Last week, my third prescription for the anxiety medication Lexapro was filled. Ten milligrams. Ninety days. A 90-day supply of a medication known as a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, or SSRI. These SSRIs are supposed to increase the serotonin created by my brain. It effectively means that my brain is broken. I do not create enough serotonin each day to regulate my emotions. Without the medication, I find myself on edge. Like I do not have the ability to access the anxiety tools that my therapist and I have worked so hard to create and maintain. When I don’t take my medication, it is like I have a pair of glasses that aren’t the right prescription. Everything is confusing, even chaotic at times. It is hard to sort out what I am seeing from is the the truth. Life becomes blurry.
Maybe a more apt metaphor would be that without my medication, I am like a car driving in the rain, with a person who doesn’t know how to turn on the windshield wipers. I know that there are windshield wipers. I know that I have been in this situation before, and I have been able to overcome it. Yet, I can’t seem to find a way to clear my view. The rain just keeps coming. Eventually, I swerve off the road and wait it out. During these times, I often find it hard to regulate what I am feeling, which means that my emotions are like roller coasters. There is no in between. For so long, I used to say that I didn’t want to be happy, nor sad; merely content.
Before I was prescribed my anxiety medication, I felt like I was drifting. Always. Constantly unable to find a place of comfort. Much of my anxiety came from my school work. I am straight-A student, who is also a part of a specialized honors program which focuses on literature and social studies. I often define myself as a good student, because that is what everybody around me sees. Everyone believes that I am doing well, simply because I am good at school. I like to think that I am a pretty good example of a “high-functioning” individual, who also has anxiety. I think that many people around me see that I am excelling at school, when in reality, I push myself so hard that it feels like I am constantly on the edge of a cliff struggling not to fall off. My school-related anxiety only increased through the pandemic. I felt like I couldn’t do anything else, so I might as well get 100 percent in each class I was in. So, I did. For most of eighth grade, I pushed myself so hard.
This continued throughout ninth grade. While many of my friends saw their grades slipping due to the extra coursework, mine remained steady. I refused to let anything drop. I was a master juggler. I quietly navigated participating in musicals and plays, while managing my schoolwork and getting good scores on assignments and tests. While some may see this as a testament to my dedication, when I look back, I see the pain and anxiety that I suffered. Nothing was ever good enough for me. I was not good enough for me. That makes me unbearably sad. I slowly lost many of the things that I love to do. I baked less, painted less, hiked less, adventured less. I lost myself. If I could only be defined by one thing, I would be defined as school. School did not take over my life, but rather I let my expectations for myself outweigh what I loved to do. What brought me happiness.
The summer between ninth grade and tenth was also a struggle, the lens that clouded my eyes made me feel like my anxiety was normal. Even when I was home alone, taking a day to chill over summer break, I constantly felt like I was lazy. I did not deserve time to rest or recuperate from the hard work that I had completed over the school year. Even my big accomplishments over the summer like finding out that I had passed the AP test felt minimal. It felt inconsequential. It was like each thing that I should be celebrating only made me feel less worthy. What if I didn’t do as well next year? What if I failed? This reminds me of a quote by Erin Hanson, “There is freedom waiting for you on the breezes of the sky. And you ask ‘What if I fall?’ Oh, but my darling, what if you fly?”
What if instead of thinking about the possibility of failure, I had been excited for the year to come; jubilant over the possibility of a fantastic school year? I wish that I had taken time over the summer to recognize that my feelings were clouding my judgment and my ability to believe in myself and my capabilities.
When we began the next school year, several changes in my schedule and a transition into a new year left me in the lurch. Again trying to find stability in a world that was constantly shaking. Everything was heightened. Wake up. Get ready. Go to school. Come home. Homework. Dinner. Homework. Sleep. Repeat. Then the inability to rest began. I was so tired by my endless stream of emotions that I would fall asleep at 9 p.m. and wake up at 6 a.m., still tired. I would often fall asleep in the 10 minutes I had between eating breakfast and walking to school. I was so tired. It was like I was a shell of a human being. My soul was tired. I remember that when I would shower in the morning, it felt like I was completing a chore list. There was a set of things that I needed to do in order to clean myself, and then I needed to get out of the shower to begin my day. There was no time to enjoy the soap touching my skin, or feel the softness of my hair after the conditioner mixed with my golden curls. It was simply something I had to do. Everything felt like a chore, nothing to be joyful about. I just had to survive. Or rather survive and complete my homework.
My mom eventually had a conversation with my primary doctor and they prescribed five milligrams of the generic form of Lexapro known as escitalopram. My doctor said that after two weeks, I should increase my dose to 10 milligrams. The doctor also wanted to meet with me the following weekend to talk about my mental health. When we met, she went through her checklist of items about mental health. “On a scale of one to 10, what is your anxiety level?” “What do you do for yourself?” “How do you take care of yourself?” I just wanted to scream, “Lady, this week I survived. Isn’t that good enough for you? This week I made my lunch. I made the decision to eat lunch everyday this week. I did not starve myself. I still talk to my friends. I have not significantly isolated myself. What more do you want?” I was so angry. Not at my doctor, but rather the system around me that was not designed to support my anxiety. Doctors who have not had the proper training to recognize that when I am anxious, there is no way to measure my anxiety. My anxiety takes control and forces me to live life at 150 percent. It is like I am simply a passenger in a car speeding off the highway. I am not in control. I wish that she could recognize that.
However, when I started my medication, I took back control. I still have days when I am anxious, but rather than becoming overwhelmed, I actually have the capability to manage my symptoms. I get to choose where I go in life. I dictate my activities and my emotions, not my anxiety. I used to fear that going on medication would mean that I wouldn’t have any emotions, that I would lose myself. Instead, I have discovered that my true self has been uncovered. I can actually reach the young woman I am and slowly get to know her again. What are her interests without anxiety being a constant cloud in her mind? What does she actually want to do with her life? I have learned that with my medication, I now have the ability to love who I am.
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