How I quit my antidepressant cold turkey and lived to tell the tale.

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I’m finally all healed up from my dual-surgery round robin in July. But because I’m such a glutton for punishment tremendous bad-ass, I couldn’t just leave it at that. Nooooo. I figured “why not tack on another major medical event, while I’m at it?” And thus begins the story of how I quit my antidepressant, cold-turkey, after 3 years.

Let me first be extremely clear: I do not, absolutely do NOT, recommend discontinuing any medication without the support of a medical professional and some very trustworthy friends or family. Getting off any psychopharmaceutical is a difficult and sometimes dangerous effort. Most doctors recommend a step-down, or weaning off process. I repeat: never stop your medication without consulting with a professional. 

In my case, it was time to quit. Pristiq quite literally saved me when I needed it most. Three years ago, I couldn’t manage my depression without it. Starting the medication was, for me, a last resort decision that was not easily made. But I’m so grateful that I did it. In certain cases, medication is the best, fastest way to help regulate the chemistry of one’s brain – and, in doing so, can save lives, both literally and figuratively.

But, after spending several years on Pristiq I was experiencing some negative side effects, and with a hope for pregnancy on the close horizon, my doctors and I decided it was a good time to try removing the medication and see if my chemistry could balance itself, given all the positive changes I’ve made and ongoing work I’m doing in the maintenance of my health over the past couple of years.

What positive changes and ongoing work, you ask?

Careful to never confuse my medication as a “cure-all,” the meds were, to me, merely a supplement to all the other, natural “treatments” available to me.

  • I changed my life dramatically to extricate myself from an unhappy marriage and start over. Not easy. Not fun. But so worthwhile.
  • I spent an hour each week exploring my triggers, identifying and correcting unhealthy patterns, and healing past traumas with a wonderful therapist who didn’t pull any punches with me.
  • I improved my health and nutrition by taking supplements, exercising regularly, and eating a healthy diet rich in whole foods and proteins, and low in refined sugars/carbs and additives.
  • I go for acupuncture regularly, which has helped balance my body and systems in ways I didn’t even realize I needed, but has made a tremendous difference in how I feel.

And, as a bonus, I stumbled into the most healthy, nurturing and satisfying relationship of my life – which every day blossoms more fully into a future that fills with me excitement, joy, and stability. Score!

In short, I learned to love myself, forgive myself, and to make taking care of myself inside and out a non-negotiable priority.

But even with those support systems in place, I was scared. Scared to quit, and scared not to quit. I really didn’t want to be chained to medication for the rest of my life, if possible. I wanted to be able to have a clean system for pregnancy. But I heard terrifying stories about the painful withdrawal experience. (Hint: stay far away from online forums. They are like mainlining nightmare fuel.) Pristiq has a high incidence of severe discontinuation syndrome, which I had already experienced milder forms of, if I was even just a few hours late in my daily dosage. I didn’t want to do a super-slow wean off, because I felt it would just draw out the uncomfortable effects of withdrawal for weeks, possibly months. I wanted to cut the cord, walk through the fire, and come out on the other side as quickly as possible… knowing I had a safety net of psychiatric professionals, and friends, and family to save me if I started going down in flames.

Luckily (and ironically), having surgery meant I’d be on some very strong painkillers for about a week, which numbs discomfort (duh) and keeps asleep more hours than I’m awake. So it was decided that I’d try a cold-turkey quit starting the day of my 2nd surgery, when I would be guaranteed to barely remember the first few days anyway, thanks to anesthesia and Percocet. I spent the week slithering from my bed to the couch, and back again… dosing every 4 hours with painkillers and every 12 hours with benadryl (as studies show antihistamines can ease the “Brain Zap” side effect of withdrawal, which was by far the most disconcerting).

brain zaps quitting antidepressant

Let’s be real: I was high as a kite, and it helped. But even through the fog of those drugs, I couldn’t shake the feelings of withdrawal. I spent a few days feeling completely underwater, like everything I experienced was in slow-motion and far away. I had flu-like symptoms of nausea, headaches, and exhaustion. And I was definitely tender, as evidenced by the amount of tissues I went through during Louie marathon that I was leaning on to distract me during my waking hours. But, unlike in my depression, I wasn’t sad. I was just… feeling. I wasn’t hopeless. I wasn’t drowning. I wasn’t scared. I didn’t feel alone. I had perspective. I knew, in my bones, that this discomfort was only temporary. And that I was loved. And strong. And I could make it through.

Randomly, these lyrics from Peter Gabriel’s Sledgehammer, were constantly in my head whenever I thought about life beyond medication…. beyond withdrawal.

“I kicked the habit. Shed my skin. This is the new stuff I go dancing in.”

Peter Gabriel, I love you.

Once my eye doctor cleared me to take easy walks again, about a week after my surgery and stopping the Pristiq… and just when the Percocet ran out… I started meditating.

A new studio called Unplug had just opened within walking distance from my house – a chic, stylish space geared toward teaching meditation without any of the religious dogma or “woo woo” propaganda that can sometimes be associated with the practice and turns a lot of people off. They offer the first class free, and I absolutely loved it. I immediately signed up for their monthly unlimited package, with the goal to attend at least 20 times in the next 30 days, as part of my recovery and withdrawal process.

It was such a relief to give myself 30 minutes a day to just sit in silence, focus on my breath, and accept every thought, sensation, and feeling as they came – without judgment. Some days were easy, some were insanely hard, and some days were amazing. But, giving myself a goal, a routine, and a new discipline to focus on was exactly what I needed. The walk there and back was a gentle re-introduction of exercise, with the bonus of some quality time in nature, and a great way to practice continuing my meditation outside the studio walls. I looked forward to it every single day.

And I learned that practicing meditation can actually heal your brain. It literally grows the pre-frontal cortex (which deals with logical thinking) and shrinks the amygdala, which adds up to an increased ability to regulate our emotional responses to stimuli. It also reduces the stress hormone cortisol in our systems, improves our memory, and can aid in the management of depression, anxiety, pain and a whole host of other health problems! I had no idea when I started meditating, but the benefits seemed uniquely tailored to my needs. Every single time I went, I walked out happier, calmer and more at ease and at peace than when I walked in.

With the help of meditation and getting back into my exercise routine after my eyes were healed, in addition to the other natural tools I use to manage my mental and physical health, I was able to breathe through the tougher moments of withdrawal and help my brain develop in ways that will continue helping me manage my challenges as they come. It took 4 weeks before I felt the last brain zap fade away, but now it’s been 7 weeks since I took my last Pristiq and I feel better than ever.

I realize that this is just one chapter in the novel that is my lifelong journey with mental illness. And I feel gratitude every day for being in a really healthy, happy, balanced place for the first time in a long time. There may come a time in the future that I need to turn to medication again to help guide me toward the light at the end of another tunnel of depression. But, this experience has taught me that with proper support and healthy self-care habits, I have more influence over my well-being than I previously knew. And that feels fucking awesome.

By the way, wanna see me meditate? LOL. The news was there filming class one afternoon I was there. Try not to be distracted by how much the teacher sounds like George Bluth. But at least you can see my studio.


He so does sound like George/Oscar, doesn’t he?! Hilarious.

And meditation has had fringe benefits I never expected! I got to meet a hero of mine, Arianna Huffington, in all her grecian goddess glory, at a special event that was held at the studio:

10553491_1446165262319048_8139808474237683479_n

…and I even asked my favorite teacher, Olivia, to officiate our wedding! Guys, she’s so awesome. I can’t wait. (Less than six weeks to go! eeeeeeep!)

So, I guess the moral of this story is multi-fold (like paper towels):

1. My story was UNIQUE, and I do not recommend cold-turkey withdrawal from any prescription without a doctor’s supervision. Everyone’s needs and experiences are different. Your mileage may vary.
2. BUT, in the right circumstances, and with support, it is possible to quit your antidepressant and live (happily) to tell the tale.
3. Whether or not you take medication for depression, don’t forget all the other natural therapies such as diet, exercise, acupuncture, yoga and meditation that you can use to support your physical and mental health.
4. Try meditation! It has changed my life. It will probably change yours, too. If you don’t know where to start, google “mindfulness meditation” + your location, and look for podcasts or youtube videos with guided meditations. Olivia has a few here. And read a few books. Amazon has a ton of great options, covering all different styles of meditation. There are a TON of styles. Chances are, one will work for you.

Lastly, let me say that if you ever feel depressed and need help but don’t know where to go, reach out. To friends, family, to me, or to a professional who is equipped to help. There is no shame in needing help for your depression, no matter how mildly or severely you experience it. Trust me. I have lived with depression my whole life, from manageable levels to debilitating and frightening depths. And I wouldn’t be here without the help I’ve asked for, and received. So please, don’t suffer in silence. The world needs you. And there is hope for a better tomorrow and a brighter future. I promise you that.

Ad astra per aspera, friends.


Ad astra per aspera.

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Thursday, January 23rd, 2014 was my 36th birthday.

A year previous, I was just coming off of a nervous breakdown. Which is a phrase usually relegated to hyperbole, except this time, it was true.

In early December 2012, my already fragile enough mid-divorce-living-at-a-friend’s-place, trying-to-write-a-book-about-wedding-planning-on-deadline-while-dying-of-heartbreak, scared-to-death-of-what-comes-next world got rocked when I found out I needed emergency surgery on my eye (bringing the total count to 14 at the time), and also found out that my fertility was questionable, at best. I was collapsing under the stress, so right around Christmas, my psychiatrist suggested changing up my depression medication, to try and help lift me from the deafening numbness that encompassed me, and thus began weaning me off of the Pristiq that was only tenuously holding me together, and introduced Viibryd.

Within a week or so, I felt noticeably different. But… not better. I was painfully exhausted, and was beset with terrible headaches. Even worse that that… rather than numb, I began to feel empty. Desolate. Hopeless. And gradually, day by day, I became increasingly aware of a new feeling: a fear. Unlike I had ever felt before.

I was afraid of myself.

Afraid of what I might do to myself.

If left alone with myself.

And here’s the confusing part: I didn’t want to hurt myself. I didn’t wish I were dead. No. I wanted to live. I wanted desperately to believe that I could, once again, experience happiness and stability. I know that depression lies. I know better than to believe its insidious, manipulative whispers. My logical mind knows this very well.

But, almost as though my self were split in two, like some terrible after-school movie about a girl with split personalities, my emotional mind couldn’t trust myself not to do something stupid. I felt involuntarily pulled toward dangerous behaviors. Like I might inadvertently toss myself off the balcony. Or slice my skin open. Or begin walking into the distance and never stop. Or swallow all the pills in the house. Or drive off a cliff. Like a woman possessed, I felt as though I were being pulled against my own will towards self-harm.

And I couldn’t stop crying.

Luckily, I had enough sense of my logical mind to recognize that no good could come of this feeling. So I immediately alerted my psychiatrist, who agreed it was wise to discontinue the Viibryd, and ease myself back onto the Pristiq. And I mustered the strength to tell the friend I was staying with that, in no uncertain terms, I didn’t feel safe to be left alone. And thank god for him, because he had been in a similar place once, and he held me while I sobbed. He canceled plans to stay in and babysit me. Without judgment, he saved me.

And when he couldn’t be there, I called someone else. Which is no easy feat. Not many people knew how lost I had been to begin with. And finding a way to communicate that I was having terrifying urges, and inviting someone to just come sit on the couch and marathon Law & Order with me so I don’t end up accidentally taking a swan dive off the 2nd floor balcony was not the easiest call to make. I think Allie of Hyperbole & a Half said it best, in her incredibly spot-on depiction of what depression can be like:

“I discovered that there’s no tactful or comfortable way to inform other people that you might be suicidal. And there’s definitely no way to ask for help casually.

how to tell someone you might be suicidal

I didn’t want it to be a big deal. However, it’s an alarming subject. Trying to be nonchalant about it just makes it weird for everyone.”

But, surprisingly, my friends were really awesome about it. They came, without question, and sat with me. There was no excessive comforting, no uncomfortable attempts to “lighten the mood” or play therapist… just acceptance and understanding and loving concern. I’m so grateful, because if I had no one to call, I absolutely would have committed myself for my own safety.

And in the brief moments that I was left alone, or the periodic moments when, even with my roommate beside me, I felt so inconsolably anxious and bereft that I could no longer bear it… I remembered that Jenny once suggested that squeezing ice cubes in your hands can help quench those feelings a bit. And it did. (Thank you, Jenny.)

After a couple of weeks, the Viibryd eased it’s way out of my system, and my familiar friend Pristiq oozed back in. I started to feel, bit by bit, more myself again. Less at risk again. There was light at the end of the tunnel. I could see it. And for the first time in a while, I believed that I’d soon reach the end of that dark and lonely tunnel, and feel the sunlight on my face again.

By the time my birthday rolled around, I was almost there. And, as terrifying as those weeks previous had been, I always wanted to remember them, so that I’d always know that no matter how dark and hopeless things get, I can make it through. To remember my past, and look forward to my future – honoring my worst moments as essential parts of the journey leading to my best moments, and recognizing them for their beauty. Serendipitously, I was given the chance to share my story with an anonymous audience through The Listserve, which provided a great outlet, perspective and support in my healing process. And as a 35th birthday gift to myself, I got this tattoo:

Ad astra per aspera. Latin for “Through struggles to the stars.”

ad astra per aspera tattoo

Also, notably, the tagline for this blog 🙂

 


Estrogen is a helluva drug.

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The “Babysicles” Saga – Update #1:
(yeah, I just referred to my future children as babysicles. what about it? They’re gonna be in a freezer for the next howeverlong, and it sounds better than “frozen babies”, or “embryfroze”. Although fro-yo would work, I’m not really a fan of mixed metaphors y’know? bro?)

On October 18th, it was day 3 of my cycle, so we went in to get my FSH levels tested and get a follicle count to get ready for my IVF. They spotted about 8-9 follicles that day, and I nearly cried with joy when I heard that my Follicle Stimulating Hormone level had dropped from a 9 in April to a 5 now. When I told my acupuncturist, who specializes in fertility treatment, her response was: “See? This shit really works!” Damn straight, son. I’ve been seeing her twice a week since April and the numbers don’t lie! It’s great news because, the lower your FSH level, the less work your body is doing to produce healthy eggs, which is a good thing. At this point in the cycle, my doctor would normally would prescribe birth control pills, to give them more control over the timing, but BCPs tend to aggravate my depression, so we decided to skip it and told me to come back 20 days later instead.

On November 5th, I saw the doctor again. He counted my follicles, and thought he saw 9 or 10, which kicks ass because, hey, it’s more than 8 or 9. He also not-so-subtley hinted that my ovaries are camera-shy. Compared to other women, apparently my follicles like to play hide and seek with the ultrasound wand. I told him I prefer to think of them as stealthy, but he didn’t seem very impressed.

While I was being probed, Paul was in another room, making a “deposit” for his semen culture and analysis. I had wanted to help him out in there, but he was totally weirded out by the whole situation, and opted to just take care of it solo-style. The masturbation station at our clinic is fitted with a la-z-boy recliner, thoughtfully covered in what appears to be a puppy pee-pad, a flat-screen TV displaying the homepage for redtube.com, and an assortment of porn magazines that covered the four basic kinks: boobs, butts, young-looking girls, and dom/sub action. Their pump-and-dump philosophy appears to read thusly: Men = predictable.

We later received the happy news that Paul’s swimmers are a strong and plentiful army. So hearty, in fact, that we’ll be able to bypass the need for ICSI, (or intracytoplasmic sperm injection) which is basically a fancy way of saying “inject sperm into egg.” Instead, they’ll just introduce his men to my ladies, and let them get hot and bothered and hook up in a dark corner of the petri dish of their own accord. Hooray for Paul’s healthy balls!

The next step for us was to begin “Estrogen Priming Protocol” by wearing two Minivelle Estradiol patches on my lower abdomen for 3 days each. The patches are each the size of a quarter, and deliver estradiol transdermally, which down-regulates FSH receptors. By providing external estrogen, we’ll trick my pituitary gland into thinking a follicle is developing (because follicles produce estrogen) and will thereby reduce the amount of FSH (Follicle Stimulating Hormone) it pumps out. This process give my ovaries a little time off at the spa, and allows the doctor to take control of my cycle. In addition, it will promote estrogen dominance in the follicular fluid, which is believed will help protect the developing eggs.

Why am I doing estrogen priming, you ask?
EPP is an aggressive form of an IVF Antagonist Protocol, used most often in women with high FSH and/or over 35 years of age. It’s a sort of “slow burn” methodology — the hope being that they slow me way down and protect egg quality while allowing me to stim longer. In addition, the slower stimming may help all the active follicles to stay in sync, allowing the doctors to retrieve as many mature eggs as possible.

estrogen patches
I have found that covering the patches with a strip of Tegaderm really helps keep them safe from pant-waist friction, bathing, puppy pawnails, et cetera. Stop staring at the pant-waist imprint on my belly, please. Thank you.

The estrogen has made me rather crampy, and a bit on the weepy side, for the past two weeks. I’m like Eeyore, kind of. But no one is stealing my tail. I just feel a little deflated. But not the skinny kind of deflated. Rather the opposite. But that’s not the estrogen’s fault. It’s the cheese’s fault. Also, my nipples are like, WAY sensitive, and prefer standing at attention, at all times, under the influence of estrogen, it seems. And, my bewbs are noticeably more bodacious! I never had any of those fun “bigger boob” benefits from hormonal shit before. As a card carrying member of the Itty Bitty Titty Committee, I count this side effect as a super win!

But the real side effect worth noting takes place behind my tightly locked bedroom door. Sans pants. Yes, folks, it’s like that. I’m pretty sure that after all is said and done, I’ll be hustling for estradiol patches on the streets, chasing the white dragon of horizontal mambos past. Let’s just leave it there, shall we? 🙂

Tomorrow, I’ll go in again, to begin Stimming. This involves multiple needles on a daily basis for the next 2-3 weeks. IVF drugs
This is my hypodermic loot. It cost… wait for it…. a little over $5,700. These boxes. Cost that much.

I repeat: THESE BOXES. COST THAT MUCH.

Tune in next time, for the next installment of The Babysicles Saga. In which I stab myself repeatedly with needles. Cuz, science.

(PS: wondering why I’m doing this? Click here.)


How an episode of New Girl changed my life (or: the frozen baby story)

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Last December, I was sitting in the living room of my mid-divorce crash-pad (you know, that friend’s apartment where you live for a few months before you can bear going out into the world on your own), in the midst of what I thought was an innocent New Girl binge… trying to escape the realities of my life by daydreaming about how I’d totally be best friends with Jess, thanks to our love of patterns and polka dots, our quirky glasses, our awkward outbursts, and similar reactions to a glass of rosé….

New-Girl_Meme-V1.jpg(But I mean, let’s be real. I’d probably freaking hate her in real life, because she’s too cute and stylish and charming. How could I compete with that? That shit ain’t natural.)

Anyway… there I was, enjoying Schmidt’s shenanigans, the whole “will they or won’t they” Jess and Nick saga, and their rollicking games of “True American.” And then I reached Season 2, Episode 9: Eggs.

HOLD THE DAMN PHONE, YO.

Did you guys know that there’s a simple blood test that can check the age of your ovaries? Or rather, gives an estimate of the remaining egg supply, or “ovarian reserve”? Yeah. Neither did I, until Zooey and friends did an episode about getting Jess and CeeCee’s AMH (anti-müllerian hormone) levels tested. And there I was, staring down the nose of my 35th birthday, in the midst of my divorce, and for the first time, doubting my fertility.

My ex-husband and I had always planned on “starting to talk about trying” around the time I turned 36, and I foolishly, blindly, just assumed that I’d be good to go, no matter what. But suddenly, I saw the ignorance of that assumption and was gripped with terror about the possibly dwindling likelihood of my ability to conceive naturally.

If I’ve ever known one thing for sure, it’s that, my whole life, I’ve desperately wanted to bear children. Like, grow them in my belly and push them out the hard way. All my friends were always much more “if I could just skip the pregnancy and get straight to the baby raising, I’d be happier” types. But I’m like the opposite. It’s a mind-melting miracle that we can create a human out of such basic, seemingly miniscule matter. It blows my mind that we can serve as a host to this… alien, living through us until they’re ready to emerge. That we, as women, are equipped for such a task. And, with all the hell my body has put me through in the form of medical mysteries and chronic illness, I figured the least I could do is use it for this unique purpose that only half of us are built to serve. It’s on my life list and has been, as long as I can remember. So, the idea of losing that chance because I had my head in the sand for too long was no bueno at all. Like, not at all at all. The good news was that I had a physical scheduled for later that week, including several blood tests, in preparation for an eye surgery the following week. “Bingo!” I thought, in the midst of my sweaty panic, “I’ll just add this on!”

So there I was, a week later, wrapped in my clumsy paper gown on the exam table at my local urgent care, trying to act casual while asking them to “maybe just draw an extra vial of blood for an AMH test. Cuz… you know, New Girl.” (by the way, what is with those damn paper gowns? How have we not come up with some better, more comfortable way to deal with medical modesty? Do they make you sweat, like, extra? They make me sweat extra. But I digress…) The blood was drawn, and a week later, the doctor emailed me a scan of the results, with a note suggesting I talk to my gynecologist for her interpretation, since they weren’t knowledgeable about their meaning enough to comment. But it wasn’t necessary. I could plainly see that between an “expected range” of 0.16 – 8.43 for my age, my result was a paltry 0.96. My heart leapt into my throat and then sank slowly into my stomach. I didn’t know exactly what it meant… but I knew it wasn’t good.

The conversation with my gyn was unencouraging:

“We really don’t like to see anything below a 1.0 in women your age. My advice would be to try to get pregnant as soon as you possibly can.”

“Um… I’m kind of in the middle of a divorce.”

“Oh. Well, then I’d say you should look into freezing your eggs sooner rather than later.”

I knew full well that freezing ones eggs is a huge expense. My mind was racing in panic. Would I need to take out a loan? Could I even get a loan? Should I just find a sperm donor and move home to Chicago and do the single mom thing right now? Should I just give up hope and get comfortable with the idea of adoption? Should I just show up at a local bar with a T-shirt on that says “open for business: put a baby in me!”? BECAUSE THERE’S NOTHING MORE ATTRACTIVE THAN A DEPRESSIVE DIVORCÉE WEDDING BLOGGER WHO IS PROCREATING OUT OF SHEER DESPERATION, AM I RIGHT?

Then, I pretty much had a full-on nervous breakdown. Granted, it was fueled by wayyyy more than this egg nonsense, but it surely wasn’t helped by it. (more on this later, probably.)

I was doubting everything. My decision to divorce. My future. The meaning of life. My sanity. The axis of the earth. I was sure I was being punished.

new girl meme

(I have a tendency to over-react a bit.)

Meanwhile, the simple truth is that I had been on low-dose chemotherapy for 4-years in college to suppress my immune system so it couldn’t attack my eyes. And well, chemo is an all-too-common thief of fertility. If I had only known that earlier…

I got the name of a reputable fertility specialist from my gyn, and went in for a consultation a month later. On my birthday. Because that was the first available appointment they had. A month later. On my 35th birthday.

“So, Ms. LaRue… what brings you here today?”

(Deep breath) “Well, today’s my 35th birthday and I’m getting divorced and I saw an episode of New Girl about the AMH test and my results were low and I really want my own baby and I don’t know what to do.” – It all just tumbled out of my mouth like an avalanche of emotion.

My doctor, god bless him, looked at me with a benevolent mixture of pity and amusement, and patiently walked me through a super clear understanding of fertility and exactly what my test results meant. Long story short, it means my ovaries are much older than that of a “normal” 35-year old woman, but the eggs inside them are totally the age they should be. Which means, if I freeze my eggs at 35, when they’re defrosted (no matter when that may be), they’ll still be 35-year old eggs. But, what it also means is, if I don’t freeze my eggs, my ovaries will stop producing enough of those perfectly-aged eggs for me to get knocked up with, sooner rather than later. So, while I might be able to get a baby in me naturally, I also might not, and the longer I wait, the less likely that is. So to harvest/freeze my eggs would be the most prudent security measure. Like an insurance plan, of sorts. Then a lovely front-office assistant came in and informed me that the process would cost about $8,000. And none of it, including today’s visit, would be covered by insurance, that’ll be $250 for today, thank-you-very-much.

I had no money, and I had no idea where to find any. So I had no choice but to put the baby thing on the back burner for a while, which was a good thing because, frankly, my mental stability was pretty damn tenuous at that point, and I was more concerned with just making it through the darkest days of my divorce grief and depression alive.

Fast forward a few months. I turned a corner in my mental health: I made peace with my split with my ex, I had quit drinking for several months, my medication had been managed, I had gotten my own apartment. I was starting to feel human being again. Healthy again. And, miracle of miracles, I had HOPE again.

And then, I met Paul. And like, suddenly, in a very once-in-a-lifetime way, that was it. When I absolutely least expected it, I found my lobster.

you're my lobster (yeah, I just totally made a Ross and Rachel reference in the same post I referenced Nick and Jess. Pop culture love fest up in here!)

On our second date, he asked me why my ex and I hadn’t had children, and I told him everything. I figured it was better to lay it all out on the table right off the bat – no surprises, no secrets. And he was just like, “well, shit. We’d better get those eggs in a freezer then!” On our second date.

Seven months later, we’re there. Tomorrow is the first day of my cycle, and that’s our cue to start the process with my doctor, harvest my eggs, fertilize them, and put them on ice, where they’ll await us until we’re ready. That’s right: I am about to make my future babies. I just won’t get to meet them until… we’re ready.

When this began, I was convinced it was a punishment. Now I see, it was a gift. The elegance of this crazy world is clear to me, and it seems as though it was always supposed to work out this way. (At least, that’s how I like to think about it.)

So, thanks, New Girl. If it weren’t for you, I might have completely missed out on a chance to realize the future I had always pictured for myself.

I’ll be documenting the process here, if you care to follow along. And happy to answer any questions y’all might have. So stay tuned, it’s gonna be an interesting ride!


That time I won the lottery

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Back in January, I was mid-way through “the worst of it” in my depression when I won the Listserve Lottery. The Listserve is a daily email service wherein one subscriber each day “wins” the opportunity to write (up to 500 words) to the whole community of subscribers. There are currently over 23,000 subscribers in countries all over the world.

I signed up for it last fall, and have really enjoyed the snapshots into people’s heads that come through: inspiration, ideas, experiences… all kinds of people share all kinds of things when “their number comes up.” Sometimes it’s crap. Sometimes it moves me to tears. I never really thought I’d be chosen to write. Until I was. 3 days before my 35th birthday. And many, many moons since I’d done any personal writing.

I felt unprepared. And scared. But, I didn’t want to shirk the opportunity. It seemed like the Universe was saying “hey. you’re a writer, right? THEN WRITE, ALREADY!”

So I listened. And I sat down, and wrote.

And this is what I wrote to an audience of strangers.

I really wanted to write some big, deep retrospective on challenge and perseverance for my Listserve contribution. That kind of thing is kind of my thing.

Well, it was.

It’s what I did, when I started my blog, The Broke-Ass Bride, which grew into one of the top blogs in the wedding industry. It earned me a deal with a major publishing house to write a book about using creativity as currency to rock bad-ass weddings without breaking the bank. (coming this December!) Born as a coping skill for life’s imperfections, my chronic auto-immune disease, financial struggles and artistic stagnation, I developed a reputation for my ability to spin obstacle into opportunity creatively and with a trademark cheeky irreverence. It seemed like nothing could keep me down.

But I guess the universe watched me leap life’s hurdles on my triumphant unicorn of resilience, turning piles of strugglesome shit into rainbows with my magical brand of fairy dust, and decided (in its infinite wisdom) to up the game and see just how much I could take. I had been focused on maintaining my success, so desperate to remain self-employed and free from corporate cubicles, that I neglected my health and personal life.

I got hit with an aggressively progressive depression, disease complications and a rare illness necessitating a flurry of surgeries, growing medical debt, and a sexual assault. And just like that, my self-destructive and addictive tendencies took control and bullied my moxie and persistence into submission like overgrown schoolyard tormentors.

I was ashamed and guilt-ridden about how burdensome I felt. Hell, if *I* was so tired of caring about me, I couldn’t imagine how exhausting it must be for everyone else. I withdrew from my husband, friends and family, in a ridiculously misguided effort to “protect” them all from my demons. What a foolish girl I was, to believe the lies my depression told me for so long.

With the help of great doctors, treatments, perspective, support, faith and forgiveness, I’ve begun to find my feet again. Reconnecting with those I’ve hurt, pushed away or neglected, and trying to make amends. Letting people love me (or not) on their own terms. Grateful for the chance to evolve, painful as it was, into a stronger, deeper, richer version of Dana LaRue: rider of my triumphant unicorn of resilience, spinner of obstacle into opportunity, going from broke-ass to bad-ass.

In an earlier Listserve email, a writer shared the phrase “ad astra per aspera” – latin for “through struggles to the stars.” This Wednesday the 23rd is my 35th birthday and I can’t wait. Not eager to see where this year takes me, but rather where *I* can take this year. To celebrate, I’m having “ad astra per aspera” tattooed on my wrist to honor where I’ve been, and to remind me where I’m capable of going.

Well, hey, how ‘bout that. Looks like I did end up writing a true-to-form deep, retrospective look at challenge and perseverance. I guess I really am back in the saddle, after all. Yeehaw.

Thanks, Listserve, for the chance to share my story. May it help someone out there through his or her own dark hour. And thanks, listserve nation, for bearing witness. Pass this on if you know someone who might benefit from it. Or share your own story with me, or encouraging words, or drawings of me on a unicorn turning piles of shit into rainbows… whatever you’re inspired to send!

I got flooded with emails in return. Emails from complete strangers — overflowing with words of encouragement, compassion, hope, support, and love. People shared their own stories of struggle. They encouraged me to keep writing and sharing my story. They thanked me for my honesty, and for casting light on an issue so rarely discussed so transparently. They showered me with compliments and kindness and enthusiasm so much that it renewed my own enthusiasm for writing (not to mention my faith in a humanity so generous).

One girl even drew me this bad-ass picture!

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I share this with you today, to give you a bit of insight into where I’ve been, and where I’m going. My Listserve experience is a huge part of what inspired this new blog. I needed an outlet to keep sharing my story, to keep writing, and filtering my experience to strangers everywhere.

Because whenever I do, good things seem to happen 🙂