My Anxiety and Depression
I have been an anxious person for as long as I can remember. I was always a good student in school, but I think a lot of this was because my anxiety motivated me to work hard. I was so scared of failure or missing an assignment that I was constantly studying or working. I remember my third grade teacher, an artsy and happy-go-lucky woman, calling me a "worry wart."
I was also never extremely happy -- not suicidal or anything, but I almost enjoyed being sad at times. I had an interest in sad books, sad movies, and learning about tragic history. I firmly believe people's brains are just wired differently, and knowing that mental illness runs in my family tells me that a lot of it is just biological.
Let's see how common mental illnesses are...
For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.
- How many Americans have a mental illness?
- 1 in 20
- 1 in 5
- 1 in 50
- 1 in 3
- 1 in 5
When I Sought Treatment
I had made it to college before deciding to seek any sort of therapy or medication. I managed my anxiety and depression on my own or by confiding in friends (a lot of whom dealt with similar psychological struggles). It took my boyfriend at the time attempting suicide for me to seek help. I started therapy and opened up about my childhood, family dynamics, anxiety from school, and general depression. Therapy helped immensely and I loved going each week (then bi-weekly) to unpack my thoughts and make sense of my coping mechanisms.
My college is known for being a high stress environment. Not only are the academics intense, but the fact that most of the student body is wealthy only compounds the stress and anxiety I felt on campus. Many people walk around in designer clothing, look so put together, and are constantly bragging about their beautiful lives and three internships they juggle with a full class schedule. My social anxiety and anxious thoughts about tests, homework, and speaking up in class were unbearable. After attending therapy for a few months, I saw an ad for an anxiety research study on campus. Half of the participants would receive a medication and the other half would take meditation classes. Both sounded appealing to me, so I applied.
Starting an SSRI
I was assigned to the medication group of the study. After the researchers made sure I was healthy, they started me on 10mg of escitalopram a day, which was slowly increased to 20mg.
The very first day I took the pill I felt different. It was like the clouds parted and a dark fog that lingered in my mind was cleared. It takes a few weeks or even months for an SSRI to fully treat anxiety or depression, but I knew it was working right away. I was no longer self-conscious as I walked to class, I felt more empowered to speak to strangers and make friends, and I did not worry excessively about my school work. There were some side effects, such as diarrhea and increased sweating in my palms or if I exercised. But I was willing to put up with these for the psychological benefits.
I have been on escitalopram for about 8 months now, and I still feel better than I ever did before. When your brain is wired so that you worry about everything and don't experience happiness as often as other people, it's a vicious cycle. But a simple pill once a day helped me clear these thoughts and see my life more objectively. I have time to care about things that actually matter because I don't sweat the little things.
People Who Take Psych Meds Aren't Crazy
Like I said before, everyone's brain is just wired a little differently. Some of us experience trauma that will live with us forever, or were raised in a way that increases the risk of anxiety disorders. That does not mean we're crazy -- or that we're zombied out if we decide to take medication. It's time to end the stigma and to help people living with mental disorders make their own decisions. Some may want to take medication, but others may want to try other treatments that have nothing to do with pharmaceuticals. And that's okay.
Everyone should feel comfortable seeking the assistance they need. If you think you need it, go to therapy! We need to fight the stigma constantly for things to change.
This content is for informational purposes only and does not substitute for formal and individualized diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed medical professional. Do not stop or alter your current course of treatment. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.