Deciding to use medication and deciding to quit.

besoniceif

My journey with medication and anxiety began shortly after the panic attacks started to explode. I decided to give medication a go because the experience I had with counselling was not working quickly enough for me to be successful in school and I didn’t want to waste too much of my semester. I am not a medical professional, so my next advice is purely anecdotal, but it helps to have some firsthand knowledge when you decide to try medication. Medication isn’t for everyone, but I learned that it was helpful to try.

I have tried citalopram (Celexa), escitalopram (Cipralex), paroxetine (Paxil), fluoxetine (Prozac), and now desvenlafaxine (Pristiq). All but Pristiq are considered SSRIs and are also used for things other than depression, such as anxiety. Pristiq is classified as an SNRI, which acts on both serotonin and norepinephrine, instead of just serotonin like the SSRIs, essentially to achieve the same outcome.

The experience one has with each drug will be largely different in most cases. For Celexa, I had crazy bad headaches and was not on it very long. For Cipralex, I didn’t have any bad side effects, but it didn’t really do too much and I was on it for a few months. Paxil was the best fighter against anxiety for me, but it did its job a little too well and the term zombie was an understatement. I didn’t have emotions on Paxil and I slept a lot, but I don’t really remember having a panic attack. Paxil was also the hardest to taper off of and felt like the worst hangover I’ve ever been on. I was prescribed Prozac to help me taper off of Paxil and it was very similar to Cipralex – good, but nothing really changed. I’ve been on Pristiq for the longest time now (since May of last year) and I’ve had a love-hate relationship with it. As an SNRI, it seems to take my anxiety and make the baseline higher, but the intensities much, much less. My panic attacks don’t feel to be as world-ending, but I feel more anxious all the time than I have on other medications.

With that quick little update on my background with medication over the last two+ years… here are some things I’ve learned about medications and how they affected me:

1. It takes a few weeks to kick in and to get off of it.

The choice to start medication isn’t a sudden fix. It takes a while to find the right one and on top of that, it takes a few weeks for your brain to be able to let the medication do its thing. I really had to convince myself to be a good sport about giving the medication the chance to work for real, but it wasn’t always fun. For the first two weeks, I often felt icky. It was slightly nauseous, slightly headachey, slightly hit-by-a-truck-when-is-my-cold-starting kind of feeling. However, that did go away as my body got used to it. When I would switch a medication, especially with Paxil, it was also really important to taper under my psychiatrist’s direction. I learned the hard way one week that quitting cold turkey because “f this shit” is a really, absolutely, truly horrible idea. Red light, don’t do it, listen to your medical professional.

2. There are definitely side effects.

The side effects I experienced weren’t scary or bad, but annoying. After a few weeks on Celexa, with horrible, horrible headaches, I was swapped off it pretty quickly. That was really the only one that hurt. I would say, for me, Paxil and Pristiq have the most recognizable side effects, but I definitely gained weight a lot easier on all of the ones that I have tried. Paxil made me sleep all the time and I really lost my bucket of f*cks to give. Most of them had sexual side effects that came with them, but Pristiq really made me lose that bucket for good. Across the board, I’d often feel dizzy on bad days, which I self-medicated with caffeine, in the form of unhealthy energy drinks (NOT a good idea – caused pretty much a guaranteed panic attack). I did notice an increase for intrusive thoughts about self-harm, but I’m not completely sure if that came with the medication or the frustration with nothing working like I expected it to.

3. It changed my anxiety and how I experience it.

Overall, there have been a few noticeable changes in the way I experienced anxiety. Sometimes that meant that I coma’d my way through life, which was cool because no more anxiety, but really not because I didn’t accomplish anything. Other times, as in the case with Pristiq – I feel anxious all the time, but my panic attacks changed and I am able to pull myself out of them much more quickly and they don’t last as long. It really is a balancing act with medication and I think that’s why working with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and positive self-care really helps through the whole process of feeling better.

The things that I really feel affect your relationship with anxiety, medication, and feeling better are also included in what is going on in your life currently. At the end of September this year, I lost my best friend from junior high and I haven’t really felt okay since. I noticed that shortly after that emotional blow, my relationship with Pristiq drastically changed. I am caught in an abnormal sleep schedule that I can’t fix no matter what I do, and that lovely change with my panic attacks seems to have lost its touch a good amount. In a situation like this, all I can hope to do is make another appointment with my awesome psychiatrist and see what he thinks. He is an excellent resource and always includes me in decisions about my mental health and the direction I want to go next. At the end of the day, I think that is the most important point: I have the choice to continue or to try a clean slate. At the end of the day, you do as well. I can only hope that my experience with medication relieves a bit of hesitation or anxiety you may be feeling towards it. When I was first making the decision to try medication, I utilized personal accounts on r/Anxiety to help me understand what was going on as well as questions to my pharmacist and health link line. Good luck, friend, you’re not alone.

Advertisements

Balancing anxiety and school.

donthavetobeperfect

I am currently working on my application for a bachelor’s program in social work. I applied last year, and due to a reference problem and average grades that couldn’t compete in the program I was declined. I had to tell myself that I had been finally diagnosed that year and I had significant difficulties adjusting – especially with medications. It was okay to try again. I am trying again this year with some boosted grades, fantastic references from some wonderful people and more volunteer experience. My application certainly looks a lot better.

So the question here is – why am I approaching this like I have already failed? I have put off my essay requirements of my application, even though I’ve already done the hard work of asking for references and volunteering with a club on campus that promotes mental health awareness (if you’re on campus, check out their events or consider volunteering! MHA UCalgary). I’ve done the part that requires me to hang up my anxiety for a little while, take a step and ask for what I want or interact with others about mental health, which at first was extremely emotional and difficult to do. And yet, I still discredit my work and knowledge and start the snowball of anxiety every time I sit down to finish the last piece of the application. I had given myself a deadline for the first week of February, and look at where we are now.

I’ve spoken before about letting go of the outcome. In practice, it is a great deal more difficult to accomplish, I understand. If you’re stuck on the outcome like I am right now, here are a few things to remember before you give up.

1. Take a break from it for a little while, but don’t avoid it. Make a cup of tea, watch ONE episode of something you enjoy on Netflix (Downton Abbey, anyone?), take a walk with a furry friend or cuddle them for a little while, write it down in a blog or a journal and get your feelings out in a healthy way, or check out some positive blogs/vlogs that encourage you to keep going. I really feel a lot better after I’ve read something from The Mighty as it encompasses people who are trying as hard as I am – and in a lot of cases, even harder. Other times I’ll watch some beauty gurus like Kathleen LightsJaclyn Hill, or Glam & Gore, who are all talented and beautiful ladies who are open about the importance of mental health, being good to yourself and reminding you how beautiful of a person you are.

2. Make yourself a list of what you have to accomplish, but also include what you have accomplished. Some days, getting out of bed is the best accomplishment that I can award myself, and being a gold star person, you bet your ass I’m going to be giving myself a gold star for that. Remember that any indication that you are trying is going to be a huge step over the days where you can’t try anything.

3. Talk to someone, even if it’s in an anonymous situation. R/Anxiety is a tool I even used last night and woke up to a response this morning of a total stranger reminding me that it is okay and that I need to breathe, remember that if I don’t get in and have to find a job – interviews are hard for everyone, and interviewers totally understand that. This isn’t the end of my life, just a bump in the road. Do you still feel like you have no one? You’re reading this blog right now, send me a message. I’ll be your person.

4. Take care of yourself. If you’re stressed, you’re likely going to forget to eat, drink, and shower. Or maybe you will overeat, drink more wine than you initially set out to, and still forget to shower. Set down whatever is stressing you and grab yourself a shower. I always feel like a whole new person when I get out of the shower, and I spend a lot of time thinking in the shower – but calmly. Being around water seems to really help me and I hope that you will find it helps you too.

This advice may seem similar to what I’ve posted about before, but it’s important to keep repeating it – especially for myself when I feel like I should just give up. At the end of the day, remember that if you give your best, that is all anyone can ask. But you have to be honest with yourself about what your best really is. I know that right now, this empty word document is not my best, and today is a new day, right now is a new moment, and I am strong enough to finish it. Now that my break is done, I hope that you will join me in mustering up some courage to finish this paper off, know that I did my best with it and let go any anxiety about what they will think or if they will accept me because I know that I have given it my all.

For when you can’t catch a break.

yourenotamess

Lately, my anxiety has been an unwelcome visitor that won’t go away. I have been stuck at a 5/10 on a scale of no anxiety-all the anxiety and I can’t seem to lower it. This also means that when my panic attacks come, they seem more intense and make me more exhausted than ‘normal’. I have a few go-to tricks for when I’m stuck in this rut and I want to give up.

1. Let go of the outcome.

My anxiety loves it when I’m making mistakes. It will nitpick and laugh at everything I’m doing wrong and will push me right down that hill of snowballing until I am in full panic mode. It might just be that I am cooking dinner, dropping things, burning things, overcooking or undercooking, but that somehow ends up being a reflection on who I am as a person. When I start to notice that I’m really reacting to the mistakes I am making, I remind myself to let it go – cue Idina Menzel.

It’s hard to admit that you can’t control the result of what is happening – because you have either already overcooked your spaghetti noodles or you’re waiting on someone else to act, but it is necessary. I remind myself that this is just a moment in my day, I can choose to fix what has happened, or I can adapt to a new solution, and it doesn’t reflect on me or control the entirety of how my day goes.

2. Celebrate everything, no matter how small.

Since I’m on reading break this week, I had high hopes of catching up on readings, working on my application to social work, and really deep cleaning our entire messy house. I spent most of the day in bed, beating myself up for not being able to sleep the night before and feeling exhausted. But, I managed to get all the dishes that were piling up in massive stacks done. I had to give myself a gold star and be proud that I got out of bed, I did something to improve my environment and that was good. When Jeff got home tonight, I even made spaghetti – his favourite dish and one I haven’t made in a long time. I took a second to look at what I was doing and I looked over to him saying “I’m COOKING!” with a giant smile on my face. I finished off cooking dinner feeling like a badass, knowing that I haven’t cooked a real meal in weeks.

I’m really lucky that I have someone who understands that these little things are giant steps some days and that it’s important to celebrate with me. It took a while for him to understand, but now that we are on the same page, it is so so so helpful. I often make a mental list of things that I did during the day that I can be proud of myself for. Sometimes, it’s as small as showering or taking the dogs out when I’ve been feeling extremely agoraphobic, but it’s important to remember that you are worthy of that little celebration.

3. Reward yourself with things that make you happy.

I am all too familiar with those days where I feel like the elephant is sitting on my chest and making his home there. Getting out of bed, putting on clothes, and attending to responsibilities are way too much to ask on those days, which starts a whole new branch of self-guilting and many unkind thoughts. I try to find something that I look forward to – whether it’s binge watching some bad reality TV, picking up that new lip colour I really, really want, or playing some nerd games. When I have completed something, I will give myself some time to indulge in what I enjoy. I have found a new love for following makeup gurus on YouTube and feel really calm and engaged when I am watching a new video, which encourages me to get out of bed and grab my computer to see if they have uploaded a new video this week. It also often inspires me to go have a shower and try out a new look I just watched. I’ve seen a huge difference in my ability to girl since I have started following them and it makes me proud to see how I can accomplish new looks – and I have been getting so many compliments!

Before I give up and fall deep into that hole of anxiety and depression, I try these things. Most of the time, I will feel a little less at war with myself when I try them, even if that feeling only lasts an hour. Relief is relief, and I hope that any of these suggestions will help someone else who is experiencing the same thing I am.