I tried to think of a more original title, but this is the clearest truth. I have been struggling with anxiety and panic attacks off and on for the last twelve years. I believed that this would not change, and I was responsible for managing my anxiety by my own efforts. I was high functioning, and I tried a variety of methods to assuage my worry, panic, and obsessive thoughts. I saw a therapist, walked outside, read books to escape, prayed earnestly, did breathing exercises, practiced rituals like making tea and running bath water, listened to podcasts, and exercised when I could.
These efforts did offer temporary relief, but I had no idea how pervasive the anxiety was in my brain and how it was affecting every aspect of my life. My anxiety disorder had become a thick cloudy veil that was blocking me from being my truest self.
In retrospect, there were some signs in my childhood that I had some anxiety and obsession, but that was the 80s and 90s, and we just didn’t have the language for those things at the time. I can remember being a child and feeling a tightening in my chest when my multiple pillows and stuffed animals were not placed just right on my bed. I would rush to my bed and rearrange them as quickly as possible. I would become fixated on a particular sound or something someone had said, which would consume my thoughts for way longer than it should. I had feelings of being overwhelmed or in danger when absolutely nothing was wrong around me. These indicators would come and go over the years, but around turning 30 and having my first child, my anxiety increased. In the last six years or so, it’s been really difficult. Something as simple as grocery shopping or running errands would sometimes trigger a flushed face and increased heart rate. Holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries meant excessive pressure and stress.
This past year, I had to work to experience fun and joy in my life. Those moments were really precious, and I would document them with cute Instagram and Facebook posts. To others, it appeared that I was walking around in happiness, fun, and enjoyment, but in actuality, those experiences were earned with significant effort and reflected only a small part of my reality.
My husband and two sons were often the recipients of my irritability, irrational fears, blocked emotions, and anxiety-induced panic. One night when I was really stressed and irritable, I was going around the house, picking up things, fussing at my boys, and my oldest son gave me a post-it that said, “I’m sorry that there’s so much pressure on you. It shouldn’t be that way.” So, as you can imagine, I felt incredibly seen and also guilty that he was aware of my struggles. My whole family noticed. I was often short-tempered and easily frustrated. Some nights after I read and prayed with my son, I would lay on his floor and cry silently. Why couldn’t I get a hold of myself? What was wrong with me? Why did I feel so out of control? What else could I do to get better?
Surprisingly, the first real conversation I had about medication was at a church Easter egg hunt. I was talking to one of my oldest friends, Ashley, while our kids ran around, music played, and spring celebration saturated the air. She asked how I was and I told her I was struggling. She said, “Have you thought about an antidepressant?” and she went on to tell me how much hers helps. She brought up intrusive thoughts, which I had recently read about, and she said something I will never forget. She made an analogy to mosquito repellant, which we all know well, right? She said her medicine was like Off! in the sense that the thoughts may still be there, but they bounce off or quickly leave. Ashley encouraged me to talk to my doctor. The conversation lasted all of ten minutes, but in the midst of children’s laughter, pastel colors, Easter eggs, and loud music, I seriously considered if medication would help me.
Well, it took a long summer before I followed through. I mentioned to my mom that I hadn’t been to a GP in a long time. She recommended her Nurse Practitioner. I made an appointment for August 4. I felt anxious, of course, but I knew it was time to speak to a medical professional. In that doctor’s office, the amazing NP asked me all the normal check-up questions, and then she asked if I had any questions for her.
I told her about my anxiety, and she asked me, “Do you think about driving off bridges when you cross them or other intrusive thoughts?” And I quickly replied, “Yes!”
I had never told anyone that before. I shared my other symptoms with her, including describing my panic attacks, and she nodded. She confidently told me that she believed an SSRI (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor) would help. There are many SSRIs, and after considering my other health factors, she prescribed me Prozac (fluoxetine) to try out. She told me it would change my life. I didn’t believe her. She was right.
After a month taking Prozac, I experienced a revelatory difference. The cloudy veil lifted. The heavy curtain that was obscuring me from seeing and feeling and being myself was gone. The SSRI did not change my personality. It did not numb me. It did not give me false feelings. Instead, I feel more myself than I have in years. Now I can see people close to me in new ways. I can love without fear. I have a newer level of empathy. I teach differently, and I see my students with more compassion and understanding. I also feel no need to control or manipulate others. I do not get stressed about menial tasks/errands. I am more patient and can listen better. I do not emotionally eat, and I also do not shame myself for eating when I’m hungry. I have clarity of purpose. I can make small decisions and big decisions without feeling paralyzed and over analyzing. Finally, everything is not hugely daunting.
Here is the clearest truth one more time. An antidepressant changed my life. I did not realize how severe my anxiety and panic were until after my medication adjusted my brain chemistry. I was striving so hard to manage and function. Now, I am thriving.
Medicine for mental health should be mentioned in the same way as medicine for heart problems, diabetes, blood pressure, and other physical ailments. I gladly will share with anyone how an SSRI has radically improved my life. Faith, therapy, and prayer can all do wonders for us, but our brain chemistry is an actual medical issue that can be impacted with medication. I know this now, and I am walking around with a mended life as proof.