooner?”
I thought I could fix it myself.
I thought I should fix it through “natural” means, not meds.
I thought I was defective.
I didn’t want to have a mental illness.
I bought into the stigmas about mental health.
I felt ashamed.
It was a vicious cycle.
Let me reiterate:
What’s wrong with this picture?
Stigma compounds the shame for individuals who need support.
I know it did for me. My family jokingly teased me about being a “worrywart” and didn’t understand that it hurt. I didn’t want to feel anxious and worried all the time. Who wants that?
I took on my anxiety and depression as part of me—part of my personality and even though I was miserable, I was afraid of who I’d be without them.
The truth is, I feel MORE like my real self after being on antidepressants. They removed the funk so I can feel an entire range of emotions instead of feeling like I was a full-time resident in SHAME AND SUCKVILLE. Things that used to bother me, don’t hold the same weight or charge that they used to. I’m able to let a thought go, instead of jumping on the hamster wheel of rumination. Life feels . . . lighter . . . simpler. . . less serious.
Simply put, Citalopram gave me back my mojo.
Antidepressants have helped lift me out of my depression and anxiety so I can reap the benefits of all the other healthy practices I’ve put in place. I was afraid that taking meds would make me feel numb. I was relieved to find myself crying over an episode of “Queer Eye.”
I’m still me!
I struggled with the belief that my depression was a messenger pointing me to what needed changed in my life. A part of me feels like I should have been able to fix it myself, through natural means. I think a lot of people believe that.
The “Law of Attraction” says: Think happy thoughts and you’ll attract good things. This belief kept me from seeking help. Not only that, it kept me searching for something that wasn’t there and exacerbated my shame at my failure to feel happy.
The oversimplification of the “Law of Attraction” doesn’t leave room for the grace that can enter when you feel absolutely defeated and on your knees with nowhere else to turn. It’s a set up for people suffering from mood disorders and for marginalized people. It doesn’t leave room for the so called “negative” feelings like sadness, grief or anger.
I wish I could get back the time I wasted trying to “be positive” and manipulating my feelings so I wouldn’t bring the plague down on my house and business. I couldn’t drink enough lemon balm tea or put enough crystals on my meridians. Don’t get me wrong—I love that stuff! Nothing will ever keep me from loving crystals and green smoothies!
Thank God I finally sought help from my doctor. Thank God for the grace of “On Being Human” crossing my path. I feel better. I don’t feel imprisoned anymore. I now feel capable of making empowered changes in my life that will bring me more joy.
Glennon Doyle said, “Jesus loves me this I know, for he gave me Lexapro.”
Does Citalopram rhyme with anything? I’m working on a limerick. Stay tuned.
I’m excited to discover who I am without the constant burden of anxiety and depression.
I’m looking forward to seeing what I can create and contribute from this space.
I’m relieved to be able to take pleasure in my life and enjoy the people and things in it.
Feeling and following my joy—my YAY!—feels possible.
My name is Rachelle Reichley, I am the owner of YAY! LiFE! and I live with mental illness. I’ve stopped blaming myself for this and I’m no longer keeping it a secret.
When I was twenty years old I got a tattoo. It’s the flower from the self-titled James album that was released in 1991.
I got the tattoo because I loved these lyrics from the song, “Sit Down.” I’ve felt this way for almost 30 years.
Those who feel the breath of sadness
Sit down next to me
Those who find they’re touched by madness
Sit down next to me
Those who find themselves ridiculous
Sit down next to me
So, please use my truth to help others.
I’m asking you to share this with someone. Perhaps your single share can become a permission slip for someone who might be suffering—someone who hasn’t sought out help because they felt like me.
You can also head over to our “Giving Back” page and learn more about Nami.org (National Alliance on Mental Illness) and take the StigmaFree Pledge.