For a long time, I thought medication would mean I was a failure. I thought it would mean I was wasting my time and money seeing a therapist. I thought it would mean I was incurably sick.
I thought I didn’t need medication because nothing was actually wrong with me. As a teenager, I saw a therapist who told me this exact thing. She told me there was “nothing under the rug” – that when we lifted up all the furniture in my head, there were no monsters hiding underneath. Nothing needed cleaning. The floor was sound. There was no need for me to feel the way I was feeling. I internalized her terrible message and continued to believe that I was making up my depression for the rest of my teenage years.
As I developed worsening anxiety and panic during grad school, I carried the same damaging thoughts with me. “I’m making this up. There’s nothing wrong. This is just a moment of weakness.” Working with a good therapist has helped me come to terms with some of these thoughts. I no longer think my anxiety and depression are signs of weakness. If anything, they mean I have the strength to make it through the day when everything in my body tells me that I can’t. I no longer think I am creating symptoms of a mental illness that doesn’t exist. But until recently, I still struggled to accept that medication might be helpful and positive for me. I continued to think that I just needed to get better at using my coping mechanisms. I needed to try harder.
But mental illness isn’t about trying harder. In the early hours of New Year’s Day, I experienced back to back panic attacks for two straight hours. Away from home in a strange city, with no safe space to call mine, I couldn’t ground myself. I couldn’t even begin to try breathing techniques because I couldn’t catch my breath at all. Eventually, I was able to settle into sleep, but not until after it was suggested that I might want to go to the hospital to get something to calm me down. I didn’t end up at the hospital, but I did end up at a primary care doctor the next week, asking for medication for my panic attacks.
Now, instead of feeling like a failure, I feel safe. I feel like I have another option for times when I don’t have any success with my deep breathing and grounding techniques. I have something that will even out my highs and my lows to make the techniques I know more effective. Perhaps most importantly, I feel validated. I expected to have to prove to my doctor that I have a mental illness. I expected her to need to contact my therapist. I expected her not to believe me because I spent such a long time not believing myself.
It’s far too early in the process to know if my new medication is helping or not, but I am hopeful. I know that I am not a failure – not to God or to myself or to those who love me. I am comforted in knowing that healing means knowing the truth about myself. I am sensitive and strong at the same time. I am both worried and determined. I am taking Zoloft and I am a successful woman. I can only get where I’m going by opening my fists.