The Game Changer(s)

In the last 2-3 years my anxiety has improved tremendously.

Anxiety and I, well, we’ve known each other for a long time. It’s been a life-long journey, with battles throughout, but the time period between 2011-2020 was probably the toughest for me. 2011-2013 were almost unbearable. Then, things improved, but I still really struggled. I still had bouts of anxiety that were debilitating. They would come and go and, sometimes I’d even think I was free of it, but it would come back, and I’d have to face the fears and phobias and symptoms that would arise yet again.

It was exhausting. It was hard. It was discouraging. It was frustrating. It was many things.

2020 is a year everyone will remember. I’m no exception. The year of the pandemic, the year of remote work AND the year I decided to go on Zoloft.

Game changers for me. Working from home and Zoloft.

It didn’t happen overnight. I had side effects from the medication that took a long time (like, almost a full year) to resolve. My body did not like Zoloft at first, and I thought, “Great, just another thing that isn’t going to work for me,” but I kept taking it. I’m not even sure why because I didn’t notice any improvement until a few months in.

Then, slowly, I noticed subtle changes. The anxiety that would arise in certain scenarios wasn’t as intense as it once was. Intrusive thoughts that sometimes plagued me and worries I obsessed over suddenly didn’t bother me the way they once did. My stomach issues started to resolve, and I felt like I could breathe again. The heaviness I had been carrying around for years, started to lift. I had forgotten what it felt like to feel like me. I was able to face a particular phobia I hadn’t been able to overcome in years. I stopped needing to take Ativan “as needed”. I felt chains, rusty and old because it had been so long, start to break.

The pandemic also forced me to work from home. So, it was the perfect time to try out a medication like Zoloft. It also allowed my body time to rest. As an introverted, somewhat socially anxious person, it gave me the freedom to fully relax in ways I didn’t know were possible. I was able to put distance between myself and co-workers who caused me stress. I wasn’t in my office and available every day for people to just “pop in” and belabor me with issues that needed to be resolved.

I had no idea how much I needed the quiet, the solitude, the relaxed atmosphere of a home office.

I know a national pandemic is not “relaxing” and I’m sensitive to the many people whose health anxiety probably skyrocketed during this time, but, for me, 2020, that crazy, scary, isolated year actually brought about transformative healing.

I am someone who has tried a lot of things, maybe not all the things, but a lot of things to break free from the grips of an anxiety disorder. I was very anti-medication for a long time. I was determined to fight anxiety “naturally”, meaning without pharmaceutical meds. I had to work through a lot of shame in “resorting” to taking a medication like Zoloft, and if I’m being honest, I probably still feel some of that shame. I wish I didn’t need to take it. To be honest, I don’t know why the Zoloft works. I don’t think there is good evidence to suggest a “chemical imbalance” as the reason for mental health issues like anxiety and depression. But, I do know, that taking Zoloft has been absolutely monumentally life-changing for me.

Night and day.

I remember the days of sitting in a meeting with my boss having a panic attack so severe I could barely control the shaking in my hand as I jotted down notes. I remember the days where it was difficult to leave the house. I remember hiding in a bathroom stall feeling the room spin. I remember the racing thoughts, the sweating hands, the dizziness. I remember the intrusive thoughts as I drove my car over the bridge, picturing myself losing control and driving over the edge. I remember the irrational fears of losing complete control, of losing my mind and doing something horrible. I remember the phobia of vomiting in public. I remember the anxiety that would have my stomach in knots even attending a family dinner. Why? I don’t know. But I remember the anxiety. The awful, intrusive, unwelcome anxiety. I remember the panic attack at the checkout at the grocery store. I remember trying to focus on my breath and calm myself down, willing myself to just make it through the transaction so I could get out of there. I remember thinking everyone could tell how anxious I was. I remember the pep talks, the praying, the tears, the pleading with God to take it away, to help me overcome it. I. Remember.

I do understand why working from home helped but I don’t know why the Zoloft works.

All I know, is that I am so grateful. I am grateful to not have to fight something every day of my life. I am grateful for the rest. I am grateful for the normality it brought back to my life. I am grateful to feel like myself again. I had forgotten what it felt like to not be anxious, to do normal, everyday things and not think about them, not plan for worst case scenarios, not formulate exit strategies. I am grateful I do not need to know every single detail of every single event, because I don’t really need to plan an escape anymore. I am grateful to just be. I am grateful for the room to think about other things besides the consuming worries and fears that used to take up so much of my thought life.

I am grateful for the new neural networks that have formed in my mind. I am grateful I no longer chase down every irrational thought and fear that pops into my mind.

I am grateful for working from home.

I am grateful for Zoloft.

I am grateful for the healing.

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