my relationship with anxiety medication

TW: mental illness, anxiety, depression, irrational behavior

it’s been just over a year since i first started my medication for anxiety and depression. when i first started on it, i was so happy. getting that prescription helped me cope with  and come to terms with the fact that everything was not okay. the bottle was something tangible for me, something i could hold in the palm of my hand as if to reassure me. it truly made me feel less alone. it gave me an external source of strength when i didn’t have any left within me. but then one day something inside me changed and looking at my medication instead filled me with resentment and shame.

white and yellow

i stare down at the tiny pill in the palm of my hand; some kind of magic mix of chemicals encased in a yellow and white shell. Zoloft. annoyed that my brain doesn’t regulate these neurochemicals by itself.

taking my meds became routine – wake up, have breakfast, medication. it became so automatic that sometimes i would forget if i even took it or not. “did you see me take my medication this morning.” at this point, i didn’t even think twice about taking the medication. i still had bi-weekly check-ins with my doctor to talk about symptoms, i was actively looking into therapy options, i was still on that weird high from finally telling my family about my struggles. i kept myself accountable.

i never really had any side effects at all, which i counted myself lucky for. i know some of my friends had horrible migraines, dizziness, pain when they first started on SSRIs. for me, it was mostly just being a little extra tired at the beginning. most of the effects were actually really great. my concentration improved immensely. my inner “anxiety voice” wasn’t as persistent. my obsessive checking was less intense. i was genuinely happier than i had been in years.

one step forward, ten steps back

then one day, probably about 8 months in, i just stopped. i don’t even quite remember when it was to be honest. i remember sitting in class one day and a reminder went off on my phone – “medication”. i turned it off and went back to half-listening to my professor. it dawned on me then, however, that it had been at least 3 days since i last took my medication. and you know what? i felt fine.

8 months ago, i would have never let myself miss one, let alone three days in a row. it was unimaginable. but for a few weeks, i had been struggling a bit with the fact that i still needed the medication. don’t get me wrong: going into it, i knew that it wasn’t going to be an overnight change and that i would need to put the work in across all aspects of my life. but for some reason, i became really disappointed with myself that i even needed it in the first place. it was almost a self-destructive move, me stopping the medication.

the reality of the situation was that i wanted so badly to be better that i actually convinced myself that i didn’t need the medication anymore. i didn’t even consult my doctor. i didn’t tell my parents. i didn’t really tell anyone. looking back, i now know this was the most unsafe and irresponsible thing i could have done. the internalized stigma (that i didn’t even know was there) became so intense that i actually stopped my medication.

the aftermath

obviously things didn’t go well. i started to feel the lack of the meds almost instantly. remember when i said i felt fine? well, that only really lasted a few days and after that, i felt like i was back at square one. frankly, i was disappointed in myself.

i consulted my doctor and explained what had happened. she’s a great physician so she was super nice about it, but she also made sure I understood how dangerous it can be to just stop your medication cold turkey. it’s hard to remember these days.

i know i was on the road to bettering myself and bettering my health and then suddenly, i was back to where i started. it also made it worse that me not feeling good happened at my own hands. when the anxiety and depression first came along, i could attribute it to external causes. sure, it was my own brain and my own body, but it wasn’t actually me. genetics, upbringing, circumstances. all things i could not control. this time however, i felt like it was. and sure, the genetics, upbringing and circumstances were still there, but i took away the one thing that was good and working for me. i did that. 

today

today i have a much better relationship with my medication. i take it every day, i keep myself accountable and i feel okay. sure, i might forget one day but, it’s never on purpose. the shame no longer lingers within me. i’m okay with the fact that i need the help and that, for me, is revolutionary.

when i was struggling with the fact that i was still on medication, it was hard to find real stories from real people detailing their own similar struggles. all of the websites just explained why you shouldn’t do this, not what to do and how to cope when it’s happening to you (aside from you know, go to your doctor). i wish i had heard from someone else that this didn’t mean i was a failure and this didn’t say anything about my strength. so, i decided to make my own to hopefully reach at least one person. i see you. i hear you. you are not alone. 

stay anxious & brave,

carol

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