Mother’s little helper

I remember where I was when I first heard Mick Jagger singing about  mother’s little helper. I was in college. I had grown up with a mom who worked ten-hour days as a COBOL programmer and then even longer days in management. I felt sorry for the moms in the 60s who couldn’t go to work and had to take Valium to cope with their lives. I was happy I’d never have to live like that.

So it’s hard for me to tell you that I’m taking Zoloft. Here’s how it happened. I couldn’t stop the huge anxiety I had while I was spending days with the kids. My anxiety is generally great for work. I can do way more than a normal person can. I need very little sleep and my mind races with ideas all the time, so as long as I have a bunch of fast-paced projects going on, I have a place for each of the ideas.

Sitting at lunch with the boys, making Arthur pasta pieces talk. That just made me nervous. There was is no structure, there is nowhere to put my racing ideas, and I was anxious all the time. Also, I was yelling. And I really really don’t believe that it’s okay to yell at the kids. I think it’s bullying.

So I started taking Zoloft.

You can tell, on this blog, when I started. I stopped posting every day. Because it takes a crazy, manic energy to be able to maintain my other blog, which supports my family, and then also launch this blog.

I grew up thinking I’d be an exciting, edgy artist like Mick Jagger, and instead I’m becoming one of the moms in a Mick Jagger song.

22 replies
  1. clark
    clark says:

    what a drag, it is, getting old

    You have said that nobody can write for more than three hours a day. For values of “write” that are equal to “do anything creative that is worth a shit” I believe that you are correct in this estimation. The rest of your time is spent doing work that could be delegated or just maneuvering into position so that you can get that three hours.

    We are biologically set up to spend our days hunting and gathering, not to be creative. We are biologically impelled to participate in group behavior that is orthogonal to individual creativity; but individual creativity is the engine of progress. So, take a Zoloft and do your three hours a day and dlegate the thirty hours a day of work that is not creative, and embrace the twenty-one hours per day that belong to you and not to your creative output.

    While you are at it, since you are so smart, develop a business model that recognizes this facility of creativity in everyone and that works around the fact that no employee is doing anything worth a shit for most of their time at work.

  2. Karen
    Karen says:

    Stop taking the drugs. They don’t work well, especially long term and are very unhealthy for your liver. I come from a family with a long history of mental illness; bipolar, depression, anxiety disorders. You name it, someone’s got it. I got off pretty lightly with some seasonal depression in the winter and periodic anxiety. By far the best therapy I have found is taking cold showers. Sounds crazy I know, but it works. Make the water as cold as you can stand it for as long as you can stand it. The most important part is soaking your head. It’s like it cools your brain down or something. Magic. Google it, it’s a real thing.

    • catesfolly
      catesfolly says:

      I’m always amazed at the folks who sight unseen can tell other people to stop taking the drugs, whatever the drugs are. Having lived on both sides of that experience and lived through the good the bad and the ugly of SSRIs (now not taking them), it strikes me as risky business to say for someone else what helps. It can be a pretty complicated road for some folks to find relief. How nice that cold showers work for you. For others it may take six or seven things, from meditation to psychotherapy to changing diet to downing fish oil to taking drugs. Who are you to say for someone else?

  3. Kristin
    Kristin says:

    This makes me so sad. You are very important too, and your boys need you to be a whole person more than they need you with them all hours of the day. Isn’t there some compromise you can make, like finding a great part-time program they can goto 2 or three days per week and you have them the rest? I am planning on homeschooling my kids next year and have found a great (I think) Waldorf program where the kids can go as many days per week as they want. They do some language, art, gardening, cooking, music, math…whatever, and it is not a high-pressure curriculum-based or test-based environment. They will also get the opportunity to be without me for a while, which I think is also important. They will be in 1st and 4th grades.
    Seriously, I have been reading your blog and it really sounds like you need something of your own that excites you and keeps you busy. That way you can be the best you can be for your kids. Plus, you are so talented! I would say the LAST resort should be drugs, because (though I have no experience) I doubt if Zoloft is a viable long-term solution.

  4. todd
    todd says:

    Relax. If drugs help you do it, fine. Read Robin Hanson. Human lives are LONG. You have plenty of time to enjoy the next 10 years raising your children without fretting that you will be consigning yourself to a life of permanent mediocrity. When you’re youngest son is 14, he will not be asking you to make macaroni talk. He will likely be asking very little of you, which will present it’s own challenges. You can pick up new work activities then. Opportunities for ambitious people are not going to evaporate in 10 years.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      This is the self-talk I usually engage in. The just-wait stuff, the kids will be young for only a short time. And you write that well Todd, so thank you.

      But I think it might be a sanity thing for me. How do people stay mentally engaged and interested in what they are doing in their life while they are a caretaker? I guess this is the question I’m trying to figure out.

      Well, and also I support the family. So it’s not like I could just stop working anyway.


      • Kristin
        Kristin says:

        That self-talk wil get you nowhere fast. Sure, it will help for a short period, but always the angst will come back, and for some people, that angst is devastating. You should at least try getting someone to help you maybe 2 days per week. Just because the “language teacher” you hired didn’t work out, that doesn’t mean nobody will work out. Find someone who can come in for two days so you can work on what satisfies that inner need you have to be productive on your own things. It will be good for the boys to see you doing your own thing, and they should learn that you are important too. And it is not necessarily true that when they turn 14 they won’t want much from you. I have heard that homeschooled kids often don’t go through that rebellious “I want nothing to do with parents” stage. You have the ideal career where you can, if you want, work part time and homeschool your kids. I would LOVE to have that opportunity. Unfortunately, mine is all or nothing, so I have to quit my job if I want to homeschool. Once I do that, I plan on finding something else I can do for myself…part time.

      • Smile
        Smile says:

        While you’re a caretaker, what you are doing in your life is caretaking. This is what you should be mentally engaged with. Just be in that moment. Being someplace else in your mind won’t give you satisfaction. When you homeschool, homeschool. Be present. Do not steal time for your own projects. Find someone to help you for a day or two and then do your projects. And when you work, work. IMO, multitasking is not very healthy. It is about finding the balance. And finding focus.

  5. Monica
    Monica says:

    I think you should stop judging yourself so harshly and I think others should be more gentle in their way of sharing their opinions. You are doing a great deal and seemingly well. Todd is wise, but you also have to feed them. A part time program might be ideal for you all. The fact is, you have to find what works for you. Including not sharing so much if that is good for you. The Zoloft may be the bridge needed for a while. I used it for 2 weeks once when I moved across the country and was telecommuting. That did the trick. Enough space to let me breathe and refocus.

    Also, remember that this is all new for you. We started the same time, I only attempt to blog daily the things the kids did (and it is not for public consumption and is as brief and cryptic as possible and I still missed the last two weeks.)I don’t have to support my family or maintain cohesive thoughts. That said, it was only yesterday that I felt we may be able to succeed with this homeschooling plan. I have been agonizing, yelling and worrying for months.

    But just like a dove, I had peace come over me yesterday in the middle of a math worksheet. My daughter stopped and gave me a hug and went back to it. And life is good.

    Be well and find your own way. Work and mothering and not mutually exclusive unless you make them. There are just choices that have to be made. If you keep the big picture – and everyone’s well-being in mind- it will all come good.

    It is a bit like driving. Look too closely in front and you will run off the road. You have to maintain some perspective and it sounds a bit like you are getting lost in the moment. It is so very easy to do.

    Best Holiday wishes.

  6. LJM
    LJM says:

    Penelope, it’s very good you’re addressing the yelling. If Zoloft doesn’t stop the yelling, try something else until you find whatever works to make the yelling stop (even if that means tutors or even school).

    I don’t know if you’ve tried cognitive therapy to deal with your anxiety, but it’s often as successful as medication and frequently more so. Best of luck.

  7. sarah-lucy
    sarah-lucy says:

    I am surprised by the anti-drug sentiment in the comments. The drugs certainly aren’t perfect, but they do help some people, and maybe Penelope is one of those people. I thought we were past putting a stigma on mental disorders. If my brain functions better when I take a pill in the morning, why would you advise me not to take the pill?

    That said, don’t be afraid to experiment to find the pill that works best for you. I’ve never tried Zoloft, but I really like Celexa. When I take it, it almost seems as if colors are brighter and there is more light in the room. I think of it as a back brace for my brain–it is teaching me what if feels like to handle things better until I can do it on my own.

    Parenting can definitely be less interesting and glamorous then a big career. But can it be more deeply rewarding? What are the things about it that you enjoy? You moved to the farm–I think the move to home schooling is similar.

  8. Nowgirl
    Nowgirl says:

    I’m not at all anti drug, but think you might be interested in amino acid therapy… 5 HTP which is the precursor to serotonin, GABA which Valium is modelled on, etc. The Mood Cure by Julia Ross is a good jumping off point. Lots in there about the relationship to carb addiction.

    Meanwhile, congratulations for getting healthy for your kids! You are a good mom.

  9. karelys
    karelys says:

    it’s great that people are concerned. but Penelope has come through many ordeals. I’m sure this zoloft taking will only be the bridge to figure out crazy fast paced, bringing ideas alive type of life while homeschooling.

    there are days when i want to take drugs or drink so i can make it through my work day. and no one would tell me not to do so because it’s bad for my liver and that i should tell my husband to get a second job so i stay home to be creative and peaceful and slow paced and have time alone like i need it.

    no one would.

    they would probably recommend other drugs or another doctor or books or religion.

    for P i say, cool, hope this drug helps you slow down enough to figure it out.

    ps. i never thought that yelling at your kids was bullying because my mom yelled at us so much so often. she prob. would’ve benefited from zoloft or some wine ;)

    but now i understand why i hurt so much when i think of the early days when we’d come back from school just to walk on egg shells.

    puts things into perspective. i think i walk away with a huge gift to think over for the holidays.

    having a racing mind can get addictive specially when paired with the ideal of superproductivity. but maybe you can discover a different side of you while having a little calm.

    i started taking some antidepressant and i hated it at first because i felt like a zombie. but with time things leveled out and i tapped into a different source of creativity with peace. i don’t know. it’s hard to explain but it turned out good.

    sometimes i miss the “high” of being fast paced so i drink lost of coffee on an empty stomach on the weekends and i write and do things. but at least it’s by choice and not destructive like my other self. the stress was good when applied to little boxes but it was destructive nonetheless.

  10. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    I’m confident you’ll get through this difficult patch and learn a few things in the process. Always be mindful and pay attention to any possible side effects of Zoloft such as drowsiness, etc. Try it for awhile and give it a chance so that you can make a fair assessment for its effect on you. You still may be able to be an “exciting, edgy artist” … on Zoloft. You won’t really know for sure until you go through this experimental stage. I think maybe the best way to look at it is that this drug is a fail-safe that goes into effect when other techniques aren’t working as well as they should.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Thank you for the link about the importance of unstructured play, Victoria.

      I think that for homeschoolers, the idea that kids should have down time just being kids is pretty easy. After all, there are 14 waking hours of the kids’ days and for school kids 10 of those are spend dealing with school stuff. Homeschoolers don’t have that.

      I would love to sit on the sofa and read all day while my kids do unstructured play all day, believe me. But my kids can do about three hours of it a day before they get bored and start fighting with each other for something to do.


  11. Joselle
    Joselle says:

    I usually erred on the side of not taking drugs, even though I’ve been slogging through depression and anxiety on and off for years, because I have hippie-crunchy tendencies and wanted meditation and yoga and some herbs and therapy to work. Then I took pharmacology in nursing schools. Drugs don’t do anything that your body isn’t already capable of doing. It just accelerates or somehow modifies the process. So, now I’m like, take the drugs. And herbs are not innocuous. They can mess up your liver, too.

    • catesfolly
      catesfolly says:

      I’m with Joselle on this. I just finished a class in psychopharmacology. The drugs aren’t without their risks, certainly. And we don’t yet understand all the risks. And we aren’t prescribing very carefully based on wide variations in people’s biology (their neurotransmitters and their liver enzymes) — but we will be within five years I bet.

      It’s not a simple question of drugs or no drugs; it’s a question of what’s the entire regime that can be put together to help us get through our days when we are struggling (and what tools can be learned when we are not struggling as much that will prevent more bad days).

      I keep thinking the folks who have simple yes or no answers to this question of drugs or not haven’t really been there. It’s very hard to be glib about the drugs if you’ve spent significant time at the bottom of the black hole.

      It’s not clear that GABA like the kind you buy at the health food store actually arrives as GABA (which is the body’s own calming neurotransmitter) at the receptor sites in the brain where it’s needed. It’s clear that benzodiazapines DO land at GABA receptor sites and mimic the action of the body’s own GABA.

      No one seems to think anymore that SSRIs work by bathing the neurons in serotonin. Their main anti-depressant effect is now believed to be by causing neurogenesis in the hippocampus (anxiety and depression are correlated with shrunken hippocampi) — ie, SSRIs cause the brain to grow more neurons where there are normally more in un-anxious, un-depressed people. It may be scary shit, but so is suicide, which 10-15% of people with depression succeed in doing (rates are higher if you are both anxious and depressed).

      Great article by the way in last issue of the New Yorker on the placebo effect:

      All these drugs may work in part a lot like talk therapy, which is by encouraging the body to correct itself because the mind believes it will work. We are in the dark ages in treating mood disorders and mental “illness” and mind/body chronic illness. We know way too little to be dogmatic about any of it, with the understanding that we are all experimenting with our own bodies to see what works for us. There is no right answer, and certainly no one size fits all answer.

  12. Joselle
    Joselle says:

    Oh, and as catesfolly said, most people with depression and anxiety need to do about 23 different things to stay afloat and see what works for them. Drugs is just one thing to try and drugs can often mean the difference between someone completely going off hinge and hanging in there. Do everything you can to help yourself.

  13. lottie
    lottie says:

    Anyone suffering from anxiety, please have a look at The Linden Method. As other posters have said, what works for some may well not work for others, but I’ve had great success with it and think it’s worth passing that on to others

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