Medication & How It Can Support Your Anxiety Recovery
Medication is one of the topics that I get asked the most questions about, and it’s also one of the questions that I see being asked on social media. I want to take some time to share with you what my journey with medication looked like, and also share some tips that will help you if you’re deciding whether or not to try medication, or if you’re on medication, or if you’re looking to get off of medication.
QUICK DISCLAIMER ABOUT MEDICATION
I often see people in Facebook groups or on Instagram asking questions like, What medication do you take? Has it worked for you? Have you taken (fill in the blank) medication? My doctor just prescribed it to me. Did you experience symptoms on this medication?
And the truth is that none of these questions will lead to helpful answers because none of us are the same. What did or didn’t work for one person may or may not work for another. And listening to other people’s horror (or success) stories will only further create anxiety, or leave you with more confusion or false hope than what you started with.
I want to stress that if you have any questions surrounding medication, please do yourself a huge favor and talk to your doctor, a therapist, or a psychiatrist. Do not seek medication advice online, especially not on social media! People will only be able to offer you their own experience which is in no way helpful to you.
THE CONVERSATION WITH MY PSYCHIATRIST ABOUT TRYING MEDICATION
In the height of my journey with anxiety, panic disorder, and agoraphobia, I felt like I had no choice but to try medication. I had been in therapy for years and had learned and used so many tools, but I was still at a point where I was experiencing panic attacks daily (sometimes multiple panic attacks a day), and what I was struggling with was interfering with me doing everyday things. I feared leaving my own home, and I had a really hard time doing everyday things. And in looking back, I am honestly shocked that I graduated high school and college and didn’t lose every job I ever had.
So I started by having a conversation with my therapist and I told her that I had interest in trying medication. She agreed that it made sense for me to try medication and she connected me with a psychiatrist so that I could talk to the psychiatrist about whether or not medication would be a good option for me.
And I’ll be honest with you, I was pretty hesitant, and even anxious, to try medication. I had been prescribed a medication for panic attacks when I first began struggling with panic attacks and I hated how it made me feel. Even on the lowest dose, it made me feel drowsy, confused, and even more not in the moment, which only heightened the anxiety and panic for me.
My body is pretty sensitive to medications in general, and so I really didn’t want to have another bad experience or potentially make things even harder on myself. So I had a really honest conversation with my psychiatrist at the time that went something like this:
She asked me, ‘Shannon, what are the cons of trying medication?’
And I said, ‘Well, I’ve heard that many people experience side effects while taking medication and I honestly can’t handle any more symptoms.’
And she said, ‘But what if it helps to relieve some of your symptoms?’
And me, thinking that I was being clever, said: ‘Buuuut what if it doesn’t?’
What she said next was so spot on and I needed to hear it: ‘Then you stop taking it. But medication is a tool that could give you some relief, and help you to be able to focus on other tools that help you to ultimately overcome panic and agoraphobia.’
I thought, wow, how logical! A state in which my brain most often didn’t think in. Can you relate?
It was at that moment that I told myself, medication is just another tool that might help, and if it doesn’t, I just stop taking it!
I want to take a second and point out something really important. It’s natural to feel anxious about trying medication, and you are allowed to feel anxious. Allow yourself to feel what you’re feeling so that you can process it and move forward in a healthy way.
MY HONEST THOUGHTS ON MEDICATION
After having this conversation with my psychiatrist, I walked away having a much better understanding of the purpose of medication and what it could and couldn’t do for me. Let me share some of my honest thoughts with you on medication!
Medication is used to help support you along your recovery journey. It’s not the cure or the solution, but It’s another tool in your toolbox that can help give you some relief so that you’re able to focus on all of the other tools that will ultimately help you to create a healthy relationship with anxiety and overcome panic disorder and agoraphobia.
In regards to medication, we often have the notion that it’s a fix or solution, when sure, it is something that can help you, but medication is not a fix or a solution.
Picture medication as a roof on a house. It can help to shield you from experiencing some of the symptoms of anxiety, panic disorder, and agoraphobia, but what good is a roof without a solid foundation, the structure, and doors? The roof needs to be held up, right? It needs the other things in order to protect what’s inside.
One of the biggest mistakes that I see people make along the recovery journey is depending on a tool to do the work for you. Medication can help you, but it can’t act as the foundation and structure, only you can create this. And the foundation is created by you developing a better understanding of what you’re struggling with, and having a healthy response to your anxious thoughts and feelings, and taking the small steps, and making healthy choices, and practicing healthy habits, and being willing to face the hard stuff.
MEDICATION DIDN’T WORK FOR ME
After I had the conversation with my psychiatrist about medication, I tried two different medications. And long story short, I tried both medications for several weeks before deciding (with the help of my psychiatrist and therapist) to stop taking medication altogether. One of the medications ended up causing some severe side effects and the other just wasn’t a good fit. And I’m not going to share which medications I tried because remember, it doesn’t matter. Remember, what didn’t work for me might work for you and vice versa because we’re all different.
I just wanna put a plug in here real quick - if you’re on medication and are contemplating going off of it, make sure to talk to whomever is prescribing you the medication. It’s so important that you make a healthy decision for you and that you do it in a safe way. And again, it’s totally natural to feel anxious about coming off of medication. So do yourself a favor and seek support from people who will actually be able to help you come off medication in a healthy way.
So, after making the decision to go off of medication, I remember expressing to my psychiatrist that I felt even more defeated, hopeless, and frustrated than ever before. And then she asked me… “Shannon, are you committed to you and your mental health? Because if you are, I think we can do this without medication.”
In this moment, I’m sure I felt like throwing something at her head, but instead I wanted to know more. I was so curious. And I won’t lie, I thought she was going to present me with something magical, and well, she did (just not in the shape of a magical cure). And at this point, I was already crying, well, I actually had tears pouring down my face and I said…
“I’m committed, but I don’t want to learn how to manage anxiety anymore, I need to learn how to push past this.”
And she looked at me and said, “F*** managing anxiety.”
I’ll admit, I was a little taken aback by her bluntness, but I needed to hear these words more than anything.
To hear this from a psychiatrist… I was blown away! I didn’t have to manage anxiety. This was a game changer for me.
Here’s the truth - you don’t need to learn how to manage anxiety. In fact, trying to manage it is going to make your journey even harder. You need to learn how to heal, how to overcome, and how to push past it. Yes, this is possible! Let’s do away with the mentality that anxiety disorders are something that you have to learn to manage and live with. I won’t say it quite as bluntly as my psychiatrist did, but to heck with managing anxiety!
So what did I do? I began committing to me and to my mental health. I began prioritizing my mental health. I stopped saying that I was doing everything I could and actually started putting in the work to face my fears and heal.
I started practicing the tools that I learned every single day. I started changing how I responded to my anxious thoughts and feelings. I started to stay and face the hard stuff instead of running.
I began to bet on myself rather than the tools. And guess what, it was the best bet I’ve ever made.
WHAT I WANT YOU TO KNOW ABOUT MEDICATION
It’s okay to try medication. It’s a great tool that could actually give you the relief you need so that you can focus on building a solid foundation that will help you for when the time comes that you want to go off of medication. And maybe that time never comes and that’s okay. There is absolutely no shame in taking medication. Taking medication does not mean that you’re weak or incapable. In fact, taking medication has the ability to make you even more capable.
It’s also okay if you don’t want to try medication. Medication isn’t the only tool, and it’s not the thing that’s going to lead to recovery for you. YOU are the thing that is going to lead to recovery. Taking healthy action often is going to lead to recovery.
It’s okay if medication doesn’t work for you. Medication didn’t work for me and look where I stand today. I’m not saying that it wasn’t incredibly hard, because it was, but I was capable of hard, and so are you!
I want to leave you with this. If you’re questioning whether or not to try medication, please talk to a qualified health professional. Don’t go to a Facebook group or to Instagram. Talk to somebody who can actually help you to make the best decision for you. Somebody that is educated and informed on prescribing medication.
And please, start making more bets on you. Because after all, YOU have everything you need inside of you to recover and you're absolutely capable!