I had a whole other blog post typed up & ready to go, just a few minor edits needed, but I decided it was going to have to wait because this is more important. As some of you know, I started this blog almost a decade ago largely as a way to manage my own anxiety & also just because I’ve always loved writing. Writing has been a therapeutic exercise for me for almost as long as I can remember. Anyway, maybe a year or two after I started the blog, I ended up starting medication for my anxiety. I had tried therapy, music, writing, exercise, etc, but I had just gotten to the point that I knew I needed more. My therapist at the time was the one who encouraged me to start medication because she realized that I had exhausted my other resources. It was very difficult for me to admit that I needed medical help for something as “silly” as anxiety, but once I started Prozac I found myself asking “Why the hell didn’t I try this sooner?” I’ve remained on Prozac (actually the generic form fluoxetine, but I’ll just refer it to as Prozac here for simplicity’s sake) for the majority of the past eight years or so. I’ve been able to get off of it for a few months here & there, but I always come back to it sooner or later. It’s always a very low dose & it’s entirely possible that the positive effects I see from it are all a placebo effect, but at this point I don’t care. Results are results, right?
To be clear, I am not necessarily your “typical” anxious person. My anxiety is not the stereotypical kind where you sit around imagining horrible scenarios like car crashes or cancer or things like that. Interestingly, I am in many ways NOT a “worry wart.” For example, when I got married, multiple people told me “You are the most chill bride I’ve ever met!” Furthermore, public speaking has never much bothered me, which is odd for an anxious person, nor have I ever had real testing anxiety. My anxiety, as I’ve written about before, manifests in different ways. It’s more of a heightened sense of awareness, a tendency toward OCD behaviors (or at least OCD thinking), a brain that just NEVER SHUTS UP (people have often told me I think too much- but I don’t know how not to!), a tendency to go “from zero to 60” in just a few seconds. By the latter I mean that when something goes wrong, I often get stuck in a flight/freeze response, rather than being able to actually address the situation productively. Honestly, I struggle to really explain my issues, but an incident happened last night that may serve as a good example. My daughter got her ears pierced this past weekend. As I was putting her to bed last night, I realized that one of the earrings had fallen out. I immediately freaked out. I went running to my husband more or less screaming “She’s lost an earring! I have no idea where it is! We’re going to have to have it redone! This was expensive! HELP ME!”
Now my husband & I have been together for our entire adult lives so he knows me VERY well, but even he was a bit surprised by my outburst. He basically had to tell me to sit down & be quiet while he took care of the situation. He found the missing earring in the bathtub & was able to reinsert it in our daughter’s ear while I sat in the living room more or less hyperventilating & borderline sobbing. Needless to say, I was very grateful to him for handling the situation like he did, & furthermore I apologized to our daughter this morning for my behavior. But that situation made me realize that stopping my Prozac a few weeks ago was probably a crappy idea. I actually hadn’t told my husband I’d stopped it because I wanted him to be as impartial/objective as possible. After we got her to bed, I told him I’d stopped the medication & asked him to be brutally honest with me: Had he noticed a difference in my overall behavior the past few weeks? Did I seem more anxious or irritable or generally “off”? It came as no surprise to me when he said yes because I am self-aware enough to know that I HAVE been more anxious & irritable since stopping the medication- even something as “simple” as the dogs barking has been setting off my anxiety lately. So, needless to say, I restarted the Prozac.
The truth is that even after all these years I still hate being “dependent” on a medication to manage my own brain, but, damn it, it’s also true that Prozac makes me a better mom/wife/person. The problem is that I am really good at managing my anxiety when I’m at work, even without medication, but then I come home & all that pent up anxiety gets let out on my husband & child. And that isn’t fair to them- or really even to me. That’s just the way it is. And it’s not like Prozac is some “miracle pill” that suddenly makes me happy & carefree all the time. It’s definitely not. But it’s still pretty damn good. If I envision my brain as a roiling ocean, Prozac has the effect of changing those roiling, crashing waves into more of a gentle, bobbing current. Instead of the Atlantic Ocean, it’s more like the gentle waves you get at the Gulf of Mexico or Lake Michigan. That probably isn’t the best metaphor but hopefully you get the point.
Having said all of that, one of my greatest gripes with modern society is that we tend to want an easy solution to everything. Whether it’s obesity, high BP, diabetes, anxiety, depression, or any other number of issues, so much of the time we just want to pop a pill & hope it cures us. And frankly that just isn’t realistic. One of my biggest complaints about healthcare is that too many doctors don’t provide truly holistic care & too many patients frankly don’t want it. So often we all just want the easy way out! HOWEVER, what I’ve realized over & over again is that Prozac calms me down just enough that I can actually focus more on my other coping strategies– whether that be writing, music, or doing the really difficult work of analyzing my own life experiences & trying to figure WHY my brain works like it does, what my triggers are, & how to overcome those triggers when they happen- because inevitably they will. But all of that stuff is really hard, & frankly many people never do that kind of inner work ever, so if taking a low dose of a medication makes it easier for me to actually do those things & work on myself as a human being- well, maybe that isn’t such a terrible thing, right?
One of the things I learned in therapy is that sometimes we just have to accept that certain things are out of our control. I keep coming back to an old(er) Five Finger Death Punch song called Will the Sun Ever Rise (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JUWHQGXELGo). It’s all about Ivan’s struggles with his own mental health issues & alcoholism. Anyway, there’s a line that says “Why am I like that? I’m trying to understand myself, Trying to fight through this hell.” That line of “Why am I like that?” runs through my mind a lot. And I do think it’s worth unpacking my past to try to understand WHY my brain functions the way it does, as mentioned above, but I also think sometimes I just have to accept that my brain is the way it is, & that’s not necessarily a good thing or a bad thing. It just IS. The good news is my OCD tendencies & general hyper-alertness/awareness make me a really good nurse. The bad news is too often I drive myself crazy & I can’t relax. Therefore the secret seems to be in finding the balance. And Prozac helps me do that. Maybe someday I will get to the point where I can manage my anxiety without it. But for right now, I think it’s just another tool in my “anti-anxiety shed,” & if it helps me use the other tools in that shed a bit better- well, why the hell not use it?
Lastly- & this is a whole other blog post right here- but I continually have to remind myself that our brains were not meant to handle even HALF of what we have to handle as modern human beings. For most of human history people had no clue what was happening 100 miles from their house, much less what was going on quite literally on the other side of the world. Our brains simply have not evolved fast enough to be able to absorb all of the information we are constantly inundated with these days. Do you think the average parent for most of human history was constantly besought with thoughts of “Am I making healthy enough meals? Are the chemicals in this food going to give my child cancer someday? Is my kid getting too much screen time? Am I doing enough to help the environment? Am I saving enough money for my child’s college fund? Am I being actively anti-racist?” And the list goes on & on. I am not saying any of these concerns are illegitimate or should be ignored. Not at all. But the fact remains that parents, & just humans in general, are processing more information than we ever have at any point in history & are being asked to think more long-term/big picture than ever before. At the same time many people are isolated & have less real human connection than ever before, especially with Covid the past two years. Is it any wonder so many of us struggle with anxiety &/or depression? No, it’s not- not at all. Because our brains simply haven’t had time to evolve to handle all of this!
Just to be clear, this post is not an endorsement of Prozac. I am in no way saying it’s a magic pill or that it’s the solution for everyone. Or even that medication in general is the solution for everyone. All I can say is that it works for me- but again, in combination with other strategies- not as a panacea or as an excuse not to do the inner work I still need to do. But I figure there is probably someone out there who needs to hear someone else say that it’s ok to take medication if you need to. It doesn’t make you weak. One of the greatest strengths we can have is knowing our own limitations & using whatever tools we can find to address them. And for me, at least for now, that means taking my Prozac, whether I like the fact that I need it or not, because it’s important that I be the best version of me for myself, my husband, & our daughter. And if that best version is obtained partly through Prozac- well- so be it.