My Journey With Anxiety Medication Part 1: The Reason
This will be my first of a three-part series describing my experience and journey to being on medication for generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). In this post, I’ll talk about some of the factors that led to my decision to take medication.
I had off and on thoughts about going on medication starting about six months into therapy. My girlfriend gently encouraged me to seek it as an option, but it wasn’t too pressing of an option yet and so my research on medication was pretty shallow. It wasn’t long until a number of factors changed my inaction to action on behalf of going on meds.
The biggest factor in pushing me towards seeking medication was that my anxiety was affecting my relationship with my girlfriend (and also others). My wild conclusions, rumination, mood shifts and repeatedly asking for assurance was emotionally draining for her. She tried to help me when she could, but it was hard to balance that alongside her full-time job, her own therapy and doing a full-time master’s degree in clinical psychology. Not to mention, she was going through a rough patch in her own life. Instead of prioritizing self-care and trying to work through my own issues, I placed too much of an unfair burden — unintentionally and often unknown to me — on her. In her own words, she felt like we were a “thruple” instead of a couple: She felt she was dating me and my anxiety, and it wasn’t always easy.
But my anxiety wasn’t just getting in the way of my relationships; it was also affecting my graduate studies, performance and involvement. I hadn’t understood why until recently, but I’ve always been petrified of speaking up in class and being involved in group discussions. A task as simple as raising my hand in class to answer a question or to challenge the ideas of another student or professor (which is common in the field of philosophy) created a coliseum of chaos that consumed my inner life. This would almost always happen: I’d think about raising my hand to offer an answer or second opinion, and my chest would immediately constrict and tighten. My heart rate would increase so high I could feel my entire upper body moving in synch with it. My breathing would shorten, and sometimes my hands would get tingly. My leg would bounce erratically, and following all these physical symptoms would be the ferocious flurry of thoughts. These fears, insecurities and what ifs would flood my mind:
What if I’m wrong?
What if what I’m saying doesn’t make sense?
What if I sound stupid?
What if I forget?
Is everyone looking at me?
What if I look dumb?
What are they thinking?
On and on, self-doubt would creep in. If it won, I didn’t get to ask my question and participate, and then when I found out my answer was right all along, I would beat myself up for giving into the fear and not asking.
And if I did ask, I’d often have to fight the anxiety and catch my breath as I asked. I didn’t realize why I did this until not, but often I would write down my thoughts or question and read them off like a script to ensure none of my fears would come true. I’d even rehearse phone calls or what I’d say when answering the phone or ordering food so I wouldn’t sound “stupid.”
I’d feel discouraged to ask questions or participate for fear of what I’d look like, and I’d be anxiously anticipating the giant wave of anxiety that would follow my decision to participate. It’s exhausting fighting this uphill battle with such “simple” tasks.
At this point, I had been in therapy for a little over a year. It has done a lot for me, but I still felt my anxiety had an edge over me. The breathing exercises helped when I mustered enough energy and patience to practice them, and the thought exercises helped when I could catch myself ruminating or having other patterns of anxiety. But the physical symptoms were still keeping me from doing things I wanted to do in life like take risks — whether it be in class or not. I couldn’t keep placing the burden on others to take care of my anxiety. I had the responsibility to do all I could to ensure that this was taken care of. Enough was enough, and it was time to take another step in taking care of my mental health.
In my next post, I’ll address some of the fears I had of going on medication.
Editor’s note: Please see a doctor before starting or stopping a medication.
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Thinkstock photo via kieferpix