As someone who must take a combination of antidepressants and anti-anxiety meds to control the uncontrollable in my body, I refuse to consider myself a drug addict.
And I find myself, once again, wondering why there is such stigma in needing to take these drugs.When I saw the EP-award winning article on being a 21st century drug addict, my heart sank a little. Not because I don't have sympathy for anyone who has to take the meds, but because it seems we cannot take these drugs without there being a sense of shame that comes attached to them.
What makes it worse, I think, is that many people still believe that anxiety, depression, bi-polar, and other mood disorders are "all in your head," (excuse the pun) and that somehow, you can either think your way or alternative medicine your way out of the problems.
If only it were so.
I have no doubt that people mean well, but I have been taking various antidepressants--finally finding Cymbalta about six years ago--and Ativan or Klonopin for nearly as long.
Without these medicines, I would be dead.
I have suffered panic attacks since I was a child. I remember being nine, and being so overwhelmed by the sensations that my body was under attack, that spiders were under my skin, that I wouldn't be able to catch my breath, that each night, alone in my room, I fantasized the dozens of ways that I could kill myself.
My parents had no idea what I was going through, and assumed I would outgrow it. That I just needed to "get over" whatever it was I was going through at school, and I would be better.
And I was, for a couple of years. But at age 13, 15, 19, 22, I had periods of such intense anxiety that all of the suicidal feelings came back.
I didn't really want to kill myself. I wanted the pain to stop. I wanted to stop feeling as if I was about to get hit by a Mack truck.
I remember that, unable to figure out any other way to cope, I would walk or run for miles. Running and running until I had exhausted myself. Sleeping to escape the feelings. Jolting awake as the next bolt of adrenaline went coursing through my system, and then starting the whole cycle again.
Things were relatively quiet for a few years. My next spate of panic attacks began a few years into my marriage. Their constant companion was a bone-numbing depression that allowed me to function, but which took all the joy out of my life. Literally. Nothing could penetrate the fog of Eeyore-like dis-ease I felt.
In my late thirties, things came to a head. I had fire ants in my blood stream. I had crying jags. I threw up constantly as food refused to stay in a stomach that was churning out of control. I began to lose weight--17 pounds in four weeks. And I could not stop thinking of ways to kill myself.
I went to see a psychiatrist.
It took a while to find the right drugs for my system, but Cymbalta, which controls both anxiety and depression, and Ativan, which helps me sleep and avoid the bolting awake in the middle of the night with a panic attack, have made my life relatively sane for the past several years.
I have also accepted that (as I tried in the past), if I go off the medication because I'm afraid I'm addicted, or I feel better, my symptoms will return Oh, not immediately. Not like going through withdrawal. But rather, as my brain chemistry returns to its usual fucked-up patterns, the depression and anxiety will creep back into my life.
I have an illness. A chronic, life-long illness. I no longer feel ashamed to tell people that I take antidepressants. I no longer hide the fact that depression and anxiety robbed me of some of my younger years. I wonder sometimes what I might have accomplished if, at 22, I had not been crippled by depression when certain opportunities arose and I was too sick to take them.
I know now that I feel like "myself." It's not that I'm happy all the time, and antidepressants have not saved me from having to go through tough emotional times. Normal tough emotional times, like people dying, or losing things that are important to me.
What antidepressants have done for me is to bring my brain chemistry to a level that makes me feel as if I can function every day without fear that I'm going to set off a panic attack. (And if you have never had a true panic attack, count yourself lucky.)
I am not an addict. I take medication to control a chronic disease. I would do the same if my thyroid didn't work, or my pancreas didn't work, or my heart didn't work. And no one would try to tell me that I could just will myself out of this.
As it turns out, I exercise every day. I practice deep breathing and mindfulness. I watch what I eat and drink. I make sure I get enough sleep. I'm in excellent health (except for migraines).
I don't sit home and sit on my couch thinking "woe is me." I'm writing. I'm working. I'm happy.
The alternative is suicidal ideation and a fear that at any moment, I'm going to be debilitated by symptoms out of control.
Don't call me an addict.
Call me lucky.