I’ve struggled with anxiety and depression since fall 2014. It came out of nowhere, and hit me like a ton of bricks. It felt like the impact of a car accident or the spontaneity of an earthquake. For four years I suffered, openly and honestly, but I never considered being medicated.
Until last October.
At the beginning of my fall 2018 semester, my anxiety and depression were running rampant. I would wake up every morning and immediately start crying, calling my mom in an uncontrollable, anxious fit. I had no idea what was wrong with me or what was going on, or why my mental illness was all of a sudden so severe. I had been in a good place, I had been handling it well and managing it like I always did: with lots of prayer and lots of essential oils.
But this time felt different. I couldn’t put a finger on why I was feeling this way.
A caveat about my story: while I had been struggling for four years with these mental illnesses, I never received a formal diagnosis from a doctor or a psychiatrist. I never felt like I needed one; I knew what I had, and the way I was managing it seemed to work.
After a few weeks of waking up in tears, not eating much, and feeling ridiculously nauseous all the time, I decided to see a psychiatrist. This decision was not made lightly; it came after conversations with friends telling me that waking up feeling sick and crying was not normal; it came after my mom begging me to go on medication because she’s seen the effects of not treating mental illness properly. “Alyssa, when something is broken, you go to the doctor to get it fixed,” they would tell me. “You don’t just wait around hoping it heals itself.”
But that’s exactly what I was doing. That’s what I had been doing for the previous four years and it was working just fine. Or so I thought.
After a few days of still resisting going to the doctor, I finally gave in. “Okay,” I told my mom. “You can call the doctor.” While I promised to see the doctor, I did not promise to go on medication. I was still severely resistant to that idea.
The morning I went to see the psychiatrist, I was emotional and uncertain; nervous and nauseous. I was happy my mom would be there, though. He started asking me a large variety of questions: what do I study? What’s my relationship with my brother like? Where did I grow up? He asked me things about my whole life, not just about my brain or my mental illness.
Then it came…the diagnosis. “You have generalized anxiety disorder, accompanied by mild-moderate depression.” He prescribed me with a mild anti anxiety/anti depressant called Lexapro.
As he wrote the prescription, it took everything in me not to break down. I felt like I now had a label…one that I had avoided for four years. I left his office feeling like I had my diagnosis tattooed on my forehead.
Accompanied with this feeling of discouragement, though, was a mild feeling of relief. I can’t explain what that relief was from, but it was there. Subtly. Quietly. It was there.
I began taking my medication the next day. It took a few weeks to kick in, but I could feel it changing my brain. It started with my depression. A couple weeks after taking it, I realized I was laughing again. I was more motivated to finish my school work and I was desiring more social interaction. Staying in bed didn’t sound as appealing, but going out was finally exciting again. Once my depression was letting up, then the medication got to work on my anxiety. I woke up one morning and didn’t feel nauseous…a feeling I hadn’t felt in over four years. Making decisions got easier. Even little ones like minor decisions about my schedule. The medication was working.
So why am I telling you all of this? To brag about my experience? No. To tell you that everyone should go on medication to fix their problems right now? No.
I’m telling you this because I was so resistant to medication for such a long time, that I lost four years of my life fighting a battle on my own that needed an army to be fought.
I’m telling you this because I want you to know that needing to be on medication is not shameful. I felt so much shame when I started taking my medication because I felt like this was a battle I was supposed to win on my own; I felt like needing help made me weak. I cannot even begin to tell you how wrong I was.
I’m telling you this because I need you to understand that asking for help is not weak. Asking for help and accepting it is perhaps the strongest thing you will ever do. It’s humbling. It’s terrifying. And it’s worth it.
You were not made to fight your battles alone, and you certainly were not made to live captivated by your mental illness. You were made to live unshackled, dancing on the wings of life.
I’m always here to talk openly and honestly about my struggle with mental illness, and I want you to feel free to do the same.