Why I'm Thankful for Western Medicine
Anxiety can be paralyzing. It can consume you, cause you to feel like there is no way out, darken even your brightest moments and guide you in a downward spiral if you don’t know how to cope with or manage it. It’s scary; and it affects every single person on this planet to some degree.
To be honest, I’m not sure that I truly understood what anxiety even was until my freshman year of college. Up until then, I had only known anxiety to be sweaty palms before speaking in front of the classroom, a racing heart before a basketball game, flushed cheeks and an upside down stomach when talking to a crush, and shaky hands when being asked to “stay after class.” It was something that I lived with, but didn’t really take too much notice of. It didn’t affect my life. I never thought about it. It didn’t much matter to me whether or not I had a way of managing it. It was just something that I experienced – something normal.
My freshman year of college, I was invited to my friend’s roommate’s baptism. Even though I didn’t know her too well, I still wanted to support her in her spiritual journey – so I went. Without going into too much detail, the service was quite strange to me and I felt somewhat uncomfortable a majority of the time I was there. I’m not sure if this is what sparked my first anxiety attack, or if my anxiety was something that had been building up inside of me; either way, I started to experience something completely unknown and incredibly scary.
All of a sudden, I couldn’t breathe as well, my head felt airy and dizzy, I was nervous and physically uncomfortable, I felt like I was going to be sick, my heart was pounding, my body was tingly, and I needed OUT. Out of what? Out to where? It didn’t matter. I just needed OUT.
I still don’t really know what to call this sort of “attack” that I had, but it wasn’t the last time that I experienced it.
I went back to the dorm with my friend after the baptism was over and I told her that I was feeling weird. I remember going to the dining hall and trying to eat dinner but not being able to get down more than a couple bites without feeling uneasy and nervous. My friend suggested that I go lay down and relax for a bit – that I was probably just feeling off because we had drank wine the night before.
I decided to skype my parents (I was out of state at the time) and talk to them about what I was experiencing. Was it normal? Was I just hungover? Would this go away? My parents are doctors, so I’ve always valued their opinion when it comes to physical and mental health. After talking with them for a while, I finally felt relief. I felt more comfortable, more at ease, more in control. I was in good spirits after hanging up with my parents, and finally felt good enough to just relax and hangout with my friends who were in my room at the time. “Phew, it’s over,” I thought.
That night, I didn’t fall asleep until 3 or 4am. When I was laying in bed, the same symptoms that I was feeling earlier in the afternoon started to creep up again. My heart was POUNDING, and I couldn’t get comfortable – physically or mentally. I tossed and turned for however long it took me to calm myself down, and then when I woke up in the morning, the symptoms slowly reappeared.
For the next week or so before Spring Break, I experienced the same symptoms on and off. Almost anything seemed to trigger them. I would sit in class and journal out prayers, affirmations and quotes that I hoped would encourage or help me. It felt like I was literally clinging to my sanity. If you struggle with anxiety, then you understand how dark and life-altering it can be.
I was excited to come back to Kansas City for Spring Break to spend time with my family and be at home. I figured the relaxation of break and comfort of my family and home would make things better and put an end to whatever the heck was going on in my life at the time.
Unfortunately, things didn’t really look up.
I was brain-foggy, nervous, restless, scared and uncomfortable. I honestly felt like I was in another world. I couldn’t talk myself out of feeling the way that I was feeling; and praying and reading wasn’t making a big difference either. It might sound like I’m exaggerating my circumstances, but this was all so real to me, and this season was such a defining time in my life.
At the time, medication wasn’t something that appealed to me. I wasn’t educated on how it could benefit my mental health, and none of my friends were taking anxiety medication or anti-depressants; so I didn’t consider it an option for what I was experiencing. After talking with my parents and doing some thinking on my own though, it seemed like the best option, and I decided to start taking it.
I have now been on and off of a low-dosage SSRI that helps treat anxiety, depression and premenstrual disorders for 4 years, and I’m finally at a place where I’m not ashamed to talk about it.
Note: The way an SSRI works is by encouraging your body to do what it should be doing naturally. It helps to balance the chemicals in the brain that are responsible for mood. Because serotonin plays such an important role in sleep, appetite, memory, sexual behavior, mood and neuroendocrine function, having an imbalance of this results in an array of problems for people. An SSRI does not give you a ‘high,’ and is not something that pulses in and out of my system. It’s a long-term medication that I take each morning like I do my supplements.
In the health and wellness space, there is a HUGE emphasis on holistic and natural living – using supplements, meditation, spiritual guidance, therapy, tonics and elixirs, exercise, food and water to heal all ailments (mental, physical and emotional). This is cool to me, and one year ago, when I really started chasing after wellness, I felt ashamed that I was taking a medication to help with my anxiety. I felt like I wasn’t supposed to have to take a medication, because everyone else seemed to be coping with their anxiety and depression in a natural manner. And although I was practicing all of the things in order to cope with anxiety and depression, I was embarrassed to talk about it out loud to anyone and felt like if people knew that I was on medication, they wouldn’t think I was as sincere or as genuine of a person.
Feeling ashamed was useless, though, because now I realize that anxiety is part of my story, and it’s a chance for me to stand up for those who struggle with mental health issues. In my opinion, being on medication is NOT something to be ashamed of. It’s NOT an escape route. It’s NOT wrong. It’s something that sometimes you need to do in order to take care of yourself FIRST before anything else.
Just because I take medication, does not mean that I don’t have to work daily to manage the typical anxieties and ups and downs of life. I still feel things, I still cry, I still get nervous, I still get angry and frustrated, and I DEFINITELY still have seasons of anxiety. It also doesn’t mean that I don’t do anything else to manage my anxiety. For me, being on medication helps me to move forward in the direction of wellness. I am able to focus on practicing meditation, sitting in solitude, reading, journaling, engaging in healthy conversations, etc. – all things that encourage mental health. I am able to relate to others who struggle with anxiety, and I’m given the opportunity to speak up for those who feel ashamed or embarrassed, like I did.
I don’t believe that I will have to take medication to manage my anxiety for my entire life. I also know that there are supplements and other holistic treatments for anxiety and depression, and these are things that I am exploring. But for now, I am in a place where western medicine makes sense for me and helps me to live my life fully. With a clear head, I am able to chase after all of the things in life that can benefit my body, brain and spirit. I am not captive to my anxiety. I am moving forward.
There are a variety of things that I do, and a few supplements that I take in order to encourage chemical balance in my brain, and to regulate my mood and hormones. I’ve listed them below, and if you have any anxiety or depression management tips that you’d like to share – please do so in the comments!
Getting sunshine makes a HUGE difference in my life. Sunlight promotes feelings of wakefulness, joy and contentment. Without it, the world truly does feel dark to me. I try to get outside all year long, even if it’s only for 10 minutes, which is enough exposure for a fair-skinned person.
Vitamin D supplement.
Speaking of Vitamin D, I have genuinely noticed a difference in my mood after starting to take a daily Vitamin D supplement. This vitamin supports healthy bones, gut health, mood regulation and more. Like magnesium, this is a magic supplement in my opinion!
I take a magnesium supplement daily. Magnesium plays a huge roll in practically every bodily function, and its necessary for mood and hormone regulation. For women, it’s recommended that we don’t exceed 310-320 mg per day, so I currently take 300mg each morning. I notice that I am more relaxed. Sometimes it can make me feel a bit sleepy, so taking it at night is something that you can experiment with!
Slow the eff down.
Slowing down makes a HUGE difference if you are someone that struggles with anxiety. It always feels so good. Take baths, go for long walks, meditate, create relaxing playlists, light candles, draw, do yoga, read, journal, listen to podcasts – do what you need to give your body and soul some love. When you slow down, you encourage relaxation for your entire being. It promotes contentment.
Spend time with people that genuinely care about you.
I am so grateful for the healthy relationships that I have in my life. Spending time with those that appreciate your uniqueness and your quirks is so important. Find time to spend with people who are easy for you to be around, that are willing to listen to you and are seriously there for you when you need them. Real friends are always needed in REAL times. Hang on to those that you love and those that really love you.
Limit alcohol and sugar intake.
Although alcohol feels nice after a long day, it’s not the best option for true relaxation. Alcohol can mess with your hormones big time if you're not careful. Instead of having a drink during the week, I take baths, read, spend time with people that I love and drink A LOT of tea. After being sober throughout the week, it’s not too hard to say no to a 3rd or 4th drink on the weekend. Frankly, my tolerance is lower so I don’t really need more than 1 or 2 drinks to begin with, and I’m used to feeling good during the week so I always want to continue that through the weekend (NU-UH to hangovers – they contribute to anxiety and depression).
We shouldn't feel ashamed to talk about our problems or dark seasons. I'm finding that the more honest and open I am about who I am, what my struggles are and what my life looks like, the more I come across kindred spirits and people who appreciate me for ME. By being open, you can find genuine support from people who CARE and are willing to listen. Be open, and the universe will side with you - bring you good and wellbeing. I really believe that.