I have disclosed in a previous post (my review of multiple anxiety relief methods, you can view it here), that I do not use medication for my anxiety. There are a lot of different opinions on whether or not medication should be taken for anxiety, and to what extent. Before I begin, I just want to say that every person is different. What works for me may not work for someone else. My experience will be different than anyone else’s, and not everyone will share my views on this. That is okay. I am not asking for you to submit to my viewpoints, I just want to share what my experience has been and give the reasons for not taking medication. I found alternate opinions extremely helpful when I was first trying to navigate the world of mental health, and I also would like you to get to know me a little bit better.
My Experience with Anxiety Medication:
It was in January of 2018 that I first went to the doctor for my anxiety. I had been told by my counselor at the time that it may help me to stay in school, and to work through my feelings for the time being until life calmed down. Following her guidance, I panicked through a few doctors appointments. Good things and bad things came from this time.
The one positive from seeing the doctor several times over the next few weeks was it soothed my health anxiety a lot. Over the three months up to this point I had lost a lot of weight, going from the 125 pounds I had been for the past 10 years down to 116. It may not sound drastic, but for a person who had only had weight fluctuations of 1-3 pounds for her entire life, it was pretty intense. However, the first thing that my doctor did was check for physical ailments. She tested my thyroid to make sure that it was working properly and not causing my weight and anxiety issues. I had a full blood panel done. She checked my stomach for any abnormalities. She pushed me to schedule an appointment with a gynecologist to check out further issues (which I did). Therefore, one fact that I left those few weeks with was the confident that I was perfectly healthy, besides being a bit underweight from not eating because of my anxiety, and the symptoms that came from anxiety.
Another positive was that I learned to listen to my body, and decide when things were not right for me. After the first appointment, once my blood results and thyroid test were given the all clear, my doctor prescribed me Lexapro (an anti-depressant), and Ativan. The thought was that I could take the Ativan in order to go to school and function until the Lexapro kicked in (4-6 weeks), and then wean myself back off of it. I took the Ativan for the first time the next day, and it was a nightmare. After taking one of the smallest doses they offer, I got extremely dizzy, then slept for five hours in the middle of the afternoon, and then woke up feeling woozy and sick. I tried taking it another time in order to go to school, and was so incredibly out of it that I did not trust myself to make the 35 minute drive. So I quickly decided that Ativan was not for me, and went back to the doctor. I was then prescribed Xanax.
The Xanax worked…sort of. I am sure that I would have needed a higher dose in order to take away the high level of panic that I experienced, but it just made me feel extremely strange, and I got a ‘hangover’ from it the next day. I used it to help me do a few small things (like get through my birthday with only one panic attack instead of my normal 3-5), but largely hated it. It made me feel dull when I was on it, and the next day I would get migraines and feel sluggish. I figured that it was not a huge deal, because the Lexapro would be kicking in soon, and at this point I had already dropped out of school. I had been wary of the addictive tendency of Xanax and other benzos in the first place, so it was not too much of a loss to me.
Why I Didn’t Stay on Anti-Depressants/Anxiety Medication
I stuck with the Lexapro, taking it religiously until I finally started to feel its affects around week five. It had lowered my anxiety slightly, however, it came with another undesired side effect: it took my personality. I had heard that it could make a user feel more depressed at first before it leveled them out, so I was willing to try and stick through these feelings.
Two months after beginning Lexapro, I could not stand it anymore. My anxiety was down, I could tell, but in return, I had no desire to do anything. I had lost all of my passion and motivation. At this time I was taking online classes, and disclaimer: I love school. I am obsessed with learning and getting good grades, it is a terrible quality of mine. When the Lexapro was in full effect, I didn’t even want to touch my school. My grades began to suffer, and I had no drive left. I became extremely apathetic about my situation, lazy in regards to working on changing my thought patterns, and generally grumpy.
I made the decision to come off of the Lexapro because I decided that anxiety is a part of me, and that some of my issue is thought processes that I have created and I need to un-create. I did not want to simply put a bandage over my problems without getting to the root of the issue, and the way the Lexapro made me feel put me right on track for not improving myself personally at all, and simply relying on medication to get through my day.
*Here I will repeat, this is only my experience. I can not speak for everyone with mental health issues. There are some times when medication is absolutely necessary. My decisions were made with help from a doctor and my counselor. In my case it simply became a matter of preference for me. Did I want to work on my thought processes that I was allowing to damage me with the help of medication or without-I found that I would be more driven to make a change without.
How I Have Coped Without Anxiety Medication
I am going to be honest: my journey has probably been a lot harder and longer because I decided to go off of pure will-power. However, I would not change anything if I were to go back. This year has made me so aware of my own body; how I respond to certain environments, how the food I eat and the amount of sleep I get affects my anxiety levels, the way my period messes with my mental health, and much more. I feel like I would not have been as aware of these parts of my life had I used medication.
Right after I stopped Lexapro is when I discovered acupuncture, and that was invaluable. I was able to get the calming affects that I needed for important days (like my wedding day!), without having to sacrifice my personality or anything else. I have loved exploring ways to lower my anxiety naturally and through planning ahead and just taking care of my body, while also working hard every day to change my way of thinking.
So will I ever go on medication for my anxiety again? That depends. I still have Xanax that I keep just in case, but I have not used it since May. I believe that I will try my hardest to get better with my counselor and more natural methods, and see how far I can go. If it comes about that my issue is on a more chemical basis, rather than just the result of toxic thinking for far too long, then I may rethink my medication decision. If no matter what I do my anxiety is limiting my life, and therefore the lives of my husband and family, then I believe I would be selfish to not even consider medication. But for now, I will keep plugging on with my healthy foods, my yoga, and my own stubborn mind.