The conversation turned to the things we’ve tried, or considered trying, to control the immense levels of anxiety we experience.
I recently had conversations with two of the most spectacular women I know about anxiety. They’re part of my personal circle, and we’re pretty transparent with each other, so the conversation turned to the things we’ve tried, or considered trying, to control the immense levels of anxiety we experience. Neither of these women wanted to turn to prescription medications, not because they worried about the effect of the meds, but because of the stigma associated with needing them.
One of these women is my grandmother, a bold, beautiful, extraordinary woman of 91, is also a worrier. Recently my grandfather fell and broke his neck. He was hospitalized and is now in 24-hour care. He is expected to make a full recovery, but at 95, recovery is a difficult path for him and for my grandmother who cares for him. It’s massively stressful, and she is in a constant state of high anxiety. She only feels better when she’s at his bedside, and has put her life on hold to sit next to him and hold his hand. My mother suggested that she take something, but my grandmother is violently opposed to the idea because of the stigma. Not because she doesn’t think it would be very helpful, but because she doesn’t want to be known as someone who needs medication.
She hates the idea that she is relying on an external factor for her internal peace.
The other is one of my best friends who lives in New York. We don’t catch up often, but when we do we dive straight into the good stuff. The real and heavy stuff. She shared with me a couple of months ago that she had an incredibly difficult January and decided to begin taking an anti-anxiety medication. She told me it’s helping so much, but she hates it. She hates the idea that she is relying on an external factor for her internal peace.
I fought against it, weaning off of it multiple times, and thinking of my reliance as “bad.”
My position on this has really changed over the eight years I have had a relationship with Cymbalta, a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, also known as an SSRI. Initially, I too felt guilty for relying on medication to be balanced and stable. I fought against it, weaning off of it multiple times, and thinking of my reliance as “bad.”
I’ve written other articles about my choice to take this antianxiety and antidepressant drug. I’ve taken this medication since 2011 when I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, and required invasive surgery to remove my thyroid gland in my neck. This required two surgeries, each one removing half of my thyroid gland.
The first surgery left me very depressed, in a way I’d never experienced before. I felt tired and lethargic, but also really glum and sad. It was the most difficult part of my recovery, which meant a lot considering I had a five inch slice across my neck. And when I learned I needed surgery again, I dreaded the emotional impact more than the surgery itself. A friend suggested I consider taking something for the depression. Another friend suggested Cymbalta as a drug he was on that worked wonders for his depression and anxiety, so I requested it from my Doctor, who readily (almost too readily, but that is another article for another time), prescribed it.
I no longer live with the restriction in my chest, no more struggling in vain to take a deep breath, no more feeling like a weigh is pressing on my heart.
Taking this medication led me to realize that my entire life I have dealt with a constant state of anxiety, recognizable only now due to its glorious absence. I no longer live with the restriction in my chest, no more struggling in vain to take a deep breath, no more feeling like a weigh is pressing on my heart. I was aware that I had always been a worrier, over things that matter and things that don’t, and things that aren’t even real. I’ve always had an overactive imagination that created many irrational fears throughout my life. But I didn’t realize how much anxiety I was living with on a daily basis until it was gone. It was such a relief.
I decided to stay on this medication long-term, despite not being depressed any longer, because of the anti-anxiety effects. And then I started to feel guilty for relying on medication. Our society has so much stigma about relying on medication, and I allowed this stigma to control my choices.
This time around I realize that I will always take medication.
I weaned myself off of Cymbalta not once, but twice, deciding that I didn’t need it and I could cope with anxiety on my own. Both times I reversed this decision and re-introduced Cymbalta. But only this most recent time do I feel really good about it, and want to share that with the world and hopefully make a tiny dent in the stigma.
This time around I realize that I will always take medication. Even if only my thyroid medication since I don’t have a thyroid anymore and require replacement thyroid hormone every day. If my body can no longer produce is what it needs, I need a substitute. And I now think of Cymbalta the same way.
It’s a big help and allows me to live a bigger life, take more chances, deal with more stress and pressure, than I would be able to otherwise.
Having this as a tool in my toolbox is extremely helpful. It doesn’t take the place of my gratitude practice, stillness practice, yoga, wine, time with friends, walking, and all the other tools I employ to maintain resilience and equanimity. But it’s a big help and allows me to live a bigger life, take more chances, deal with more stress and pressure, than I would be able to otherwise.
I now make this choice with intention and confidence, and no longer add this unnecessary guilt and shame of stigma to my emotional plate.
Can I manage without it? Yes. Does it require more yoga and self-care time than I choose? Also yes. But we have one life on this planet, and I choose to live mine bigger. By allowing myself the support of this medication I’m living more boldly, surely, and freely than I can without it. I now make this choice with intention and confidence, and no longer add this unnecessary guilt and shame of stigma to my emotional plate.