I feel like I should apologize in advance for this (extremely long) blog post because my experiences with anxiety are limited. I mean no disrespect to people who truly struggle with crippling anxiety on a day to day basis. I’m fully aware I’m a tourist (an involuntary one) in Anxiety-Land. I visit the place from time to time, and I don’t pretend to know it as well as the locals. The truth is, I’ve been blessed with a life of privilege and beauty and love. I try to be worthy of it. Sometimes I mess up, and there are many things I’m not proud of. But for the most part, I think I’m doing pretty ok.
But I have tafil moments. I’ve written about tafil before. I was joking when I wrote that, but I did end up getting some anxiety meds from my aunt last Christmas (“You know we’re a bit special, and we need all the help we can get”). And despite the blithe blog post, I don’t use them lightly or for recreation. If you’ve ever had a panic attack, I don’t really need to explain anything. If you haven’t, I’m not that good a writer that I can convey what it’s like. Basically, it’s fucking terrifying, because you feel completely out of control. You know all those movies about demonic possession- “The Exorcist” and the like? That’s basically it. Only it’s not your body doing a creepy spider walk down the stairs and peeing on carpets in the middle of a party. It’s your brain, just out of control, acting in a way you don’t want it to while you watch helplessly. When I was younger, I didn’t even understand what was happening. I would ride the anxiety and believe the things I was feeling and thinking were real, with some very negative consequences in my life and the lives of others. I’ve come to recognize anxiety for what it is, I am aware of what triggers it, I notice when it starts happening and when I start to spiral. But the self-awareness has only made things worse, because I’m still unable to snap myself out of a panic attack. Hell, I’ve written down contingency plans and written down advice for myself for if I start to panic. Knowing I’m having a panic attack has made the panic more severe, because the helplessness and frustration of not being able to stop it just heightens the feeling that you’re weak and out of control. You can’t breathe and you think you’re going to die. It’s scary and exhausting. Luckily this kind of thing happens to me very, very rarely. So rarely, that it’s easy to forget about it afterwards.
The last couple of months we have gotten a loan, bought a house, bought a car, moved, and started to build new routines in our new lives. It has been super exciting but also very stressful. I’ve also been working on weekends (something I feel strongly against) and late every day, and yet managed to miss two deadlines for conference submissions, including one I had gotten an extension for. I haven’t had time to recharge my batteries- no time for books or blogging or videogames or anything that I do to relax. Last Friday was our housewarming party. A bit over 20 people came. The guests were some of my absolutely most favorite people in the world, and I was thrilled and happy they could come. But with everything that has been going on, I felt anxious and overwhelmed. And so I took one fourth of a chill pill. It didn’t knock me out. I wasn’t “away”. Quite the opposite- I was able to truly enjoy myself and the company of many of my friends, for a change. I was still myself; I wasn’t a fake happy plastic person. But I was a version of myself without anxiety, as at ease as if it had just been an intimate event with a couple of guests. I don’t think anyone even noticed.
Now comes the rant.
Recently I was having a conversation about +10 hour long flights, and I mentioned anxiety pills helping. I brought up having used an anxiety pill during our housewarming party, a statement which was followed by a long awkward silence. “Awkward silence,” I joked. “I just think meds are evil,” Person responded. Person thought that people should just like, exercise. Medicines aren’t the solution. They mess with your head. When people take medicines they aren’t facing the real issue, the underlying symptoms. BAM. The stereotypical inner hot-blooded latina that lives in me was released. I’ve known so many wonderful people with depression and anxiety who have been helped so much by medication. Saying that “meds are evil” implies that these people are making a bad or stupid choice in taking them. Exercise is not an option when you are barely functioning, when you can’t get out of your head, much less your house. Of course exercise and a healthy lifestyle, with enough sleep, and activity, and balanced meals, is important. But in some cases there’s a long way to go before that can happen. I could list my own history- the therapists I’ve seen, the naturist remedies I’ve tried, etc., but why should people have to justify what is a very personal and difficult decision? It’s NEVER an easy choice, or the first choice. Thinking it’s just an easy solution for lazy people who can’t fix themselves is ignorant and disrespectful. As if admitting you can’t cope, that you are not “strong” enough to manage like everyone else could ever be easy. “Medicine is evil” is the reason why so many people who struggle with anxiety or depression are reluctant to speak up or share their experiences.
Person tried to backtrack and explained that rather, medication is given too easily, and children in particular should never ever be given meds. I agree that meds are sometimes too quickly offered- a Mexican friend who moved to a different cold dark northern country was feeling depressed and went to see a doctor in the hopes of being referred to a therapist, and instead got handed antidepressants right off, something that she felt wasn’t right for her. But in any case, the great responsibility that parents and doctors have in providing adequate care for a child who has no say is a completely different issue. Saying that medicines are evil is not just harsh, it’s dangerous because it perpetuates a stigma that can harm so many vulnerable people. The recovery of so many is compromised by the idea that “medicines are evil.” People, such as a very dear friend, wait much longer than necessary for the treatment they clearly need because they have heard too many of these off-handed comments by people without any personal experience with mental illness. What if a stranger recently prescribed with meds passed by when Person said “Medicines are evil”? How much harder do we need to make things for people who are already having a very bad time?
Medication can have awful side-effects and become addictive. I’m very lucky that I’m only a tourist in Anxiety-Land, with no risk of addiction or dependency. My chill pills will last me for such a long time, the next time I have to renew my prescription it’ll probably be because they’ve expired. But the argument I had with Person made me realize it’s important to say: I feel no shame in admitting that every now and then, I need a little help.