Brief overview of my medication history
I was first prescribed anti-depressants when I was 14 years old, a freshman in high school, when a therapist diagnosed me with depression. Depression ran in my family, so it seemed at the time like going on medicine was the best answer. When I started getting panic attacks at age 16, I needed a new medication that would help reduce my anxiety. It took a few months and a lot of different medications and doctors (including MRI brain scans and blood tests) to find the perfect fit and Sertraline (Zoloft) was it. It didn't make the panic attacks go away, but it made me feel like I had more control over them.
During my third year of college, I relied on external forces (romantic relationship, friends, nice apartment, easy classes) to make me happy and it convinced me that I didn't need medicine anymore. This was fine for a little, until my fourth year of college when the combination of a toxic relationship, the loss of friends, and the inevitable end of college's cushy cocoon made me so depressed and anxious that I rarely left my room and I didn't attend my graduation ceremony. (I explain this in a previous post.)
After graduation, I went back on Sertraline and felt comfortable enough to move to Scotland for my Masters degree. After a few months of smooth-sailing, my anxiety flared up again, causing me to get stomach aches almost every day. This is when I decided I needed a better solution. Relying on medicine wasn't going to cut it, so I saw a Cognitive Behavioral Therapist who taught me to challenge my thoughts and fix my thought patterns. I also learned a lot from my boyfriend's (shout-out Stag Aesthetics) love for stoicism, which is the basis for CBT.
○ Stoicism is a school of philosophy founded in the early 3rd century BC and practiced by Epictetus, Seneca, and Marcus Aurelius. This philosophy teaches us where to direct our thoughts and actions, and teaches us to focus on what we can control and accept what we cannot. Read more about Stoicism here. Author Ryan Holiday draws from the teachings of Stoicism in many of his books, like Ego Is the Enemy, and relates them to modern-day personal development.
All of this self-training gave me the confidence to go off my medicine for good. I have been tapering off Sertraline since August and I am now taking a quarter of the dosage I had been taking for the past 10 years! In a few months, I will be medication-free.
Why take medication?
I don't regret being on medication. I think medication helped me through this learning process and without it, I wouldn't have been able to take the risks I have. When I was 16 years old, I wasn't in the right mindset to self-treat my anxiety. In college, I was so overwhelmed with anxiety that without the medicine, I think I would've dropped out. Some people need medicine to treat their mental health just as some people need medicine to treat their physical health. Do we question the need for mental health treatment because it's not a tangible thing? Maybe. Is it confusing because you can't see on a brain-scan where the anxiety affects the body? Maybe. It's an ongoing debate.
Why not take medication?
People like to say medicine is a band-aid. It's been a band-aid for me, but I needed that band-aid for awhile. As I said, I was a hormonal teenager—throwing anxiety into the mix was cause for disaster. I am older now, I understand things differently, and it is much easier for me to observe situations and realize they don't matter nearly as much as 14-year-old Kelly thought they did. I've been given the tools and resources from numerous books, peers, and doctors to learn how to overcome my own anxiety. It's still a struggle every day but I can work on it without the medicine now.
There are two ways of handling anxiety disorder: Giving into the disorder and using it as an excuse to do nothing, and accepting you'll have to work at it every day and are willing to do so.
Examples of giving in and doing nothing:
You decline invitations to go out with friends and would rather sit home where it's comfortable. You say "I would love to do that but I can't because I have anxiety". You give up on dreams because of anxiety. You constantly remind friends and family that you have anxiety, so they understand why you are avoiding them or the situation. You try new things and if you get anxious, you put yourself down and believe you are hopeless.
Personal examples: I declined the opportunity to study abroad in Scotland during my 3rd year of college, I avoided the graduation ceremony, I did not read my creative work aloud to an audience, I stayed in toxic relationships, I avoided the gym because I didn't want people to judge me, I fed into my anxious thoughts to the point where I believed I was hopeless.
Examples of accepting and taking action:
You accept invitations and prepare beforehand so you can handle your anxiety properly. You try new things and if you get anxious and leave, you see the positive in what you've done and strive to do better next time. You are open about your anxiety with friends and family and ask them for help if you need it and you don't feel embarrassed to do so. You prepare and practice by taking baby steps towards achieving your goals. You never give up on your dreams.
Personal examples: I moved to Edinburgh (duh!), I went to a very crowded fitness expo, I flew in a helicopter, I took a presentation skills course, I walked at my Masters graduation, I lift heavy weights in the gym (and laugh at all the guys who make ridiculous grunting sounds), I truly love myself, I remind myself every day that I can do anything I set my mind to, and I met someone who supports me 100%.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is... that there is no bottom line. Anxiety affects everyone differently. If it affected everyone the same, perhaps there would be a clear-cut "cure" but there isn't. There are numerous ways people treat anxiety because we are all unique. I will never fully understand how anxiety affects you, nor will you fully understand how anxiety affects me. Therefore, some people rely on medicine and that's perfectly okay.
Anxiety is a tricky subject because it can be hard to understand, especially to those who do not experience anxiety disorder. There is a difference between getting nervous before a presentation and getting a full-blown panic attack. Those who have not experienced the latter will have trouble understanding what it's truly like.
I ask that—whether you've experienced anxiety or not—you are understanding and supportive to those who experience it. Demanding a person to "Just get over it," will never suffice as a solution. There is nothing just about getting over anxiety. It takes a lot of brain-power, with internal battles against your mind and your ego, and A LOT of practice.
But if you are willing to put in the work, you'll discover you are capable of anything you set your mind to.