Why going on anxiety medication is the best thing I ever did…

I’ve wrestled with generalized anxiety since high school, if not earlier. I was always a high strung child, even as early as elementary school when I remember being mortified if I accidentally forgot to do my homework one day, and paranoid and fearful about very unrealistic and improbable things such as house fires and robot invasions. At that young age, I didn’t identify that I had an anxiety disorder or anything like it, but once I settled into my overambitious high school persona, it started to become clear to my teachers, my friends, my parents and eventually myself that I was a bit more, shall we say, obsessive than the average teenager. I called it perfectionism and the desire to be the best at everything I set my mind to. My friends called it being an overachiever. My teachers called it success. My parents didn’t call it anything…they just supported me unconditionally and lent me a shoulder to cry on whenever I needed it.

When I entered university and my desire to be perfect continued and at times became borderline unbearable, I started to admit to myself that maybe the way I was wasn’t exactly working for me. I became more aware of what anxiety actually was, and I self-diagnosed myself. But (and this is the crux of my experience of mental health concerns), I was reluctant to do anything to change my mentality or my way of life. I had it in my mind that if I sought help, either through therapy, mindfulness techniques, or medication, I would lose who I was irrevocably. I thought that my anxiety was a fundamental part of who I was as a person, and most importantly as a student, and I feared that if I did anything at all to lessen it, my academic success and hopes for the future would similarly disappear.

This is the main (foolish) reason I avoided seeking counsel and taking medication for my anxiety for so many years. As I entered the workforce and started to forge a career, I maintained this unfounded belief that my anxiety was important and synonymous with my intelligence, determination and dedication. I thought that I couldn’t care about my work properly or to the necessary degree if I didn’t feel sometimes cripplingly anxious about it. I didn’t want to feel this way so much, but I also didn’t want to lose the qualities that I felt made me unique, standout and special.

Then, in January 2019, I fell pregnant and my whole world turned upside down. Don’t misunderstand me…I wanted a child very badly and my husband and I had decided that it was the best time in our lives to try to have a baby. I’ll admit, though, that I got pregnant much sooner than I was expecting, and while I don’t think you can ever be truly prepared to get pregnant, I certainly wasn’t ready to see those two pink lines appear so quickly. In any case, because I ultimately wanted to bring a child into my world, I tried my best to embrace my pregnancy, even at times when the world around me seemed to rebel against it. I was, however, predisposed to higher rates of anxiety because of my history with it, and when I reached the end of my first trimester, everything came to a head. I was feeling an immense amount of pressure from a few corners of my life, and I started having frequent, overwhelming panic attacks unlike anything I had ever experienced. I had to take a step back from my professional and social lives and really re-evaluate what I was doing to keep myself mentally healthy (at that point, not very much). It was at this point that my obstetrician referred me to a psychiatrist and I started my official journey toward mental wellness.

For my entire pregnancy, I was plagued by the most intense and severe anxiety I have ever known. My psychiatrist was an absolute saving grace, and she led me through mindfulness practices such as meditation and cognitive behavioural therapy techniques, and she encouraged me to read and exercise and get out as much as I could. But, every time she mentioned medication to me, I resisted. Part of me absolutely wanted to try to stay off medication for the duration of my pregnancy; although many anxiety medications are safe to take while pregnant, I had never taken any medication before and so I wanted to be able to assess how my body and mind would adjust to it without risking any side effects to my unborn son. Another part of me, I must admit, was just scared to take that step I had avoided for my entire life. I still had this fear that if I started taking any sort of medication, I would become an entirely different person. Would I be financially responsible anymore? Would I be a great employee anymore? Would I be a conscientious and thoughtful friend, wife and mother?

I told myself that I would think seriously about taking medication once my son was born…and then, all of a sudden, the decision was almost made for me. I suffered from such severe postpartum anxiety that I was beside myself and more scared than I have ever been, and it was then that I knew something had to give. Nothing was more important to me than being a present mother to my son, and I knew in my heart that medication was the step I had to take at that time in my anxiety journey. Yes, I found meditation and self-reflection and exercise extremely helpful, but there was only so much I could do on my own and I was at the point where I was just so tired and wanted to give my brain the bit of extra help it deserved after years and years of dealing with anxiety on its own. I spoke at length to my psychiatrist and we decided on the best medication for me, and then I spent a difficult few weeks waiting for it to take affect.

Now, almost 7 months postpartum, I can confidently say that starting to take medication for my anxiety was the absolute best thing I ever did. I am not a doctor, of course, and so I cannot make recommendations for anyone else or say if medication is the best course of action for the next person…but, for me, it was the next logical step and it was the right thing to do. I am more me than ever, in a strange way, and while I haven’t had a proper panic attack since I started my medication, I still care about my role as a mother and about running my home. I’m still diligent and passionate, and I still like to have a handle on the things going on around me. But, I am also more relaxed, more logical, and I am able to step back in overwhelming moments and give myself a chance to reflect before flying off the handle. This doesn’t mean that I never feel nervous, but when I do, I am able to breathe through the sensation and actually silence my anxious mind enough to use the mindfulness techniques I worked hard to acquire.

I feel that medication has made me stronger and cleared my mind, and, as I said although it may not be the best choice for everyone, it is one that I am infinitely happy I made. I haven’t lost any aspect of myself…on the contrary, I have gained so much confidence and clarity, and that is something I wouldn’t trade for anything!

Janille N G

Girl with a Green Heart

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