"I am not a facade of myself, I am the functioning version of myself."
When I found myself crying in Boston’s Public Garden for the fourth time in a week, I knew I wasn’t okay. My fingers clutched onto the tree, shaking and stinging with the November wind. All throughout class minutes earlier, I held onto my desk to catch my breath, in fear of slipping into an anxiety attack in the middle of the lecture. As soon as class was dismissed, I ran out into the Garden. I ran out to hyperventilate. I ran out to convince myself that there was some other reason I was feeling this way. It was just a bad day, not a psychological problem. Faces were beginning to blur in this state. People were moving, moving, moving and the more they moved the harder I breathed and the harder I breathed, the more I cried and the lonelier I felt. I could be surrounded by a city yet feel a lonely pang in my gut. I could be drunk at a party and wind up crying on the dance floor. I could be in a room with all my friends and feel the hopeless tugging of my anxiety.
American society doesn’t understand drugs in the way they should. To some, the stigma is so blinding that they can’t see past the word “drug” and their minds go directly to drug abuse. Especially to the older generations, admitting you need help is a form of weakness. In these people’s eyes, drugs are a form of escapism, not solution. The problem with this mindset is that when it comes to drugs, context matters.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), 3.1% of the adult population in the United States has Generalized Anxiety Disorder, or GAD. I felt terribly alone when in fact my mental illness was shared among more than six million people in the United States. The CCHR Mental Health Watch reports that one in five Americans are currently taking psychiatric medication. So where is this stigma coming from?
I was always an anxious kid but I could get by. I was quiet and skilled at internalizing my worries. It wasn’t until college where I could no longer repress my symptoms.
I denied my problem until my yearly physical by my doctor. Before I went in for my appointment, I was required to fill out both a depression and anxiety survey, rating my symptoms on a scale from one to five. Every symptom listed for anxiety was a five for me. As a result, as my doctor explained, I had many symptoms of depression also. I was prescribed an SSRI (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor), Prozac, and I can say that it has changed my life.
However, pills are not magic. Not only do they take months to have their full effects, but some may not work on every user, or worse, have the opposite effect. It took me a while to find my correct dosage and months for me to entirely feel like I was truly doing better. Although Prozac was successful for me, some people may need a different SSRI like Zoloft, or a completely different kind of drug altogether. I was told by my doctor that along with therapy, I would begin to feel even better.
People have expressed their fears to me about taking psychiatric medication. Doesn’t it change your personality? I don’t think my personality should be driven by my mental illness. For a while I was afraid to even leave my room and I know deep down that’s not who I am as a person. I like being with my friends, I love laughing, going to the movies, hiking, painting, and being outside. My mental illness got rid of all of these. Being on medication does not make me a fraud. I am not a facade of myself, I am the functioning version of myself.
Many artists, who I am surrounded by, are afraid that psychiatric medication will dissolve their creativity. I enjoy being creative through drawing, painting, and writing. I haven’t noticed a change in my creativity, although I have seen change in my content. When I was at my lowest, my works produced were pretty dark and bleak, just like my outlook was at the time. However, my mental illness doesn’t control my love for the arts. My love for writing is not rooted in my depression or anxiety. I would rather be happy than have a “tortured artist” image.
I can only speak to anxiety and depression. Even then, everyone’s mental illness is different. However, if you feel like you’re struggling with mental illness, I urge you to talk to your doctor or a psychiatric professional. You can get help whether it’s medication, therapy, or both. I believe that everyone deserves to be happy and if it takes pills to be functioning, so be it.
"Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)." Anxiety and Depression Association of America, ADAA. ADAA, n.d. Web. 24 July 2017.
Paquette, Andrea. "The Stigmatization of Mental Health Medication." HealthyPlace. The Healthy Place, 09 July 2014. Web. 24 July 2017.