I was 11 when I learned how to swallow my first pill.
I’d just been given a prescription for anxiety medication, so I stood in the bathroom practicing with mini m&ms.
Worrying has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. My anxiety grew as I did. When I was very young, I was afraid of being away from my parents. Later, I couldn’t sleep in my own bed.
In my young life, I’d had claustrophobic panics on airplanes and panicked in restaurant bathrooms. Eventually, anxiety felt like something I had many tools to manage and had honed my ability to fight, but it also felt like something that had become a large part of my day-to-day.
So, I saw a psychiatrist. It wasn’t so different from appointments I’d had with psychologists and therapists before. His office was inviting, and he and I talked about why I thought it might be a good idea to consider medication. I explained to him that it was important to me that I still feel like myself, even after taking the medication. I wanted any medication to help complement the tactics I’d already been using to manage my anxiety.
He scribbled out a prescription, told me it would help me ease some of the day-to-day worrying, or at least to take the edge off. I picked it up, learned how to swallow the medicine, and took it every day for the next 7 years.
My time on anxiety medication made me a firm believer in the importance of medical intervention, and in the very legitimate role that medication plays in mental health. I felt the difference the medicine made, but I also felt guilty.
I was supposed to be learning how to push back against my anxiety on my own, I thought.
I felt like I was giving myself an easy way out that I hadn’t earned, like I probably hasn’t made enough of an effort to learn how to self-soothe.
I preach self-love and patience and going easy on yourself a little bit, but I felt embarrassed when I opened my medicine cabinet.
In the many years during which I took anxiety medicine, I learned I needed to overcome my own judgments about medicine. I had to come to terms with the idea that I can be able to manage my own anxiety and need the helpful boost the medicine gave me.
I realized I’d been thinking about prescription drugs all wrong. It wasn’t that I was taking a pill to erase my anxiety without ever having to lift a finger, I was taking medicine to make the anxiety something I could tackle and overcome.
That new way of thinking actually made way for real progress. I worked harder than ever before to understand what makes me anxious and the shift helped me no longer feel guilty about taking what I thought was an easy way out. Medication, I came to understand, isn’t a crutch. It is, in its own right, a powerful coping tool. For many, it’s the crucial difference between sickness and health.
Now, I’m not taking any medications. My psychiatrist’s goal was always to let the medicine take the immediate edge off. Then, he hoped, I’d spend a little less energy on panicking and a little more on addressing the panic itself. Ultimately, he’d planned, I’d spend even more of that energy where it really belongs — on living life! He was right.