So I’m on medication for my anxiety. This isn’t news to anyone who’s known me longer than two months, because I mention it quite often. I’m not ashamed of it and I fully believe it was — is — the right choice for me. I want to talk about it a bit more in depth, so I’m writing this post.
The first time I took medication for anxiety, I was fifteen and coming off a series of migraines and tachycardia episodes that had started happening seemingly at random. I’d never had either problem before, and to this day I honestly don’t know if there was a cause or a catalyst for it. I went to a lot of doctors, got a few EKGs, carried a heart rate monitor for a day, the works. It was determined that there was nothing wrong with my heart and the tachycardia was a “teenage phase,” but I was put on lorazepam to treat it.
It didn’t do shit. At least I don’t remember it doing shit. I still got frequent tachycardia, kept having migraines, missed a lot of school, my grades dropped drastically and never quite recovered, and I overslept a lot. That was the main effect of the lorazepam for me: oversleeping.
I stopped taking it after a while. I can’t remember if I went cold turkey or went through the proper treatment reduction process, but I know I didn’t consult a doctor about it — which was highly irresponsible. Children, don’t try this at home.
Anyway, this left me with a bunch of lorazepam leftovers, and that actually proved quite helpful in the long run. Whenever I got tachycardia, I took lorazepam, and doing that occasionally rather than as a daily treatment made the effects very noticeable and incredibly helpful. I had a lot of dumb, baseless rules about it, too: no taking it more than once every two weeks to keep the effects strong and keep me from getting used to it or needing it on a daily basis, no taking it after 7 PM so it wouldn’t make me oversleep, and always half a pill, never a whole one.
This was all total self-medication and I didn’t talk to anyone about it. It worked for me, so I did it. Note that at this point I was still under the impression that I had occasional — physical based — tachycardia, and that’s what I treated. Heart sped up or beat so hard I could feel it on my stomach? Lorazepam.
The frequency of my tachycardia episodes decreased over time, but they still happened, so eventually I decided to try a psychologist. I went to my general doctor and he sent me to a psychiatrist, who was very terse and gave me a lorazepam prescription. I remember being incredibly against meds at this point, not wanting them in any way whatsoever. I was afraid I’d become addicted to them, partly because my mom is so dependent on trankimazin for her tachycardia (a longtime issue for her) and partly because my father has always been adamantly opposed to them and thinks all psych medication makes you a zombie. I didn’t really think they’d have an effect on me, either.
Anyway, the psychiatrist renewed my lorazepam prescription and I got an appointment with a psychologist. That appointment was a fucking disaster and put me off the whole thing for good — or rather I decided it was hopeless to expect to be matched up with a proper psychologist via social security. I’d still like to go to therapy, but I’d like to pick the therapist, and for that I need to have money that I didn’t and don’t.
I think it was around this time — maybe a little bit before — that I realized that when the doctors said, dismissively like it was nothing, that my tachycardia might be caused by anxiety, they didn’t mean that sometimes I got nervous and got tachycardia. They meant I had a mental disorder. It never sounded like they meant that, so it took me ages to understand.
So I went on like this for a while. “Like this” meaning: not doing anything with my life, sharing a room with my sister, and using lorazepam to quell the occasional anxiety attack generally brought about by my family. Like I’ve mentioned a time or two, I dropped out of college after three months twice: once in 2007 and once in 2008. That means from 2009 to 2012, I basically stayed at home doing nothing. I don’t necessarily think I wasted years of my life, not like my father’s happy to tell me I did, and at the end of it I think I did the right thing dropping out of school the first time. I don’t consider the second time to be my decision; it was more circumstantial than anything else, but the truth is that path — going to university for English in my hometown — never felt worthy of me. I know that sounds horrible, but it’s how I felt — it’s how I still feel. Philosophy in Madrid did, and it might have worked out if I’d had a laptop and had rented an apartment instead of living in a dorm. I think the opposite of those things killed any chances I’d have had at making college work for me.
What happened in 2012 is that Katie went on antidepressants. I’ve known Katie for years and we have a lot in common in terms of introversion and social anxiety and that sort of thing. I don’t know why she went on antidepressants, but she did and it seemed to really work out for her, and it seemed worth a try. That sounds like a silly monkey-see reason to go on antidepressants, but nothing else had worked for me to make me stable and make me able to deal with everyday life — yoga helped when I did it, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it regularly, still can’t. I’ve never had a problem remembering to take my meds every day.
So I went to my doctor and I asked for them. This was July of last year. He asked a few questions about whether I thought I was depressed, which I’ve honestly never been sure I was — or wasn’t. Or aren’t. He prescribed me paroxetine. I didn’t put much stock in it, and for a while all I got out of the meds was the nausea side effect. Around this time, my sister convinced my parents to redo the spare room (my grandpa’s before he died, my grandma’s when she stays with us) for her, and she moved out. For the first time in my life, I had a room to myself. That was a huge change. I also got into gymnastics and I started exercising. In addition to that, my laptop kept overheating and shutting down and it was really hot, so I pretty much gave up on writing regularly, which was a huge weight off my shoulders — it wasn’t a burden, exactly, but it was burdening in a way, and deciding to let go of my goals was a real relief.
So there was a lot that changed at the same time. I stopped relying on productivity to make my days feel worth it, I got all the alone time I needed, and exercising — as well as realizing a lot of my physical exhaustion and dizziness was simply due to dehydration and fixing that (drinking water: really easy and straightforward!) — gave me an energy I hadn’t had in a while. All these things fed each other, and the nausea stopped and I realized I was a lot more zen about social interaction, among other things.
I sold some stuff on eBay. I got this blog. I opened an Etsy shop in December and have been working on it and my business all year. I survived — however thinly — an Indiegogo campaign, with all the promotion that entailed, and the subsequent unexpected wait for my funds. I don’t think I could have done any of that without medication. I don’t think I would have taken my sister moving back into my room when my grandma’s six months with us came around as well as I did.
What I take is paroxetine, 20 mg, one capsule every morning. It’s easy and it does the opposite of making me a zombie. It makes me (varying levels of) functional. The only side effect that’s stuck around is a decreased sex drive, which I’m pretty sure has helped my… accomplishments in the past year, for lack of a better word. Off meds, I have a really active sex drive, which can be super distracting. I was worried for a while because I consider my sex drive a really important part of me, but once I proved to myself that the meds may have decreased it but not made me unable to orgasm, I felt a lot better about all of it.
Yes, that was really personal. Bear with me.
I also still take lorazepam, half a pill when I feel an anxiety fit coming on, when I’m really irritable for no reason, and sometimes when I’m really stressed out. It makes me see things in perspective and sometimes it makes me feel like I’m on a cloud. It’s fantastic, and I try not to be too baselessly obsessive about when and how often I take it.
All this makes me functional, for the most part.
But the reason I’m writing this post now is that for a couple of months now, I’ve been wondering if I should switch meds. I don’t think my life is stable enough to go off them in the near future — not while I’m sharing a room with my sister and a flat with my psychologically abusive father. I’m not going to risk going off meds until neither of those things is true. But here’s the thing: I still have trouble getting out of bed in the morning. I still have trouble making myself do things.
So I’m wondering: am I depressed? Am I clinically depressed? If I am, should I approach my medication differently than I did when I thought I just (“just”) had an anxiety disorder? Does it make a difference, should I be taking a different antidepressant, should I be taking an extra antidepressant? Should I increase my paroxetine dosage? I never got a clear answer about why my doctor chose paroxetine specifically of all available SSRIs for me — or why he chose something else, sertraline, when I convinced my mom to try them — but I’m not sure I ever asked, either.
What brought this about is the fact that there’s a lot of things I still owe even though I’ve been working relatively steadily to catch up on my to-do list. If intent counts, I have never, ever, ever for a second intended to flake out on an order, a pre-order, or a trade. Ever. I fully mean to fulfill every single pending order. I can call myself — and you can call me — irresponsible and unprofessional and any synonym of it you’d like, but that doesn’t change the fact that I don’t know how to make myself do things. I don’t know how to make myself get out of bed every morning. Even going to bed early doesn’t always work. Even thinking about my upcoming absolute definite seriously-I’m-making-this-happen move to the UK doesn’t always work. Even being excited about a project and knowing full well that I’ll enjoy the process doesn’t always work. Do you know how frustrating that is? Do you know how painful it is not having an explanation for my delays that feels more solid and real than “I don’t know what happened. I just didn’t get around to it”?
It’s really, really frustrating and it’s really, really painful. I love my work and I don’t want to stop doing it, and I can’t afford to take a break, either. I survive and I get to things, little bit by little bit, but not as quickly as I’d like. It feels about as in my power as my not being as successful — as my business not generating as much money — as I’d like, which is to say, I feel pretty powerless about all of it. And I still don’t know what to do about it.
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