This is a guest post I wrote for In Good Company in November of 2011.
When I run into people I haven’t seen in a while they often remark that while I am still myself, I’m so much more relaxed and at ease than they recall. That’s because for much of my life I lived with a base level of anxiety and for me that manifested as: vague constant dis-ease/worry, insomnia, sporadic panic attacks, being overly controlling of others (as a means to soothe myself), and an eating disorder (also to soothe myself). While I had all these symptoms, I was entirely functional – able to hold down a good job, earn my masters degree, and have close and healthy friendships. And while my anxiety was somewhat normal if you looked at TV or movies, it was also exhausting.
So how did I get to today where life feels pretty easy, I’m at home in my own skin – even when life is hard, and to a place where very little overwhelms me?
I sewed a patchwork quilt. One square at a time of information, experience, aides, and awareness. Each person’s path out of chronic anxiety (or depression) is unique and there ought not be any judgement about one’s choices on the journey. No one road works for all and what matters is that quilt square come together to forms something that works.
I released any shame I had about mental illness. (See Brene Brown’s work on shame).
I worked with some talented and wise psychotherapist that felt great to be in the room with.
I attended a 10-month Dialectical Behavioral Therapy skills group. I seriously think the DBT skills should be a mandatory part of public education.
I practiced and pondered mindfulness. I found sitting groups. I read. I got quiet.
I practiced and pondered compassion and loving-kindness. Again, I found sitting groups. I read. I got quiet.
I connected. I stopped isolating myself with the idea that I couldn’t show others that I was struggling. I reached out. I was real with others. I stopped creating a life where I only let my flaws hang out when I was alone. I stopped pretending like I had it all together, because I didn’t and that kind of isolation will kill anyone.
I paid attention to what worked and what didn’t work for me. I learned I have a lot of HSP characteristics. I learned I do better working for myself. I learned that taking long afternoon naps and putting my needs first leads to happier days, happier friends, and happier clients.
I took a hard look at my family. I saw that the parent I shared so many traits with had depressive, anxious, and OCD tendencies themself – markers that I might have inherited some of what I was experiencing.
I started taking Zoloft (generic name Sertraline). I named this post ‘In praise of Zoloft’ because I think my decision to take medication to treat my anxiety is actually the most unique part of my story. While millions of people around the world are medicated for mood disorders, I was an unlikely candidate. I live in the San Francisco Bay Area where there’s an acupuncturist on every corner. I earned my Master’s degree in Holistic Health Education where I took courses in stress reduction and relaxation, Ayurveda, and nutrition. I meditated. I ate greens. I went to yoga class. I was primed to take an all natural and alternative approach to my anxiety.
But for me, several years ago, the floor finally dropped out of my life and Zoloft got me on solid ground. I’m lucky in that I’ve not experienced one side effect from taking it and I feel like myself, only more even keel. I’m still creative. I still feel all my emotions and cry now and then. I still have worries. I think as clearly as I always have, perhaps more so. It’s just that a tiny dose each day makes my life much better. Anxiety and depression are certainly aspects to spiritual awakening and I wish more people would look there first. That said, I had experienced symptoms my entire life and Zoloft has played a significant role in getting me where I wanted to go.
I believe that medication is not for everyone (though meditation probably is). I believe that Zoloft is not the medication for everyone (consult a professional please). I firmly believe, truly, to each their own. But I wanted to share some of my story so others could see that taking advantage of modern medicine isn’t a failure and it won’t turn you into a zombie. And sometimes, it might just give you back your life.