Mental Health

Medicating for Anxiety

I started taking Lexapro, an SSRI, for my anxiety in July 2015 at the age of 35.

I had suffered from varying degrees of anxiety and depression my whole life but have always considered it to just be part of me. It was my personality. My fear, moods and hopelessness were just character defects — not illness.

One day whilst browsing social media I came across a video of Wil Wheaton talking about his anxiety.

The video changed my life.

As Wil described his symptoms, cancelling plans with friends, getting distressed with traffic and crowds, my heart started to race. He was describing the things I felt.

I almost held my breath as started to talk about his journey to recovery. As he spoke about the first moment he realised his medication was working tears rolled down my face and didn’t stop until I had watched the video all the way through several more times.

“Probably close to 2 weeks, after I started treatment, my wife and I were just having a walk in the neighborhood, and I realized that it was a really beautiful day. And it was warm, and there was this wonderful little bit of a breeze, and birds sounded really beautiful, and flowers smelled really great, and my wife’s hand felt really good in my hand, and we’re walking, and I just started to cry. And she was like, what’s wrong? I was like, I just realized that I don’t feel bad. I just realized, that I’m not existing, I‘’m living. And the best way that I could describe it, is that I lived my life in a room that was so loud, all I could do every day was just deal with how loud it was, and I found a doorway out of that room, and at that moment I realized that the loudness of that room wasn’t oppressing me anymore. And I was aware of a ringing in my ears which meant the noise was going away and wasn’t coming back, and that I was on my way to, like, having a normal life. Like that normal for me was changing. That it wasn’t constantly worrying about things, and it wasn’t constantly giving up on stuff and feeling like it’s just not worth going to my friend’s house because huge list of irrational reasons that I shouldn’t go. And that I was going to be able to experience things, and travel, and just, be a person.” — Wil Weaton

I booked an appointment with my doctor there and then. I wanted that feeling that Wil had experienced. I wanted to be a person.

I decided to share my journey from the moment I watched the video. I hoped that what I was going through might help other people who had resisted getting help or who had avoided medication.

I documented my experiences with taking Lexapro:

It’s been a week since I went to see a Doctor about my anxiety problems and a week of taking medicine for it.

The first day was actually pretty amazing. The relief of having the appointment out of the way and it going really well was massive. I took the first tablet and felt a bit foggy for a couple of hours but was otherwise fine. I was even able to go out in the evening with friends to an unfamiliar venue and have a really pleasant evening.

Things went a bit downhill from day 2 onwards. I’d spoken to the doctor, pharmacist and read up on the Internet about side effects so I would know what to expect. I was however not really prepared for how it would feel.

Nausea and headaches are easy to explain but the weird foggy spacey feeling is harder to put into words. I wasn’t able to concentrate on anything and felt like my mind was drifting off. Part of it was like forgetfulness but not quite. More like I have the thought but I just can’t access it at the moment.

It was not pleasant and I did not want to be around people or attempt to drive whilst feeling like this so I stayed home from work.

Another side effect of this kind of medicine is that it can actually make the thing you are taking it for worse. This was really weird and I had a few ‘anxiety incidents’ with all the physical symptoms but none of the worry. I did get anxious about booking my appointment with a psychologist but my wife helped me with that.

I started to worry that people would be able to tell I was being spacey and returning to work became a source of anxiety. I arranged to take the whole week and was able to get past that issue.

By Wednesday the side effects where worse in the morning but fading into the evening. I had some friends come around for some tabletop gaming in the evening. I almost cancelled because I was worried I would be too spacey to play and they would notice but they are good guys and I knew they would understand. The games went fine and we had a good laugh playing. This gave me a massive confidence boost about interacting with people.

By Thursday morning the fog faded a few hours after taking the tablet and I was able to do some painting. I had not had the concentration before to even try so this was good. I find hobby really relaxing and therapeutic. The process is calming and it’s nice to have a tangible result at the end of it.

Friday I was getting stir crazy so waited for the morning fog to lift and went to spend the afternoon at the local games shop. My friend works there so we had lunch, played a game and I had a good chat. Walking into the shopping centre did give me a minor anxiety thing but I just put my head down and pushed through it.

So now I’m feeling pretty good. The fog has already lifted this morning, the nausea and headache is mild enough to almost not be there.

The next big steps are going back to work and the appointment with the psychologist next Friday. I hope the side effects of the medication are going to be worth it.

Once the side effects of the medicine settled down I found myself feeling much better. The worst elements of my anxiety and depression had been dulled which gave me the breathing space I needed to engage fully with therapy. I think without it I would have not been able to be open to meditation which gave me a pathway to mindfulness.

I think of my medicine now as a shield that protects me from my illness just enough for me to engage in the kindness, mindfulness, giving and gratitude practices I have cultivated through therapy and my own learning. Through these practices and neuroplasticity I am slowly rewiring my brain to become less anxious and less prone to depression. One day I won’t need the shield any more but until then it is a tool I am happy to have in my kit.

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