(Part 1 in a series on Anxiety)
Blinding light. Rapid breathing. Tight chest. Voices fall into the distance and your eyes start darting around. Your brain is simultaneously thinking of everything and nothing. You can’t stop it. You try to ground yourself but can’t calm down. You lose touch with the physical world.
What just happened?
This was the moment I realized I had more than casual anxiety–or rather, the moment a professor of mine realized I had anxiety.
8 years ago I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). Now, I know that most people experience some amount of anxiety regularly, but this is a bit different. According to the NIMH, GAD is when there is “a persistent feeling of anxiety or dread that interferes with how you live your life” and that people living with GAD can “experience frequent anxiety for months or years”.
GAD can manifest in many different ways, for me it was typically thoughts of rumination–meaning that my mind would often end up in an unending cycle of negative and dire thoughts. At the first peak of my anxiety, 8 years ago, it was combined with mild depression and resulted in rumination plus lack of interest in learning, physical activity, and eating. Really just all the things that are essential to living.
At that time I was, honestly, quite judgmental of people who had to take medication to help with mental instabilities and imbalances. When the therapist I had stared seeing suggested I take an anti-depressant I refused. I was determined to fix it without taking any medications. I thought it was “weak” to take the medication. Instead I moved home, signed up for a marathon, and started training every day. Training for the marathon gave me a sense of purpose and lifted my mood. I figured it out! Or at least I thought I had. Moving back into a comfortable place and creating a rigid fitness and daily routine helped for a long time.
Fast forward 5 years. It’s 2019. Everyone was enjoying life. I’d finally left the freelance life for a more stable job. Things were great! And yet, I was feeling a bit off. I had no idea what was about to come.
It’s 2020. People are getting laid off (myself included). No one is allowed to go outside. People are dying. Shit’s getting scary.
If I was barely feeling good before all of this, how do you think I felt while all this was going on and the uncertainty of tomorrow was growing bleaker and bleaker? Obviously not great!
I found myself getting lost in downward spirals of rumination. Losing my ability to stay calm in casual conversation with friends. Lashing out at those closest to me with the drop of the most minor trigger. This was a new peak, a new manifestation than I’d experienced before and it was NOT FUN.
I was struggling but it was so hard to figure out where the line was for the expected reactions for life during COVID lockdowns and what was due to my underlying GAD. The biggest realization that it was definitely that GAD was when my partner said that they were sad to see me constantly suffering from rumination I couldn’t stop–clear signs of GAD.
At that point I’d already gotten a prescription for an SSRI (Lexapro) but hadn’t taken it yet. I took it that night and every day since then. It took a few months for me to notice the impact but I found myself experiencing lightness, going through experiences with typical triggers of mine with ease. Living in a way that I did not know was possible. It’s wild how much the rhetoric of being weak if you’re taking medication has molded a generation into fear or asking for help.
I’m not saying that medication is the answer, but it definitely can be. I’ve had success without medication and with medication. It’s been 2 years since I started taking Lexapro and I’ve learned a lot about myself, learned about my triggers, and how to handle them with a level temperament.
Learning about yourself, caring for your mental health, and allowing yourself the grace to live in a state of lightness is true self care and self love. I could not recommend it more!
Where am I now? I am actually in the process of titrating off Lexapro! I want to emphasize that my decision to cycle off an SSRI was not driven by anti-medication rhetoric and actually comes from a place of lightness and stability. It’s been a journey but that’s a story for later. Right now I’m at 2.5mg, down from 10mg, and taking it slow while respecting my needs. We’ll see how the next few months go!