Well, the title of this blog certainly doesn’t leave much to the imagination but sometimes you have to cut through the fluff and get straight to the point. I have shared a bit about my struggle with anxiety before but have yet to really dive into the medication end of things. Maybe I haven’t shared much because I still hold some embarrassment or shame around it. After all, despite all of the work we have done, there is still a huge stigma around mental health issues. Or maybe I haven’t shared as it just didn’t seem relevant until recently. Either way, I’m doing it now. Because the reality is, that tiny pill that I take every day enables me to function in a more effective way, be a more present parent and partner, and live beyond the panic that consumed me for so long. And if that doesn’t warrant a little spotlight, I don’t know what does.
Despite the fact that anxiety has plagued me for as long as I can remember, I haven’t always treated it with medication. In fact, most of my life, I have ‘toughed it out’, white-knuckling my way through, riding the waves on my own, without the help of a serotonin reuptake inhibitor. There were periods that my ‘white-knuckle’ approach was effective and I managed to cope quite well, and there have been times where I have not been so successful in managing. Times such as during my pregnancies when I was struck with crippling perinatal anxiety, or after the loss of my parents when everything seemed too much. Or times like two years ago when there was no momentous occasion or trauma, but anxiety brought me to my knees anyway. In spite of what we are led to believe, mental health issues do not need a ‘reason’ to pop up.
These periods of my life seem to come in peaks and valleys and are marked by symptoms such as irritability/anger, sleep disturbances, fatigue, difficulty concentrating/brain fog, uncontrollable worry, feelings of dread, and the most disruptive … dissociation and intrusive thoughts. Anxiety has gotten in my way of being a connected and present parent, it has affected my career, and it has taken a toll on my physical health.
I remember when I viewed my refusal to take medication as a badge of honour. A testimony of my strength and determination. I was eager to try anything but – from positive thinking and exercise, to essential oils and dietary supplements, but I saw medication as weakness, as giving up. I was also scared of side effects, and of judgement. I can see the irony now. In refusing to take meds during pregnancy or breastfeeding in order to ‘protect my kids from chemicals’, I ended up subjecting them to a very anxious and disengaged mother. And in avoiding pharmaceuticals in the name of health, I caused years of undue stress on my body. I write this now with nothing but a tonne of empathy for this younger version of myself, I was only doing what I thought was right. I was coping the best that I could at the time. And, I share this story now not because I think I have all the answers, but because we need to talk about it. We need to make saying, “I think I am struggling with depression.” as normal as, “I think I did something to my back, it hurts.”
We need to share our stories.
I don’t know how long I will need to be on medication. It might be a year, it might be a lifelong thing. I do know that right now it is a part of my treatment plan, a small but crucial piece of the puzzle at this time. Among the other pieces – exercise, diet, sleep, social support, meditation, and, at times, therapy. Similarly to if I were on medication for high blood pressure, I need to make sure I am caring for myself in all areas of my life. One cannot just throw a pill at it and keep eating McDonalds.
I also know that medication makes me no less a good writer, a successful marketing exec, a loving mother, or a sarcastic, fun-loving friend with flawless dance moves. In fact, right now, medication makes me better in all of those areas because when my anxiety is under control, I am more present, more engaged, more focused and more patient. And all areas of my life deserve my very best. I deserve that too.
If I am being honest, I do hope that one day in the not too distant future, I will be able to go off of my medication and manage my symptoms with diet, exercise, sleep, etc. Time will tell but in the meantime, I am going to stay the course. Just as I wouldn’t deny myself medical treatment for a physical ailment, I won’t deny myself this either. I deserve to be well. And although life will always have ups and downs, peaks and valleys, I am committed to never white-knuckling it again.