• Katlyn Roberts

How This Plant Is Keeping Me Alive

Updated: Oct 8, 2019

My mental health journey from PMDD suicidal ideation to (mostly) thriving.

This is Savannah the Snake Plant. She’s my new mental health barometer. So far, she’s doing ok, but maybe I should set up a live feed for those who don’t want to miss any sudden developments.

I recently went through a very serious bout of depression.

Around four months ago, I sat in my doctor’s office and silently cried, dead-eyed, without the capacity for words, as my mother explained that I hadn’t stopped crying for two weeks, that I hadn’t gotten out of bed in one week, and that she suspected a hormone imbalance, due to the cyclical nature of the symptoms.

I had known for a long time that I probably had some kind of a hormone imbalance because my periods tended to knock me out for a day or two …or three or four. But that was just my norm. I figured most women have mood swings and pain during their period. Who was I to assume my symptoms were out of the ordinary or worthy of any extra attention?

I wrote a (frankly, hilarious) satirical piece called “PMS Jitters Got You Down? Yell At Your Mom” on this topic, but I’ve gotta tell you, that piece was a gross oversimplification of my situation. And I was only able to write it in the first place because the clouds had parted for a few hours to allow a shining beam of inspiration to poke through.

The problem, though, was that this wasn’t actually PMS I was dealing with. It had turned a sharp corner into PMDD.

A couple of days of mood swings and cramps had stretched out into two weeks of Hell. That might not sound like a long time, but if you look at the average number of days that Americans allow themselves to take for their yearly vacation, and then you add 10 days, that’s how long I was out of commission. (Americans take 4-day vacations is what I’m saying. Look it up. We’re collectively exhausted.) And the depression continued even after I’d finished with my period and was supposed to have gone back to normal.

My heart wouldn’t stop racing. I was constantly crying. I couldn’t focus on my freelance work even a little. When the tears ran dry, I felt like a shaking, scared little bunny. I could never breathe quite deep enough, and the world seemed a horrific, toxic mess.

The only thing I could think to do to survive it, and to protect my loved ones, was to retreat to my bedroom with all the shades drawn and all the lights turned off and to hide under the covers, where there was as little stimuli as possible.

That was a very bad idea.

No outside stimuli meant that I had no distraction whatsoever from the inside of my own fight-or-flight-rattled mind. Suicidal images, past traumatic memories, and paranoid, self-hating thoughts raced across my brain like someone had taped my eyes open and was showing it all to me on a projection screen. When my mom came to check on me, I couldn’t explain what was happening. All I could do was curl up in the fetal position and beg the universe to end my suffering.

Thank god my mom got me to the doctor. She saved me.

Well… her and the plant.

The kind angel doctor examined me with genuine concern, then referred me to a kind angel gynecologist who prescribed a hormone-balancing birth control miracle pill.

Within just a few days of starting to take the pill, the giant, buzzing knot of anxiety that had sat on my chest for weeks… got up and sat in the corner of my bedroom.

It’s still there, still lurking, even now. But the pill forced it to at least let me breathe. And that was a massive, massive relief.

You know what else was a massive relief?

No. More. Periods. None. No cramps, no mood swings, no bleeding, no buying tampons, no having to remember to put tampons in my bag, no sick days I wish I could save for when I have a cold, no bloating, no aching all over, no boob pain, none of it.

I can’t believe I never allowed myself to seek help before.

For two weeks, I hadn’t had a single moment of joy or awe, of self-love or gratitude. So when the darkness lifted, I was exhausted, but I craved life.

I took a shower and got dressed. I went out into the sunshine and watched the wind rustle the leaves in the trees. I nervously asked someone if I could pet their dog and they let me. I went to a cafe and successfully ordered a coffee in Spanish.

I sat beside an open, breezy window and watched a very cute baby knock things off of his high chair over and over again just to get his mom’s attention. She’d sigh, bend down to pick up the object, and place it back down in front of him with a stern look. Then the little boy would burst into giggles and she’d smile lovingly at him despite herself. The moment she went back to checking her phone, he’d drop another object to the floor.

I thought about how I was going to have to start picking up the pieces of my own life so that my mom wouldn’t have to bend over backwards for me anymore. I’m not at all saying that those two weeks had been to get attention and I’m definitely not saying that there’s any shame in needing help sometimes. But if I’d been paying attention and taking a bit more responsibility for my own health over the last several years, my mom wouldn’t have had to scoop me up off the floor.

(To read the rest of this article, check it out where it was originally published in The Ascent.)

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