Walking the Tightrope To Avoid Depression

I  walk a tightrope between overwork and depression.

As long as I maintain the balance, I have a great life! If I have too much stimulation I become exhausted, but if I don’t have enough I feel anxious.

This problem began with being seriously burned when I was 12 months old, and I am going into detail about this in the spiritual memoir I am writing. One result was my compulsion to check the gas water heater as well as the doors over and over every night, when I was in elementary school. Back in those days, if there was any diagnosis or treatment for OCD, we didn’t know anything about it.

Fast forward many years to my first year in seminary in 1963. There were only four women admitted to Boston University School of Theology that year. I had already gone through a lot to find a seminary that would admit me.  Sometime during that year I was suffering from headaches, and when I went to the doctor, he asked,

“Wouldn’t you rather stay home?”

Naturally that infuriated me, but I didn’t have the guts to blow up at him. He prescribed Librium, at a strength that I later discovered was a pediatric dose. The nature of the name of the drug made me suspicious, but he insisted that it would help my headaches, and it did.

Later, when I had crying spells and complained of being “unloveworthy,” I took advantage of the pastoral counseling available at Boston University. The style of counseling in those days was non-directive client-centered therapy. At our first session the counselor suggested that my issues related to my burn. I brushed that off, and he never raised it again nor insisted that I deal with it in any way. So I continued counseling for two years, often with very little verbal exchange, and I got better.

Fast forward many years again when a combination of my husband’s health problems and our financial setbacks made it difficult for me to sleep as worries seemed to circle and circle a drain, pulling me down with them.  Talk therapy had become passé and wasn’t covered by insurance, so I saw a psychiatrist. We tried some different medications and found that Lexapro helped. I still take that medicine.

And now, having had one stent put into a coronary artery less than a year ago, I developed symptoms again –shortness of breath and pressure in my chest. When a battery of tests proved that there is no blockage present and no valve problem, but that my blood pressure spiked during the procedure, I went back to my primary doctor to tackle the blood pressure issue.

He asked if I thought my anxiety played a part in my symptoms. I had had a fear that my symptoms might be “all in my head,” and I dreaded any such suggestion. I was afraid that if I said “Yes,” I would receive no treatment for blood pressure that had spiked as high as 196.  That probably was not the case, but I didn’t give him a straight answer and I did get a new medicine to add to what was already prescribed.  So that’s where I am now. I have read of others having problems with both anxiety and heart problems and the difficulty in sorting that out.

Now, in spite of learning better during my own graduate education, and in spite of the publicity about Robin Williams, I still fear the stigma I expect to experience when people know I take medication for generalized anxiety.


About Nancy Smith

Nancy Smith has 20 years’ experience in technical writing and management in software companies. She also has more than 20 years in Christian ministry as an educator, course designer, retreat leader, spiritual director, pastor, and coach. A United Methodist Deacon, Smith has her M.Div. from Boston University. She is a graduate of the Guild for Spiritual Guidance, and is certified in Spiritual Direction and Retreat Leadership from Boston College.
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