When I was 27, I felt bad all the time.
Every morning, I’d wake up with hot gulps of anxiety, as if I were drinking boiling tea. Then I would feel panicky all day: if a car honked, I would jump; if my boss shouted, I would cry in the bathroom. Friends always seemed vaguely mad at me, although whenever I asked them they insisted they weren’t. I was convinced my boyfriend would suddenly stop loving me and leave. Even simple decisions — whether to go for a walk, when to call my mom — overwhelmed me. At night, I’d lie awake, staring at the ceiling, my mind one big scribble.
“You should talk to a doctor about anti-anxiety meds,” my co-worker Quinn suggested one day, as we ate lunch at a café near our Soho office. “You’re so keyed up.” She witnessed it daily. My colleagues called me “Princess and the Beep” because I’d startle whenever a phone rang or someone coughed. And I had just confessed to her that, the night before, while heading to meet my boyfriend for a movie, my nerves felt so raw that I had careened into a bar, ordered a glass of white wine, and stood there chugging it.
“It doesn’t have to be this way,” she said, putting her hand on mine. I nodded but remained unsure. Would taking mediation mean I was officially crazy? What if I went on meds and wasn’t myself anymore? Would I fall into a zombie-like fog? And what if it dulled my creativity? After all, weren’t all good writers tortured?
A few weeks later, though, I met up with a psychiatrist I had found through my work insurance. During our meeting, I explained that I was eating well, drinking water, seeing friends, walking and riding my bike every day — but that for the past few years, I could not shake the constant grip of stress and anxiety. She suggested I go on 20 milligrams of Celexa, an anti-anxiety medication, and just see how I felt.
That moment changed my life.
Anti-anxiety medication, for me, has made all the difference. My mind now feels clear, versus noisy and whirring. Instead of spending all my energy managing my emotions, I can just be myself. Of course, I still worry about my kids and work and relationships and the world at large — but now I don’t obsess or catastrophize. Instead of robbing me of creativity, medication has actually allowed me to brainstorm more easily, without having to battle anxious thoughts. And I don’t spiral at bedtime anymore. I just read my book and FALL ASLEEP.
“Anti-anxiety medication and antidepressants are not a magic button, and they’re not for everyone,” says my friend Lina Perl, who is a clinical therapist in Manhattan. “But if your nervous system is overly vigilant and turned up to 11, medication can take the edge off. It can help you get to the point where you can take better care of yourself — with sleep, exercise and a larger regimen of care — and then it’s a snowball rolling down a hill.”
Medications have side effects for some people, although among my friends, they’ve been mild or non-existent. For me, the only one I’ve noticed is sexual: it takes me longer to have an orgasm. It can be frustrating at times, and other times, it’s fine. “If you’re having side effects, you can switch and try something different,” says Lina. “You should feel encouraged to tell your psychiatrist, and they should listen to you. It’s an ongoing conversation.”
Some folks need medication for a short while, others for their whole lives. My friend Claire Mazur, for example, had success with antidepressants, but then got into running, which helped keep her mood stable. But, at this point, I plan to take medication long-term, in the same way someone else might take daily insulin or cholesterol medication. “Many people should and do take meds forever,” says Lina. “They can be necessary even with all the other stabilizers in place.”
I’ve gone on and off medication through the years, like when I was pregnant and breastfeeding the boys (although I’ve since learned that many people stay on low-risk meds throughout pregnancy). And I’ve been through three depressions — two postpartum and one years later, but Celexa helped me pull out of them.
So! Tl; dr: This is the face of a woman who loves raising her children, running a business, watching TV shows, and reading books, and who would marry her anti-anxiety medication if she could. If you feel you may benefit from it, but are holding back only because of nerves or stigma, maybe consider talking to a doctor. All my love, as always, and please feel free to ask questions in the comments. xoxo