I never wanted to be on medication.
I don’t know that anyone really does. With all the side effects and the possibility that the meds can make things worse, it’s no surprise that resistance is a first-line defense.
My undesirable friends Depression and Anxiety have been a part of my life since roughly middle school, which was about the same time that I joined cross country and figured out I could run on feelings alone.
I leaned into that for the next 6 years, took a break when I started college, and a few years later, restarted my relationship with running. It eventually led to weightlifting and Spartan racing, and my life centered around pushing myself to my mental and physical limits nearly every day.
Unfortunately, due to a long-standing hip injury aggravated by a genetic condition (ironically made worse by the hip injury), my body had difficulty meeting the demands I made.
Eventually, chronic pain reminded me that ignoring my limitations had consequences. I would have to pull back from training, which would take me more than a year to finally accept. If this doesn’t speak volumes to the fear I felt about my mental health, I don’t know what will.
I chose to suffer constant physical pain to avoid mental anguish.
I could feel Depression and Anxiety waiting in the background, hopping from foot to foot, excited to get me back for regular dates when the multiple-hour sessions at the gym had to stop. I knew it, and I was filled with dread.
Not long after I fully resigned to rehab activities only, I started having regular anxiety attacks without cause. I felt like crying all the time. I was consistently on edge. I couldn’t eat because my stomach was so uneasy. And when I tried to use exercise to mitigate the effects, pain stopped me in my tracks. I didn’t know what else to do, so I hung my head, admitted defeat, and called my doctor.
I didn’t want to be on meds for a list of concerns:
- What will happen to my personality?
- What about my creativity?
- I don’t want to be a zombie.
- Will I lose my sex drive? (*cringe* sorry Mom and Dad)
- Will I gain weight?
- Will I become suicidal?
- Will it make me tired?
- Will it make one worse while it lessens the other?
- How long and rough will the adjustment period be?
and so on.
Fortunately, my wonderful doctor listened, understood, and made several suggestions, but ultimately, we decided meds were the way to go. She chose Lexapro, stating the various reasons why she felt it was best for my particular set of circumstances along with the benefits and side effects. It sounded like the right fit. I felt nervous, but I proceeded.
And it went better than I could have imagined.
I started a new job in September. And between starting a new job I had been dying to land and buying a house that required a few major updates, my ability to keep tabs on adult responsibilities failed, and I found myself going off Lexapro in a rather unplanned way.
To summarize: I forgot to plan for the gap in insurance coverage that happens when you get a new job. I didn’t stock up, and I ran out. And meds without insurance? Not cheap, especially when you’re dumping money into a house that requires more TLC than planned.
So, with a month before the new coverage started, I realized I had enough pills if I took half a pill every 3 days. So that’s what I did. And then 10 days before the new insurance, I ran out. And that’s when the reality set in.
For those unfamiliar with anti-depressants, this is not recommended. And I’m not recommending it.
My mental state quickly deteriorated. I was crying several times a day for no reason. I felt hopeless. I was tired all the time, no matter how much I slept. I felt empty almost every minute I was awake. While I have suffered from depression and anxiety for a long time, they’re usually co-occurring, so one generally helps minimize the extremes of the other. But without the anxiety, depression was eating me alive. Silently, but quickly.
I leaned on my support systems. I clearly communicated what I was feeling with people who could keep an eye on me. I kept watch on myself, fully aware that the very convincing thoughts I heard day in and day out weren’t reality. My brain was having a hard time, but fortunately, I never felt suicidal.
The Come Down
I’m back on the meds. And what I learned has been eye-opening.
Before Lexapro, I knew anxiety and depression were no picnic, but they never felt unmanageable. I didn’t feel awesome a lot of the time, but that was kind of normal for me. For a long time, actually, I thought most people felt the way I did, but they were better at dealing with it.
And then I had medication that evened things out and the clarity was surreal:
Anxiety and depression make life much harder than it has to be.
They put you on edge. They make the most simple disagreements feel like an attack. They steal your personality and your joy. They make you afraid and small. They gobble up all the light inside of you until you’re nothing but an empty room without windows or power to turn on the lights when the scary monsters lurking in the dark come creeping out.
I always slept with self-doubt, but I never realized how consuming that was – how much of my personality and energy it ate – until I was off the meds after months of experiencing life without constant second-guessing. To know life without thinking, “But why should you feel good about this? What’s so special about you?” was oddly wonderful. My happy felt bigger, my smiles felt realer. Everything was better.
If you can’t understand this – if you’re thinking, “So just think differently,” let me try to help you understand why it gets like this. It’s not exaggeration. It’s not drama. And it’s certainly not weakness.
Depression voice speaks with such conviction and clarity that it’s hard not to believe it, especially when it follows you around, sitting on your shoulder, stoking the fires of self-doubt. Imagine someone following you around all day, listing the ways in which you fall short, how insignificant you are in a way that slowly chips at you. It’s not a shout. It’s not the voice of a bully. It’s a calm, knowing, measured, matter-of-fact voice that doesn’t provoke argument. On tenacious repeat.
Life without that feeling felt easy. I remember when the meds started working. “Wow. No wonder other people are so good at handling conflict. I feel so calm, so okay that any confrontation seems easy to handle.” I hadn’t really ever felt that way because I was constantly engaged in war with my feelings.
The meds gave me space to breathe. They gave me room to relax, to recover, and to feel like a person. I quickly started sleeping better, my eating habits evened out, my mental state was steady. I felt like Me: Version 2.0.
I didn’t want to be on meds. I had hoped to not need them forever. But this little unplanned experiment made it clear that life doesn’t have to be an endless, unwinnable battle with my brain’s chemical makeup. I’m now on the low-dose version. And I’m okay with staying there. I’m a healthier, happier, better version of me with a little help from the chemical brain crossing guards.
Meds aren’t for everyone. This med won’t be for everyone. And that’s okay. But for me, they guard me from the garbage heap depression likes to dump.
Take care of your feels, friends, in whatever way works most effectively for you. If that means meds, take the meds. Monitor yourself. Make sure you have a solid support system. If that means running until your lungs nearly collapse, lace up those shoes and hit the pavement. And if that means you need someone to talk to, give me a call. I can talk louder than those nasty voices any day.
You deserve love. You deserve happiness. You deserve relief. The depression isn’t right. The anxiety isn’t strong. You are. Be your best friend. Fuck those awful feelings. They’re not as real or as powerful as they’ll have you believe.