I was terrified of going on any kind of medication for my mental health. What if it changed my personality too much? What if I lost my ability to be creative? I’ve always felt I have a heightened intuition and though it may sound weird or some people, I was afraid I’d lose that part of myself by going on anxiety medications. I remember watching that teenage horror movie, Prom Night, and developing this idea that anxiety medications make you a zombie when Brittany Snow’s character said she stopped taking her anxiety medications so she wouldn’t feel numb for prom. I had no idea how a psychiatric drug could affect me and it scared me to think I could lose parts of myself that I liked to ease my depression and anxiety symptoms. When my panic disorder was at its worst I went to my doctor for help. I was having panic attacks at least 10 times a day, every single day, and was desperate for relief. He prescribed Ativan, a benzodiazepine, for when I needed relief of a serious panic attack. While most people will not experience this adverse reaction, I happened to experience the paradoxical side effects. This means that I panicked even more after taking a low dose of Ativan. My doctor suggested SSRIs to help prevent panic attacks by reducing my anxiety overtime since benzodiazepines aren’t right for me but I was terrified of having another bad reaction. I tried to recover from my anxiety and depression through therapy alone but for me personally, my anxiety symptoms were too severe for me to be able to take full advantage of what I was learning and my depression was too strong for me to develop the desire to take care of myself. I felt stuck. It took months of encouragement from my current therapist for me to work up the courage to try SSRIs. A couple of months later, I keep telling people how I wish I had gone on medications sooner. They’ve changed my life for the better in a short period of time and made me feel more hopeful for the future for the first time in years. It felt like a miracle. For anyone who is scared of going on medication or is about to go on medication for the first time and could use some tips, I have some advice from the perspective of a patient. All information included in this article is based on my personal experiences and is intended to act as guidance and a starting point for your research.
Discuss all concerns and questions with your doctor or psychiatrist
I had a lot of concerns about potential bad reactions to the SSRIs my doctor was recommending. I already experience digestive problems but would the potential side effects make my stomach feel worse? Was it possible to have an allergic or paradoxical reaction? My doctor reassured me that there have been no serious reactions to SSRIs ever and this came as a huge relief to me. He promised me we would take it slow and start at a low dose, only moving up when I felt ready if that helped alleviate my concerns over any side effects. Being honest with my doctor about my concerns allowed us to develop a plan that worked well for me and set me up for success. I had answers what I was unsure of and my doctor knew what my concerns were before deciding what dose and medication to put me on. Different mental illnesses require different medications and doses so always speak to your doctor about any side effects of your medication.
Find the right doctor and/or psychiatrist and don’t give up if you don’t find them right away
I’m lucky enough to have had the same great doctor since I was born. I fully trust him to be honest with me and I know I can go to him with any questions, no matter how silly they may seem. At the end of my appointments he always reminds me to call him with any questions or concerns I have so he can guide me through them. If your doctor and/or psychiatrist doesn’t seem to be supportive of you or makes you feel afraid to ask questions, discontinue seeing them and find someone new. I know this process can be overwhelming but it’s worth it and you deserve to be treated with the respect and care you desire from a medical professional. Making the choice to go on a psychiatric drug is serious and you want to go into it understanding the medication you’re going on, having answers to your questions, and knowing there is someone who can help support you. Because I was able to have open and honest conversations with my doctor, I knew what side effects were normal and how long they would likely last. If I hadn’t been able to ask my doctor questions or if he wasn’t thorough in his responses, I may have panicked at the first sign of a headache.
There may be some side effects
My doctor warned me that I may experience some minor side effects when I first started the SSRIs. Some psychiatric drugs cause you to feel a little spacey in the beginning stages but it’s a sign that the drugs are working so it’s nothing to panic over and it will go away. I experienced slight nausea, dry mouth, headaches, and fatigue when I first started taking the medication but these symptoms went away after a week and a half. My doctor and I strategically planned follow-up appointments so that we could track my side effects. I recommend keeping track of your side effects, when they happen, and how long they last, so your medical professional can assist you in determining if the side effects are normal and if they’re likely to go away. Most of the time the side effects do fade pretty quickly so unless your doctor or psychiatrist tells you to stop, stick it out under their guidance for at least a few weeks. You will want to work with your medical professional through this but some people end up needing to experiment with different doses and/or different medications to find what works best for them.
Build a supportive community
When I was debating whether to go on medication, I was bombarded on social media with people bashing “Big Pharma” and saying psychiatric drugs were trash. While I didn’t believe their fear-mongering, I became insecure about going on medication in fear that others would judge me or think I was weak. However, I learned that unfortunately, not everyone in life will support my decisions and it’s my choice whether to give those people the power to influence my personal decisions or not. I knew how I was feeling and I knew a walk in the park wasn’t going to be enough. I had to make the choice for myself and no one else. While this independence is important, having a supportive community who understands what you’re going through can be very comforting and empowering. My best friend was going on antidepressants around the same time as me and seeing her be excited about the possibility of feeling relief made me feel less afraid and more hopeful. When I was afraid I would lose some of my creativity, my actor friend who had been on medications for awhile taught me that the medications would help me to feel better about myself, heightening my creativity. I could focus on the people who made me feel afraid and alone or I could focus on the people who were supporting me and could relate to my experiences. Both groups of people existed and I had to choose which community to surround myself with. This supportive community doesn’t just have to be a group of friends. Your supportive community can be your therapist, support group, a blog like this one, a social media account devoted to your mental health, even self-help books.
Medication works best when combined with therapy
It’s up to you which form of therapy you feel most comfortable with but it is widely accepted that medication works best when done in conjunction with therapy. For me, the medication helped me get out of bed instead of struggling to move for hours, have enough energy to exercise, care about myself enough to take my vitamins, and feel hopeful enough to practice working on my goals. Without the medication, I knew what I should be doing but felt like I was stuck in quicksand. Therapy taught me a lot about myself and showed me how to change the way my mind works but the medication helped get me unstuck so that what I learned really sunk in and I was able to do the exercises my therapist asked me to do without it feeling like a burden. I had also been so depressed that I didn’t see the point in caring for myself or setting goals. I felt like I was a failure who would never go anywhere in life. Going on medication relieved me of this dark cloud and I was able to tell myself “Things aren’t perfect and I’m not where I want to be in the moment, but one day I will be.” This huge breakthrough allowed me to believe achieving my goals is possible. I wouldn’t have been able to reach that point without the medication helping me get unstuck.
It’s not a miracle cure
One part about going on medication that scared me was the fear that people in my life would expect me to be magically cured and would get mad at me if I experienced any anxiety or depression symptoms. Some people in my life have been impatient with my anxiety and this led to a fear of getting everyone’s hopes up that my anxiety would be gone only for them to think I was a failure if I still had anxiety. Some of you may take medication in hopes that your mental illness will completely disappear. The truth is, I still feel sad, just not as often or as intensely and I’m able to feel better faster. I still experience anxiety, I just know how to cope with it in healthier ways. I still have panic attacks, just not as frequently and I have fewer symptoms. The medication has drastically changed my life and I feel like a new person. However, this doesn’t mean I’m no longer mentally ill. On Christmas Eve, I had a massive anxiety attack that had me sobbing over leaving my cat alone overnight because my OCD was telling me something bad was going to happen. The pill I take every morning doesn’t magically take all of my fears away or erase the years of trauma I experienced to cause C-PTSD. I still have occasional flashbacks and feel tense when I think about my trauma. I’m simply more caring towards myself now that I’m on medication and have more motivation to do something positive like yoga or journaling when I’m having a bad day instead of drinking, self-harming, or shutting down. I still catch myself feeling insecure but I’m now able to work through these negative thoughts instead of letting them spiral out of control.
Please do speak with a doctor and/or psychiatrist about going on psychiatric medications and do not solely rely on information from the internet. Whether to go on medication is a personal choice that should be made by you, a parent/guardian, and a trusted medical professional.