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The Feeling That Helped Stephen Colbert Realize Anti-Anxiety Meds Weren’t for Him

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Editor's Note

Please see a doctor before starting or stopping a medication.

As host of the popular satirical news show, “The Colbert Report,” Stephen Colbert spent 10 years playing someone else. Now, as a late-night host, he’s opening up more about his history of anxiety, telling Rolling Stone in an article published Wednesday that he even tried taking medication for anxiety in his late 20s.

“I needed to be medicated when I was younger to deal with my anxiety that I had thrown my life away by attempting to do something that so few people actually get away with, or succeed at,” he said, referring to his decision to go into comedy.

He said he took anxiety medication, which was helpful for a bit. But anxiety medication isn’t for everyone, and Colbert said while he couldn’t hear this anxiety anymore, he could still feel it.

[Medication] was just lovely. Y’know, for a while. And then I realized that the gears were still smoking. I just couldn’t hear them anymore. But I could feel them, I could feel the gearbox heating up and smoke pouring out of me, but I was no longer walking around a couch.

The “couch” he’s referring to is the one he used to walk around while his wife was at work, during a time he was having regular panic attacks. He told Rolling Stone the only time he felt OK was when he was performing on stage.

I would go to the show, and I would curl up in a ball on the couch backstage and I would wait to hear my cue lines. Then I would uncurl and go onstage and I’d feel fine. Which occurred to me at the time: Like, “Oh, you feel fine when you’re out here.” And then as soon as I got offstage, I’d just crumble into a ball again. Nobody ever asked me what was wrong! [Laughs] It went on for months.

It’s important to note that Colbert only stayed on Xanax for nine days. For some, it might take more time to decide if a medication is right for you. But, ultimately, Colbert said, the medication wasn’t helping him, and focusing on his career and performing is how he found relief.

“I know if I stop the feeling [with medication], somehow I’m not working through it,” he said. “Like I have got to go through the tunnel with the spiders in it.”

While Colbert’s experience is one you might relate to if medication wasn’t the best way to handle your anxiety or depression, others have provided metaphors for what it feels like when medication for mental health does work. For example, here’s “Big Bang Theory” and “Star Trek” actor Wil Wheaton:

I realized I had been living my whole life inside a really loud, dark room. Seeing a doctor and taking medication allowed me to see the exits from that room, and being treated allowed me to walk through that door and get out of that loud room.

Image via Wikimedia Commons/Montclair Film Festival

Originally published: August 30, 2018
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