Growing up, my parents taught me that no one would handle my problems for me; it was on me to face them, and then fix them. If I had an issue with a teacher, a fight with a friend, an essay that I just couldn’t seem to get right, they were there to listen and offer suggestions, of course, but they were not going to storm the gates and take over; finding a solution was my job. And I’m grateful for that. A strange byproduct of this focus on self-reliance, though, is the fact that my family — myself included, as it turns out — doesn’t really believe in medication. Tylenol for a headache, Lipitor for cholesterol, sure… but drugs for the mind? Nope. Maybe it’s a generational thing; maybe it’s pride; maybe it’s a reaction to the rampant overmedication going on in today’s society, but whatever it is, my family’s attitude towards psychiatric medications (and therapy in general) burrowed itself deeply into my head.
So deeply that despite the fact that I like to think that I’m a generally open-minded person — and think that if something hurts, you should look for ways to fix it — I grew up believing that (barring “serious” mental disorders like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, a.k.a. things that happen to “other people”), you do not need pills to fix your head.
You should be stronger than that.
Or at least I should be.
The strangest part: I studied cognitive neuroscience — basically, the biology underlying psychological behavior — in college, which means that I know better than this, am more educated about the very real neural mechanisms that contribute to psychological conditions than the average bear.
In particular, I spent a lot of my college career studying so-called “shadow syndromes” — the milder forms of major mental disorders that plague so many of us and go untreated because they aren’t as showy as their more dramatic cousins — and I know that these syndromes are real, and cause real problems in people’s lives. I know that highly effective medications have been developed to address them.
And still, part of me thought that for a “normal” person (such as myself, I suppose, although I also know better than to toss around the word “normal”) to take a pill for depression or anxiety – both issues that virtually everyone deals with — was… lazy. “The easy way out.”
“I’m smart,” I thought. “I’m self-aware. I studied cognitive neuroscience, for God’s sake. I can handle a little anxiety.”
I was wrong, both about the fact that my anxiety was “little” and about the fact that I could tackle it with my own bare hands, but it took me a good 10 years to figure this out. And what finally did the trick was admitting to myself once and for all that what I was experiencing was way, way off the spectrum of what can be considered “normal” (because, of course, some degree of anxiety is not only unavoidable; it’s actually beneficial, helping us run away from bears we encounter in the woods and such). My anxiety, I finally came to understand, was pathological: It disrupted my sleep, my relationships, my life. It wasn’t something that I should — or could — just “deal with.”
I guess I finally just got sick of feeling this way.
I’ve been hesitant to address this subject because (deeply-ingrained biases stemming from childhood and nervousness about sharing something this personal aside), I really do think that over-medication is a real issue in our society, and the last thing I want is to contribute to that problem. I do not want to say “medication is the answer.” It isn’t always the answer. But — and this is a huge “but” — the turnaround that I’ve experienced over these past few weeks has been extreme enough that I now feel comfortable saying that my decision to finally try medication is one of the best decisions that I have ever made in my life. That’s not an exaggeration…READ MORE