Folks, I’ve struggled with anxiety for years. And not just the mild, temporary, fleeting kind but the kind that makes you afraid to leave the house. The kind that makes you feel like you’re losing your mind, makes you nauseous, makes it nearly impossible to function and accomplish the most basic, normal, everyday tasks.
I was 24 when I had my first therapy session. My anxiety had laid dormant for a long time, but the stress leading up to my wedding sparked something in me, and anxiety came back roaring, like a fire breathing dragon, and it almost devoured me.
I think I had convinced myself I didn’t really have a problem with anxiety, because for a long time it was manageable, only in the background, and not something that demanded my attention. But that’s the thing about anxiety. If you don’t address the underlying factors that cause it, if you don’t learn new ways of thinking and behaving, anxiety will make itself known. It will build up, like a damn about to burst, and then it will. And, suddenly, you can’t ignore it anymore because it’s flooding.
I’m 33 now. It’s been 9 years since I had my first therapy session. 9 years since my anxiety came to a head. 9 years of hard work, of changing unhealthy thought patterns, facing fears, and learning self-compassion.
And at 33 years old, 9 years in to breaking free from anxiety (really 33 years in), I’m trying an antidepressant for the first time.
I’ll be honest, I didn’t want to go on a daily medication. I was afraid of the side effects, of the long-term implications and residual effects down the road. I didn’t believe they would really help. I didn’t want to take “head meds” or “happy pills”, at least not daily. I so wanted to beat anxiety the natural way. Trying an antidepressant felt a little like a failure. Other people can beat it without meds. Why can’t I?
Truthfully, I made a lot of headway the “natural way”. At one point Anxiety used to take up my every waking moment. At my worst, it felt completely unbearable. It took me almost 2 full years to get over the worst of it. But I did. Antidepressant free. I got to a point where it was more situational. It still crept in, but it didn’t rule my life anymore. It was manageable.
But it was still there. A little bit. In certain situations. At certain moments. Still a thorn in my side.
I know the strategies: Clinging to my faith, deep breathing, meditation, prayer, good sleep, eating right, getting enough exercise, resting, boundaries, saying no, self-acceptance, and vulnerability. All great things. All incredibly helpful in recovery. I don’t do them perfectly all the time, but I try to practice them as much as possible. I couldn’t recover without them.
But for the past 5 years or so, I’ve felt stuck in my recovery.
Also, I’ve been considering having a baby, and I have a lot of doubts about my ability to carry a baby without falling to pieces, but that’s another blog post for another time. For now, suffice to say, it was a major contributing factor to making the decision.
So, after much hemming and hawing, and many a discussion with my Psychiatrist and my Therapist, I bit the bullet and tried Setraline, aka Zoloft, a pretty well known SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor).
I had so many mixed emotions. I felt like a failure. I felt like a cliché. I felt hopeful. I felt scared. And, above all else, I felt a lot of uncertainty.
I’m about 8 months in and I’m still uncertain about it. The first 2 months or so, I was sure it wasn’t for me. Turns out I’m pretty sensitive to SSRI’s. I was riddled with side effects and felt absolutely no improvement in my anxiety. And, because of the side effects, it’s taken me FOREVER to increase to a therapeutic dose because I’ve had to do it so slowly. I was about to throw in the towel, thinking that it just wasn’t for me.
But then, I started noticing some shifts. Subtle shifts, but shifts nonetheless. Small changes in thinking patterns, feeling maybe slightly better, able to handle life’s challenges more.
Much to my chagrin, I’ve realized it’s not a miracle pill by any means, and I’m still not without side effects. I’m still in the process of trying to figure out whether the small improvements I’ve noticed are worth the lingering side effects that don’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon (I never sleep through the night anymore, which totally sucks).
I know I don’t want to be on Zoloft forever, but I’m wondering if it’s going to assist with forming new neural networks, aka new thought patterns, if it might be worth sticking it out a little longer.
So, I continue to experiment. I’m still conflicted about it. I wish it were simple. But recovery isn’t simple, nor is it linear. What works for one person might not work for someone else.
Do I believe recovery from anxiety is possible without medication? I do. Do I believe recovery from anxiety is possible with medication? I do. It’s just about figuring out which path is the most helpful for yourself.
I’m tired of beating myself up for it. Anxiety is hard. It only becomes harder when we beat ourselves up for struggling.
The verdict is still out. I don’t know if I’ll stay on Zoloft or not, but I do know I’m giving myself room to try it, and I’m trying real hard to be extra compassionate and non-judgemental towards myself in the meantime.