In September of 2015, I did something I’d never done. I started taking an anti-anxiety medication. And I will never ever regret that choice.
I wrote about it when I made the choice to trust a medication to help maintain some modicum of control in a situation that was completely out of it.
Eleven days before I began a daily dose of Zoloft, I sat in my Primary Care Physician’s office and after doing a breast exam, I heard the words, “We’re going to get a mammogram.”
And at 33-years-old, with my two youngest boys whizzing around the exam table, my world imploded. All on top of me.
That moment grew into a day of tears. And fears. That ran into a mammogram. That spilled into an ultrasound.
The weekend that followed, a three-day-weekend, was the worst weekend of my life. I was in diagnosis pergatory. The place where the idea that cancer may be ransacking my body was now in my line of sight. And yet, if it was, indeed, bumbling about inside of me, ravaging my cells one after another, I had only my imagination to determine how extensive and far-reaching the beast had already been. It was the first time in my 33 years that I’d thought about the fact that just as I would live life, I would also, at some point, inevitably, die. And the talk of cancer had me reeling at the idea of dying earlier than I’d have ever imagined.
Within eleven days, sandwiched between the first biopsy and the second, I was handed a prescription and it was strongly-advised that I fill it. Zoloft. A medication that is used to treat both anxiety and depression. A drug that would help my brain chemistry chill the freak down in this time of fight or flight. This time where my world was under attack. And the anxiety was part of the offensive.
I had already dropped more than 5 pounds by the time I filled the prescription. I truly was unable to eat. I would lie awake at night, afraid that if I fell asleep, I would never wake up. I would picture what it would be like to die. What would happen to my body. To die in front of my husband and my boys. I would imagine that I would ruin everyone’s world around me by being sick. I imagined not being around to see my boys become men. My mind ran amok. Every. single. scenario. Racing through my mind all night. And when the morning came and I would realize that it wasn’t all just a dream, that all that was happening was real. I was a zombie.
It feels impossible to explain true anxiety. It just seemed to grip onto every bone in my body. Every inch of my soul. And it was pulling at me to let go of myself and let it completely undo me. I experienced physical anxiety attacks. My face would feel separate from my body. My breathing unable to be caught. My fingers and my lips in a numb tingling state. My world going dark. The anxiety was all-encompassing even when it wasn’t in full-attack mode. There was not a moment of my life in those first couple of weeks that I didn’t feel like I was walking outside of myself. And I was unable to hold on to that girl I knew. She was pulled with the tide. Away from her former self.
So I filled the prescription. I started Zoloft.
But, for me, it was ineffective. I cried more than I had. I still couldn’t eat. And even as my prescription kept increasing, I could not grapple with the hard of it all. In fact, I even found myself in more of a depressive state. And so, three weeks later, I met with a therapist and talked with my PCP again and we changed the game plan to Lexapro.
And the weight became doable. It took a bit of time. But each week on the med proved to be better than the one before. I didn’t, as I feared I might on an SSRI, feel emotionless. I just felt like I didn’t feel crushed by my body’s response to the stress. I felt like I could cope.
As I embarked on my breast cancer treatment, I blended psychotheraphy, anxiety coping techniques including FEAR plans, and pharmacology to balance my mind as the chemo wreaked havoc on my body. For me, it was absolutely the ideal way to take care of all parts of me — the entire person — as I was handed a very unexpected, terrifying, life-altering situation. It was the best way to tackle what my Psychologist diagnosed as Situational Anxiety.
Lexapro has been good to me. It was more than just a crutch — I wasn’t simply hobbling through the time. The 20 mg of Lexapro I took each day, I believe, paired with all the other tactics, brought me to standing again. It helped my brain and my body battle through a world-crushing load of life being piled on top of me… again. and again. As my medical team, family, friends, and I battled cancer.
Each day since I began, I’ve taken the pill without guilt or hesitation.
But about four months ago, I asked my Psychologist what she thought of the idea of me being done with Lexapro. I told her I wanted to try it and she agreed it would be very reasonable to take steps to eliminate the drug from my daily routine. She and I developed a plan to taper the dosing. And so I went to 15. And then, to 10. And she told me that she would want me to stay on it until the sun came out… until Winter was over. She explained that quitting an SSRI in the winter was just setting me up for failure. So, 10 mg was my daily dose.
Until last week. Last week, when the bottle emptied, I reached out and asked, “Do I need to go to 5mg now? I am ready to taper off.” And she gave the affirmative that she, too, believed I am ready to “go it alone.”
For a little over a week, I’ve been done. I’m down to only having to take 3 medications each day, instead of 4. And that is such an accomplishment to me after having periods of time were I was taking handfuls of medications before bedtime each night.
I have been very aware of my mind. And my body. I’ve kept tabs on each of the side effects that I’ve experienced during the going-off period. From insomnia to (even more) lack of concentration. Loss of appetite and temper flares. And awful headaches. The going-off-of-a-drug period is not without its own baggage. But I know that soon, that baggage will be packed up and moved on down the road.
I could have stayed on Lexapro forever. It probably wouldn’t have mattered. My brain is used to it. But after going through so much medical care in the last 10 years from high risk pregnancies to cancer, I am ready to figure out what my body really needs and what it doesn’t. I am ready to have less and less side effects causing a myriad of stuff in my life. And the beautiful part is that if, in a few months, these side effects don’t dissipate, I will know that maybe my new normal is being myself with a little help from my friend, Lexapro.
Here’s my big truth, I probably should have tried it sooner. When I was filled with anxiety and overwhelm after having the Oldest. And then, as it reared its head again after the births of two more premies. I probably should have put on my mask first. But I didn’t. And there’s nothing I can do to change that now. But what I can do is tell YOU that if you feel like you need help — from medicine or a doctor — you should seek it out and take care of yourself. Looking back, I am able to see that I have had situational anxiety before. I have felt a panic attack. I have lived those emotions. But I buried them. I told myself it was just the way my body handled the post-partum phase. And while that is accurate, it doesn’t mean that I couldn’t have been a more settled mama if I’d just asked for help.
I learned a big life lesson from Lexapro and that is: I don’t have to ever feel weak from admitting I can’t do it all on my own. In fact, making the decision to admit I needed help, and that my brain and my body were not going to see eye to eye in that situation of waiting for change… that made me feel strong.
I may need it again. And some of my friends are going to need it, or something similar, every day. Because life changes us. As we change in our lives. Our brains wiring is sometimes misfiring. And what becomes our new normal doesn’t always feel right. Or, maybe we get to a certain age and realize that what we’ve felt our whole existence isn’t how people are supposed to feel. And that life is better through chemistry.
But for this day and this time in my survivorship, I need to do this for me. And just see how it goes.
So. Goodbye, Lexapro. At least for now. It’s been real. And at times, realer than real.