I told myself I’d never take medication to manage anxiety. It wasn’t natural. I wouldn’t be myself. I am now telling myself that I was wrong.
After a lot of contemplation, trial and error, and weeks (even years) of sleepless nights, missed opportunities, and a full mind, I decided to make that appointment with my doctor.
Naturally, I’m always nervous to go to the doctor due to the fear of the unknown at every check-up. None of us like to walk into the office and hear that we’re due for another vaccine. (GET ME OUT OF THERE BYE.)
However, this time, I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I thought long and hard about whether or not medication for anxiety would be a good idea for me. I’ve tried CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) for a while, but never truly committed to that method of healing. It seemed like every session I went to was a waste of time and I never felt like I got the right resources to better myself. Being in college, I’ve also noticed that it’s hard to continue CBT along with a full load of classes and extracurricular activities. It just didn’t work for me before, but if it came down to it, I’d keep an open mind.
After that point, I had nothing else to lose and I needed to start doing something about the way I’ve been feeling for so long. I didn’t want my mind to be in constant battle with itself any longer. I wanted to take control of my life again.
I did my research, asked around, read some reviews, and ultimately decided that I wanted to be medicated. So, there it was. The appointment was on my calendar.
This would actually be the first time talking to my primary doctor about anxiety. In the past, I felt like my anxiety was never “severe” enough to be medicated or even discussed in the doctor’s office. I had visited neurologists for tension headaches, I had seen therapists for situational anxiety, but I was afraid my teenage self would be told once again, “It’s just stress.”
The day of my appointment came and I woke up feeling excited, relieved, and (of course) a little anxious. For some reason, this seemed like a monumental day.
My nurse took the vitals and asked what I was in for today.
“Just a little bit of anxiety,” I said.
Little did she know that this wasn’t “just a little bit of anxiety.” I don’t know why I felt the need to play it down like it wasn’t a big deal. For such a long time, I kept it to myself due to the fear of the eye-rolling and scoffs that I was just overreacting about something minor. I hate the stigma.
“Just a little bit of anxiety” had been running my life for years. “Just a little bit of anxiety” caused me to transfer schools, disconnect with great friends, miss out on incredible opportunities. I was almost angry at myself for not owning up to the fact that “just a little bit of anxiety” was much more than that. So, I didn’t hold back and I told my doctor everything.
…Racing heartbeat, nausea, irrational fear of nearly every situation, hard time getting up in the morning, insomnia, avoiding daily tasks, spending more time alone, crying spells, shortness of breath, mood swings, headaches…
Sure enough, my doctor explained to me that the symptoms I had been feeling definitely had a name. They call it GAD, or Generalized Anxiety Disorder.
There it was, the label. I was officially branded.
From there, we discussed my options. One option was to try CBT again, which is a method that I try to keep an open mind about, even after I didn’t have a lot of success with it in the past. I know for many people, it is beneficial. For me, CBT was nice for a while because I was able to go to a professional to talk about everything I had been experiencing. I was allowed to cry or be angry or whatever I needed to feel. It was a “safe place” with no judgement and no stigma. This option has always appealed to me because I’m a fan of holistic medicine and more natural ways of healing, but like I said before, this method never seemed to work for me long term. I kept it in the back of my mind, but there was another option I was set on this time.
My other option was to be medicated. Medication always scares me a little bit because of the side effects, risks, and the way it can alter your natural biology. I didn’t want to be prescribed some medication that turned me into a vegetable, unable to feel any sort of emotion anymore. I still wanted freedom and I wanted to feel normal and happy again. I know medication isn’t right for everyone and it must be taken carefully and safely. After expressing these concerns with my doctor, it was clear that the benefits outweighed the risks in this circumstance. I wanted to give it a shot. My doctor prescribed me Lexapro.
I picked up that prescription and stared at it for a while. This little sheet of paper on the back of that tiny orange bottle gave me permission to finally feel better.
My first dose was on Saturday, October 29th and I started on 5 mg (half pill) before bumping up to 10 mg (whole pill) after two weeks. While I was doing my research and talking to my doctor, I learned that Lexapro (or escitalopram, by its generic name) is a SSRI, or a Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor. In normal English, it’s an antidepressant that adjusts chemicals in the brain that may become unbalanced, which is ultimately the scientific cause of anxiety and depression. Don’t quote me on it, though, I’m not a doctor.
In other words, my brain naturally has too much of one chemical and not enough of another, which causes the imbalance that makes me feel a constant “fight or flight” mechanism…that constant feeling of anxiety. When the average person experiences “fight or flight,” or our natural stress response, there is a rush of chemicals that releases from the brain. For most people, this is only very temporary and won’t harm your health, since the chemical balance returns to normal once you relax.
However, for people with GAD or other forms of anxiety, this constant “fight or flight” feeling can be detrimental to your health due to this constant imbalance and release of chemicals from the stress response. This was a really interesting topic to learn about, so if you want to embrace the inner Meredith Grey in you and find out more too, click here.
Anyway, enough of my unwarranted Grey’s Anatomy lesson. Over time, the intention of my Lexapro prescription is to balance the anxiety-causing chemicals in my brain so I can be a happy Jess again.
Today, I just took my second dose of 10 mg. Like many other SSRIs, you don’t feel therapeutic effects immediately, which is slightly frustrating some days. It will take between one and four months to notice a difference in the way I’m feeling, so I have to stay hopeful and patient. I also have to remind myself that being on medication is a mental and physical collaboration. I can’t depend solely on the medication to make me better; I still have to make a strong effort to get out and do things that are good for my mind and body, like eating adequately, drinking lots of water, and taking care of myself. Some days are still harder than others and there’s still a constant battle going on between my anxious mind and my physical being.
I am still considering giving CBT another chance, because I think the combination of medication and therapy could be very beneficial if I can stick to it long-term. As an adult, I have lots of decisions to make in the near future about school, professional life, and my personal life, but I’ll always continue to put my mental health as a priority. We all have incredibly busy lives, there’s no denying that. However, please take care of yourself and know when to give yourself some time to reflect on that. If there’s one thing I’ve learned recently, it’s that there’s no shame in asking for help. If you are someone who is in need of a helping hand, please don’t be afraid to reach out to someone, myself included. Thank you to those people in my life who have always offered that helping hand, especially recently. You all rock.
Every day is a new day. We’ll see what tomorrow brings.