control freak

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When I was in high school, I went to an Al-Anon meeting with a friend. It was my first exposure to a 12-step program. I hated it. The fact that the whole program depended on my admitting that I was powerless over (meaning not in control of) some aspect of my life was a deal-breaker for me. Because I'm all about control. Always have been. (It will come as no surprise to players of Magic: The Gathering that I typically play a Blue/White control deck...)

Since I've been lucky enough not to have needed a 12-step program, the control issues have come back to haunt me in other ways. I was thinking about that this week, writing this post and mulling over whether to post it. The news of mazeone's death helped push me to change the post status from "draft" to "publish."

When I started in my job at RIT six years ago, I had a boatload of stress to deal with. My kids were 11 months and 3 years old. My husband and I hadn't yet worked all the kinks out of our reversed breadwinner/household management roles, and my job was nightmarishly difficult (3 courses with 35 students per quarter, 3 quarters per year, plus the overloads I took to make ends meet--I taught 12 courses that first year, on 7 different subjects).

By the end of that first year, I was worn pretty thin. I snapped at my kids (a lot). I fought with my husband (also a lot). I was tired, anxious, and out of sorts all the time. I tried seeing a counselor, in an attempt to get my emotions under control. After a couple of months, she finally suggested that perhaps I should consider antidepressants. My response to that suggestion was decidedly negative. After all, if I could control anything in my life, it would have to be my feelings, right? They're mine. And to admit that they were beyond my control seemed as though it would be admitting ultimate failure in controlling any part of my life.

[There's a lot of history behind that feeling, some of which is tied up in my lifetime role as emotional caretaker and overachiever in my family. But that's another story, probably not ever destined for this blog.]

At any rate, I forged on for a while. I functioned. But my mood--and my relationships with the people who mattered most--suffered. My husband finally sat me down and told me that I needed to listen to the doctor, that my attitude and behavior were negatively impacting not just me, but also my kids. I knew he was right, and even though it felt like I was giving up, I went to the doctor and agreed to try an antidepressant.

What happened then was a lot like what Halley describes in her after-surgery post. I started seeing the world through fresh eyes. I hadn't realized how gray my world had become until the colors came back. So did my energy. And my sense of humor. My lightning-quick temper and crying jags subsided. I slept better at night.

The depression had come on slowly, insidiously. I hadn't realized how very deep into it I was until the medication boosted me back out. After I rejoiced in that for a while, though, new fears arose. "What if I need to be on this forever?" That scared me--I didn't want to be dependent on a drug for my well-being.

During all of this, I was on a mailing list for women who'd had children the same month that younger son was born. A number of the women on that list had gone through--or were going through--similar problems, with similar outcomes. And one of the things that we discussed on that list was how to come to terms with the antidepressants. It was important for many of us to realize that the depression we were suffering was not a failure on our part to control our feelings, but rather a specific physiological (not just psychological) problem.

When someone develops diabetes, or anemia, or high blood pressure, we don't expect them to "deal with it," to show enough personal strength to overcome their problems. We don't see them as weak for turning to medication to deal with their symptoms. I slowly came to see depression in the same light, and it helped me a lot to understand my initial resistance to the medication, and my fear of taking it on an ongoing basis.

It turns out that my depression is cyclical, and I don't need to take medication all the time. (I suspect that this is something I inherited, as it's not unique in my family.) After about 18 months, when many of the external stresses in my life lifted, I tried tapering off of the medication, and I was fine. Some time after that, new and extreme stresses in my life triggered a slide back into depression, and I went back on medication again for about a year.

Right now I'm not taking anything, and I'm still seeing life in technicolor. Exercise helps (though I've not been doing it regularly lately), and so does the improvement in my job situation (I'm tenured and funded now, with course releases to lighten my load), and my home life (I love babies and toddlers, but they're a whole helluva lot harder to take care of than grade schoolers). But I know that I'm very likely to have more bouts with depression in my life, and I know that medication may be my best tool for getting me out of that very unpleasant place. Ongoing external stresses seem to trigger imbalances in my brain chemistry, but medication helps to stabilize it. I can live with that a lot more easily than I can live with the alternative.

It's hard...very admit that depression is something I can't always control completely on my own. And even the second time around, I resisted going back on medication for longer than I probably should have. I don't know if that will get any easier. But I do know that if I'd known that what I was feeling was so common, and that medication wasn't necessarily a life sentence of drug dependence, I might not have resisted so strongly the first time...which would have saved me, and my family, from months of unnecessary pain.

Writing publicly about something so personal, and something I'm not particularly proud of, is hard. But some of the webloggers I most admire and appreciate--people like Mark Pilgrim, Shelley Powers, Paul Ford, Tom Coates, Joi Ito, Jill Walker, and others--have emboldened me by sharing even painful aspects of their lives in a way that has helped me to process my own issues. I suppose this is a form of giving back. (And of getting control, of course, since I own the words and control their form. Some things never change.)

7 TrackBacks Read More

Liz Lawley, from Mamamusings, talks black dog: "[I]f I’d known that what I was feeling was so common, and that medication wasn’t necessarily a life sentence of drug from On the Side on August 27, 2003 4:36 PM

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Two very moving posts about living with mental ill health. Liz Lawley talks frankly about coming to terms with the fact that mental ill health is just that - an illness: When someone develops diabetes, or anemia, or high blood... Read More

Moved by the news of the suicide of a regular on the #joiito IRC channel, Elizabeth Lane Lawley shares about coping with depression. Read More

What Now? from Planned Obsolescence on June 9, 2004 12:17 PM

There's been a mighty lot of silence on my end here, and though I wish I could ascribe it to being terribly, terribly busy, that is simply not the case. Continuing issues with the manuscript have left me feeling utterly stagnant, inspiration-f... Read More

Blog Madness: Serendipity, Baby. from Chocolatey Goodness on January 25, 2005 9:58 PM

The 2003 Blog Madness Tournament has officially launched, a "best blog post" competition in a March Madness-inspired double elimination format. No Dick Vitale, alas, but it promises to be a lot of fun--and Pete and Manny deserve a visit or... Read More

Depression, for me, does not cause me to feel sadness, usually. Depression causes me to feel nothing. It brings with it a profound lethargy that keeps me from getting off the couch, taking a shower, getting dressed, and getting on with my day. Read More


What a touching, and brave, and beautifully human thing you have shared so candidly here Liz.

thank you so much for sharing this with us.

Elegantly, beautifully, and sincerely written, Liz. Thank you.

Liz - Thanks for posting this and sharing such a personal part of yourself with your readers.
Know that you are not alone, many of us are going or have gone through the same. As a single mother in a PhD program, I am faced with similar issues of feeling out of control and depressed. It is a hard road to travel alone. Thank goodness for children to keep it real. And thankful, people like yourself are sharing stories so that I do not feel alone or different or the only person on the planet who feels out of control. thanks again.

Thank you Liz :)

Well done. Love, Mom

Gosh Liz, God bless you for sharing this. It was powerful, honest and quite relevant to me and possibly many many others.

Stay well and keep up your fantastic work!

Professor Lawley,

I am deeply sorry for the recent loss that you and many other people have had to share, that is very difficult to deal with.

I've always seen you as a strong character - good moral judgement, sound teaching values, genuine interest in work and students, dedication and love for your family, etc. Your courage in sharing experiences such as these only makes you stronger.

Thanks for being so open and compassionate, it means more than you can know.

Liz, thank you for sharing. Your last words resonated with me too: yes, by writing it and showing it you do expose your weaknesses - but you do it YOUR WAY. Suddenly those weak spots don't feel as vulnerable anymore. At least, that's how I've often experienced blogging or talking about personal, difficult experiences.

This is a very generous and brave post, Liz. Other people, especially young people, struggling with these same issues will find a lot of comfort in your sharing.

i came to your site from a link at anil's and i just want to thank you for your openness and honesty; more people like you need to share their stories so that people are not ashamed...your strength is empowering and your words motivating...maybe it will inspire me (and others) to write about our experiences with mental illness as well

Thank you for helping all of us feel normal. When you share this part of you it lets all of us know that maybe it's OK to ask a doctor for medication.

I need a chill pill.

Maybe your post will be the springboard we need to make that phone call and get in to see a medical professional. Obviously, it can help. Thank you for sharing.

What an amazing post. Being able to write this, knowing colleagues and students can read it, demonstrates incredible bravery. More than I have.


Me too.

Depression has pummelled our family, as you understand. The opening of the heavy scrim that muted life’s colors, blurred its contours, obscured its harmonies, transformed our lives together. I could say the same for numerous people I know from church life.

Thanks for speaking out against social stigma that attaches to taking medication to fend off depression — perpetuated by “Prozac” jokes and by the supposition that it’s better to not need medication. It’ll take long years of resistance to move this boulder, but in the names of everyone who struggles with the burden of depression, we have to keep pushing.

Been there. Done that.

Haven't had the guts to write about though.

Brilliantly done.

Thank you for writing this. You've helped me find the courage to get off my butt and get help for my suspected depression, after telling myself things like "I just need to calm down" and "I don't have time to see a psychiatrist right now."

Delicious sweetish but not harmfully, hope I know what I say?
I have to be generious again subtilly so, so I don't tell the riff-raff?
I'm feeling a little anxious know
coming from
On the serious side of blogging comes the most important post I've seen - ever.

I wonder if this post inspired Mike to create an entry on the Vitia blog

as a move in an exchange hosted by the Happy Tutor.

What I am asking is how the reader comes to an entry influences the reading and reaction. I read Liz's entry differently now after the exchange chez the Happy Tutor. I try to imagine the rambunctious nature that I witnessed there alloyed to the expressive control when relating a bout with depression here. It is different from the first time that I read it in the context of its accompanying entry under the same dateline -- the entry about the suicide of a person know to a community online. And there is the reading of it by itself (I have actually contemplated coping an excerpt to a temporary file to have voice synth software read it aloud to me -- even without voicing it plays in one's head with a powerful invitation to identify with the speaking "I").

Tour de force.

It is hard to admit the things that we're not proud of -- I can relate on the control freak too (my mom and I both are like that). Ditto what AKMA said about the stigma. Thank you for writing about this Liz :).

after reading this blog, this make me realised so much things about my life. what you shared will help me. you've been so opened and compassionate.

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This page contains a single entry by Liz Lawley published on August 26, 2003 9:44 PM.

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