What I Didn't Realize About Taking Medication For Anxiety And Depression
Trigger warning: suicide ideation, depression
I am one of those people who doesn’t like taking medication. If the problem is something I can fix in other ways, I’ll do that first. I typically don’t even take Tylenol or Advil for a headache. Medication is my last resort.
And I hit my last resort two months ago with my anxiety and depression. I made an appointment and went into my doctor’s office. For the first time ever I actually said out loud, “I think about killing myself constantly.” I had to say it. I had to tell someone. Because I wasn’t sure how much longer I would be able to make myself believe the excuses I had for not doing it. I was afraid that the sadness, hopelessness, emptiness, paralyzing and all-consuming anxiety I felt most of every day would finally consume me. That the just thinking about it would become making a plan to do it. And then that’d be it. I desperately didn’t want that to happen.
It was like a weight was lifted off my shoulders because I was telling someone who could actually help me. I was finally doing something to help myself.
And the doctor didn’t make me feel stupid or ungrateful for the beautiful life I know I was given. She didn’t automatically call people to have me admitted to the nearest hospital, or have my kids taken from me. She made direct eye contact with me while I cried and said, “It’s okay. We all need a little help sometimes. You are not crazy for feeling this way.” I needed to hear that, because I was feeling crazy.
My life had a lot of good in it, and I couldn’t understand why I had felt this way for so long. As I’m sure you’ve heard before, people who are suicidal don’t actually want to kill themselves; they just want the pain to stop. They just want the depression and anxiety to stop taking over their lives, affecting their families, their children. Affecting every single thing in their lives. That’s how I was feeling.
Lots of people take medication for anxiety and depression. Lots of people have told me before that I should try it.
I have tried it. Twice before actually. The first time, about six years ago, I took it for about two weeks and it made me feel so much worse mentally than before that I stopped taking it and never went back for my follow up. I was not a medicine taker ever, and I decided it just wasn’t for me. Looking back, maybe all I needed was more time on it.
The second time, about three years ago, it made the anxiety disappear completely, very quickly. But it made every other feeling numb. Physically numb, and emotionally numb. At that point, the numbness was worse than the anxiety.
So this time I was a little apprehensive to start. I was told it may make me feel “funny” the first few days and it could take up to a month to work. I scheduled a follow up for four weeks and started taking it that day.
What I didn’t know is that I would not feel better in that first week. And that it wouldn’t just make me feel funny, I would actually make me feel worse, at least physically. I would spend the majority of the first five days trying not to cry because I felt so nauseous. My head hurt worse than it ever has. Worse than a hangover from two bottles of white wine. I was told this could be a side effect, but I didn’t think I would feel so bad. I was dizzy and couldn’t focus or even think straight. I would be driving and then think that I shouldn’t be, because I felt almost drunk.
I would spend most of those days sleeping and apologizing to my husband and my kids for feeling so terrible. I couldn’t eat, so I lost seven pounds in five days. I would consider not taking it anymore, but the desperation to feel better kept me taking it. The desperation for me to actually live and not just breathe kept me taking it. I have never taken a medication so religiously.
Once the first week passed, I felt much better. But I was exhausted. More tired than I was when I had newborn babies who wouldn’t sleep more than two hours at a time during the night. I couldn’t make it through the day without taking a nap. And even after the nap, I’d go to bed much earlier than I usually did. Almost six weeks later, and I still felt that way. I was simply exhausted, no matter how much sleep I got, no matter what I fueled my body with. Just plain old exhausted.
So naturally, spending most of my time sleeping put me behind in cooking, cleaning, doing work for my job which I do from home, and spending time with my kids and husband. Which actually just made me more stressed than before. I felt defeated, like nothing would ever help me. Like everything would be a give and a take. I’ll take away your anxiety and depression, but I will give you exhaustion and ten times more stress because of said exhaustion. But I knew which one was more important to me.
What I didn’t know is that making the decision to finally help myself would actually be the most difficult thing I would ever do. I think for a lot of people, they think they’ll take this magic pill, and boom — you’ll feel better. You’ll have tons of energy, motivation. The thoughts of killing yourself will subside completely. You won’t have heart-pounding, make-you-dizzy anxiety anymore. This is what I had thought, had hoped, would happen.
But the truth is, you may feel worse. Then you’ll feel better. But not fully better. You’ll see little changes. You’ll stop in the aisle at Target and realize you hadn’t been paying attention to those around you as closely as before. Your heart will still pound when you see someone walking around with no shopping cart and their hood up. But you’ll be able to continue your shopping instead of running straight out of there. You’ll be okay taking your kids to a busy event, when before you wouldn’t even mention it to them, knowing your fears would keep you from showing up.
You’ll make it to the end of the day and realize you did not once cry in the car because you envisioned a car hitting you, killing you, and then pictured the tears falling down your children’s faces when they learned you were gone.
And you’ll make it through a week and suddenly it will occur to you as you’re cooking dinner, a random moment, that you haven’t had any thoughts of suicide at all. That it’s the first time in a week that you’ve even thought to wonder whether you’ve had suicidal thoughts. A small step – but a big step.
So when you go into your follow up appointment and say you don’t think it’s working because you aren’t feeling completely good – you’ll realize how many small changes have started taking effect. And you’ll realize that the anxiety and depression is always going to be there. But that it will lessen. That it is lessening. That the exhaustion won’t last forever. That all those small changes will turn into a big change, and big change just takes time.
Once you realize that, you will feel better. Find a doctor who makes you feel heard. Figure out the best methods for you – counseling, medication, exercise – whatever it may be. Then do it, and here’s the important part – STICK TO IT. Even when it’s hard and it feels like it’s not helping. Give it time. Lean on those who care about and support you. Let your people help you through it. I know this is hard to do, but your life is worth it.
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