When is it Time to Consider Medication?

Art by Nicolette Schultz

When Is It Time To Consier Medication

What would you do if a friend told you they didn’t want to live anymore? That they were actively considering suicide and probably would commit suicide if a significant other or parent were no longer in their lives?

What if they told you repeatedly that they were unhappy, and no matter how much they exercised and ate healthy foods, they still felt miserable? What if they told you they drank plenty of water and got plenty of sleep?

What if they had already moved cities and quit a stressful job to work at a less stressful job?

What if they were already seeing a therapist twice a week?

Every couple months, my friend who lives in D.C. calls, telling me she feels like she’s at the bottom of a black pit. She feels like she’s treading water, kicking as hard as she can and struggling to stay afloat. She feels hopeless, and even though her job pays well, and she’s in a field she loves, she thinks about suicide at least once a week.

“I would do it if my grandma weren’t still living,” she told me about her grandma– who is 90-years-old.

I suggested a different therapist, but she’s already tried several, and they all say the same thing. She needs to see a psychiatrist and find the right medication.

She doesn’t want to be on anti-depressants.

“What if I lose my creativity? I heard that is a side effect.” She’s a writer.

“What if I become a different person?”

“What if it makes it worse?”

I understand and I sympathize with all of these worries. And I cringe when I tell her it could make her depression worse. It could have nasty side effects. There is no one cure-all anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medication. You just have to work closely with your therapist and psychiatrist to find the right one.

She doesn’t like that answer.

When I first began seeking anti-anxiety medication, I had the same questions. Will I be a different person? Will it make it worse? I told my SO to watch for extreme changes in my personality and mood.

The first medication made my anxiety worse. I felt like I couldn’t breathe every time I took it, and it would make me have panic attacks all the time… especially at work.

The second medication gave me horrible headaches, so I stopped taking that.

The third medication worked because it would make me so drowsy, I would be asleep within 30 minutes. Can’t have a panic attack if you’re in a mild coma!

I was honestly happy with the third medication for a while, but it sucked if I ever needed to take it in the day time. I could say goodbye to whatever I was doing for the rest of the day.

So, I went back to my doctor again. I’m no physician, so I can’t repeat exactly what she said, but here’s how I understood it. She told me that the other medications represented certain types of anti-anxiety medications, and because we had tried those already, she wouldn’t give me any more in that category of medication.

Through process of elimination, we tried my fourth medication. My panic attacks didn’t halt immediately, but with therapy, exercise, and some lifestyle changes, I have not had a panic attack I couldn’t handle since I’ve been on the medication. I’ve been able to talk myself down from the proverbial ledge. All of the advice my therapist gives me is way more helpful.

So, yes, I admit to my friend, taking medication can produce unwanted effects, but the results can be well worth it.

I don’t have headaches anymore because I’m not clenching my jaw subconsciously every day and night. My chest doesn’t feel like a 20 pound weight is on it because I can relax my torso even when I’m awake. I don’t have weird sensations in my arms and legs anymore. No nausea or random numbness. I actually have control over my life again thanks to my efforts and medication.

Still, there’s a stigma against anti-anxiety and anti-depressant medication in the Black community.

“Just pray about it,” her mother told her, convincing her to throw away the medication she was considering taking.

There’s fear surrounding it.

People will take pain medication, cold & flu medication, blood pressure medication all they want, but when it comes to mental health medication, suddenly, God and a health diet are the only answers.

I believe it stems from the idea that mental illness isn’t real—that it can go away if you just exercise, eat healthy, and pray.

I can tell you, my friend has been a devout Christian since I’ve known her. She’s been praying and trusting God. And I can tell you, I still get that call every few months.

It’s time for all of us, especially in the Black community to begin taking mental illness seriously. My friend in D.C. doesn’t exist, but her thoughts and feelings are real. She is a representation of the very real conversations I have had with several of my friends this year.

If some of you don’t start taking mental health seriously, you could lose someone close to you. Don’t be another person who makes them feel like they’re making it up or they’re weak. They will already convince themselves of that and cry themselves to sleep at night. Tell them that their feeling are valid, and encourage them to seek professional help.

Lives may depend on it.


Have You Ever Tasted Fear?

Terror has a taste. It’s metallic. Medical professionals theorize that it comes from the fight or flight response causing your gums to bleed or the intense anxiety causing your sense of taste to go into overdrive. Writers describe the copper taste of fear filling their characters mouths, and readers wonder if it’s a metaphor. It is not. Let me tell you today that fear has a taste, and you never want to be that afraid in your life.

I remember the first time I tasted fear. It was 2016, and I was driving my 2001 Nissan Maxima down South Monroe Street. My friends talked enthusiastically, three of them squished together on my cracked faux leather seats in the back. It was 80 – 85 degrees in the Florida summer, and my a/c only kind of worked if the car had been sitting in the shade for a little while. It was basically worthless in any hint of sunlight, so my windows were down. I debated attempting to turn on my a/c anyway, feeling awkwardly inadequate because I couldn’t make my friends comfortable, which was strange because, one, they didn’t have cars, so they were grateful for the ride, and, two, they didn’t care one way of the other. We were used to roughing it as a group of mostly first generation college students who came from working-class households. But I digress.

Suddenly, the scent of gasoline wafted through the air. I could no longer hear my friends’ banter. My body completely tensed. My heart-rate spiked. My stomached lurched. My lips tingled, and my face went cold and bloodless as I genuinely considered opening my car door in the middle of moving traffic and jumping out like Jack Bauer from 24 while my friends were chatting away completely unaware of any of this mental battle seeing as it all happened in under a second. Clinging to the only thread of reality that told me my car was definitely NOT about to explode, and I should NOT jump out into oncoming traffic leaving my friends in a driverless car, I fought down the fear, and we arrived safely at our destination.

The experience baffled me, and I didn’t talk about it for months because… it’s crazy? But little did I know, this was the beginning of my seemingly impossible battle with anxiety and panic attacks. Over the next few months, I would show up in every local clinic, emergency room, and urgent care center who would take me, convinced that I was dying of something. My heart was beating too fast; I was having a heart attack. My arms were going numb; it’s a stroke! My stomach had a weird, gurgly feeling; internal bleeding! Incessant headaches; I am clearly having an aneurysm. Why is everyone acting so calmly!?

Every medical professional would give me the same emotionless, unconcerned response: “It’s just stress.” How? How could it just be stress that it causing random spots on my feet and legs to feel like a hot comb is 2 inches from them?

The Medical System and the Uninsured

As someone with no health insurance and no primary care doctor at the time, over the next few months, I learned a lot about the health care system. I learned that if you don’t have a primary care physician, instead visiting the ER for non-emergencies, you can visit the Urgent Care component of a hospital in the day time, and even if you have no insurance, it’s fairly inexpensive. It was $50 in my case. I learned that local clinics physicians are way overworked and understaffed, but they do their best to ensure every patient gets what they need, but the receptionist will treat you like you spent the night before in VIP, popping bottles while you owed her $100. This was true at every local clinic. I learned that you could call an ambulance to your apartment, have them check you out, but decline to be taken to the hospital. I also learned that you could call an ambulance while pulled over on the side of a street, have them check you out, and they will strongly insist you go to the hospital if you are running around like a mad woman in a Whataburger parking lot when they get there… and it will be VERY expensive.

I can laugh about it now, but it was definitely not funny at the time.

Anxiety: The Misconceptions and the Myths

Anxiety is a largely misunderstood disorder. Everyone feels anxious at some time or another. It is a natural response to stress. In many cases, it keeps us safe. If a small child was about to fall off of a high bed, you want your heart to pump more blood to your muscles, so you can run and catch the child before she falls. That’s anxiety doing its job. Fear jolts you into action.

But in my case and other’s who suffer from anxiety and panic attacks, our stress levels are extremely high, beyond the normal threshold, which is different for everyone, and our minds trigger the fight or flight response at the slightest hint of danger. In the example above, we would catch the child, take a breath, and calm down. But with anxiety disorder, because it’s a false alarm in the first place, there is not action to take, so we’re suck in this terror limbo, our bodies on edge and ready to respond to an emergency that does not exist. That is why I almost jumped out of my car into moving traffic.

For a long time, I didn’t understand when medical professionals told me the symptoms I was experiencing were all caused by stress. It wasn’t until I got health insurance through my job in 2017 and saw my primary care physician that I began to understand the enormous impact stress can have on a person’s life and body. Another thing I learned about the medical system: it can take up to two months for you to see a physician for the first time even with insurance, but having a good primary care physician makes all of the difference.

She wasn’t overwhelmed by an unusual surplus of patients, so she had time to sit and calmly explain to me that my chest pains, headaches, and other weird sensations were a result of my always physically tensing my body because my mind was sending it signals of danger. I would get a headache from clenching my jaw all day. Then, my overactive fear response would convince me that it was an aneurysm, and I would have a panic attack and rush to some medical professional who would tell me “It’s just stress,” and go about their day. Afterwards, my mind would tell me that the physician or nurse was just too busy to inspect my situation thoroughly, and they were probably wrong, so my mind would keep sending my body those signals, causing other sensations, in a never ending loop of panic and terror.

My primary care physician ended this loop. She referred me to a therapist who gave me even more information on anxiety coping mechanisms, like muscle relation techniques and how to calm anxious thoughts by setting aside a specific time to worry throughout the day. I hope to divulge all of the methods I discover throughout my blog posts, as they all benefited me greatly—some more than others.

I spent all 2017 and some of 2018 struggling desperately. I cried a lot during that time, wondering if I would always be like that, unable to calm down, vividly imagining my death in various ways. I watched my significant other struggle to decide if he should take me to the hospital again or try to calm me down. What if it wasn’t a figment of my imagination this time? What if I was really dying this time?

But I’m happy to say, I haven’t had a panic attack I couldn’t handle since the spring of 2018. I still see my therapist, and I still take steps to keep my stress levels down. That included cutting some people out of my life, stepping back from others’ drama, and realizing that I couldn’t save the world. But that’s another blog post, though.

Peace, love, and happy adulting!