As I leaned over a third floor toilet around the corner from my English classroom, I began to storm up this article. ((As a normal teenager does after her fifth time throwing up on the morn of Halloween)). So here is my somewhat-spooky Halloween post.
The first time I told one of my suite-mates about my anti-depressant adventures she looked a bit shocked and responded, “so, you’ve really been through this whole thing, huh?” I have, indeed, really been through the whole thing. Let me take you on the fun journey of trying to fix my chemical imbalance! Woo-Hoo, who’s excited? I’m excited!
It was a dark and stormy day in the halls of my high school – in reality, it was probably just a normal Monday. My levels of anxiety were high; I felt my soul leaving my body, unable to recognize the shrinking girl in the corner who pretended she was fine. I could no longer continue that way, I knew I wanted to try going on medicine. It took a fair amount of convincing to get my parents on board, but we agreed to try it and see what would happen. As a family, we had little experience with anti-depressants and were a bit apprehensive about the whole situation.
I started taking Zoloft, a commonly used SSRI, the spring of my freshman year. I was hit with a tornado of symptoms, but told that they would eventually go away. After all, there is a slight adjustment period with any medicine. But I felt like I was actually dying. Getting out of bed was near impossible; when I tried sitting up I would be hit with a sea-sickness so strong I hoped I would throw up to end it. If it wasn’t the extreme nausea keeping me in bed, it was the chronic fatigue. I was constantly tired; falling asleep at the lunch table or drifting off during rehearsals. Perhaps that doesn’t sound too bad, I was a high schooler of course I was tired, that may not have been the medicine. But then I started losing my appetite, the smell of meat disgusted me ((foreshadowing my vegetarian life perhaps)), anything with the slightest bit of salt overpowered my senses entirely. Safe to say, I stopped eating. I dropped some weight and was complimented by my peers for how thin I looked. I’d never been ‘thin’ and yet always had a bizarre obsession with it, so being told I looked skinny encouraged my declining appetite.
The medicine changed me physically but provided absolutely no mental change. So, my psychiatrist suggested I switch to another well known SSRI, Lexapro.
My favorite part of my Zoloft -> Lexapro switch was that it went down while I was a last-year-camper at my favorite place in the world. So tracking my symptoms and also trying to have a good time at camp was a bit difficult. I remember it starting off in a similar fashion, I would wake up on my top bunk with sweaty palms and a raging headache. The good news was that I was at summer camp, the abnormal sweating my body experienced could easily be disguised in normal day activities. And, perhaps, I had just gotten my normal appetite back and was excited to eat real-people-food again, but I began to eat everything. My appetite went from being non-exsistant to becoming an overpowering desire I had to fulfill at all occasions. I’m sure I didn’t gain as much weight as I felt like I had, but in my own mind I was an Oompa-Loompa ((and a very pale one at that)). To feel like an Oompa-Loompa at age 15 is to know true self-loathing. Dear sophomores in high school, please do not view yourselves as Oompa-Loompas you overdramatic loves of mine. I had all these fun symptoms, but just like Zoloft, I felt no different mentally. It almost took more of a toll on my mental health. Everyone was expecting me to get better, and I questioned if maybe the medicine was doing something and I just hadn’t noticed. “I don’t feel like it’s working.” I would tell my mom. “How do you know?” She often responded. It was a good question; I had no idea how I would be able to know. No one gave me a guide book on taking anti-depressants. ((Where’s that book American Girl Doll Company, huh? You’re gonna make us a book on puberty and then just say see-ya later on our mental development?))
So, I was taken off medicine. It was no longer reasonable, or healthy, to keep me on a medicine if I felt it wasn’t fulfilling the intended purpose. I carried on as I had before, utilizing therapy as my life-line. I completed work on a timely fashion, went to bed at a reasonable hour, joined the track team, ran for leadership positions, acted in plays. I was the same-old me. I did exactly what I needed to do and avoided as many triggers as I possibly could. I knew what would set me off, and when it would set me off, so I disguised my anxiety in the only way I knew how: staying busy.
Junior year sucked. I’m fairly confident that can be universally felt. I didn’t have time to think about my anxiety, I was always doing something: studying for this test, writing that paper, pretending like I wasn’t falling apart, getting coffee with my best friends every single day without fail. I became the absolute queen of distracting myself! And my therapist, sweet sweet Megan, was in my top three go-to people. I had weekly therapy appointments, which were very much needed breaks in my day. Megan is such a queen, if you don’t go to therapy but you think you might want to, I will pay you to go see Megan. ((probably not though because I am super broke)) [[My psychiatrist is also a queen, she’s the one who recommended Megan to me so you know she’s a homie. And they’re friends which I think is just so adorable. I love both those women so much, wow. I just got so sidetracked. Yay therapy! Yay Maggie and Megan!!!]
Fast forward to senior year, where I was ridiculously over high school. I knew I wanted to be on anxiety medicine for my freshmen year of college. Shoutout to past me for thinking about her future self! In order to be rid of the crazy symptoms before heading to college, I needed to start it whilst still a senior. But my mom and I were both over the whole trial-and-error medicine route. It was not a fun option, and I very much wanted to avoid that. So, I did a fancy lil DNA test to figure out which medicines my body metabolized well. Upon viewing my results, I discovered that both Zoloft and Lexapro were on my DO NOT TAKE list. It was so validating to know that past me hadn’t been making things up, I really wasn’t getting any benefits from the medicine. My psychiatrist, being the queen that she is, put me on one of my HEY YOU SHOULD TAKE THIS medicines. It was a fairly new medicine, Prestiq. Prestiq is an SNRI, meaning it boosts serotonin levels as well as norepinephrine levels. I don’t really know what that means or how it affects people differently, all I know is that it works.
I had the usual preliminary symptoms: nausea, headaches, agitation. But then those wore off and I was left with exuberant happiness. I mean, I was bouncing off the walls energetic and happy. It was great! I finally felt like myself again. The only problem was that I was a little too happy. I had increased levels of energy and absolutely could not sit still. It only kinda affected my school work, but I was a senior so I didn’t much care about my class work anyways. I still did my homework assignments and wrote my papers, but I could hardly pay attention in classes that didn’t peak my interest. I had no issue in the classes I loved, – literature, French, and statistics – but my history and seminar classes were not-at-all my focus. My friends began to worry about me. I remember one lunch where three of my closest friends confronted me about it. They said they were glad I was happy, but I wasn’t acting like myself. I was acting wild and uncontrollable. I would often say rude remarks without thinking or break school rules without caring. As a total goody-two-shoes I can assure you that kind of behavior was not typical of me. And I always talk a lot, but I would talk a lot, sometimes I would forget I was talking and cut myself off mid-sentence. My best friend of three years even said she was a little worried about me. The medical term for this kind of behavior is mania, but my mom would tell you she doesn’t like that word, so my psychiatrist rephrased it; I was hyperactive.
My parents didn’t notice those symptoms because they were just excited to see me so happy again. The medicine worked, perhaps a little too well, I was suddenly not anxious about anything. My parents told me they were considering moving to a different state and I didn’t shed a tear! If you know me, you know how much I hate change, so this behavior was, once again, very out of character. I only experienced highs, I wasn’t feeling real-people emotions. So, my psychiatrist decreased my dosage. As the medicine decreased so did my extreme levels of happiness. I immediately returned to the way I had been before taking medicine – anxious and exhausted all the time. After knowing the way I could feel, I wanted to go back. I loved the way the medicine made me feel; I didn’t want to be hit with the lows of life again. I liked seeing la vie en rose everywhere I went. It felt like I could have that childish naive innocence about me once again, I could be oblivious to the pains of the world. But I could recognize how unhealthy that was for me; I knew I needed to find a happy medium. So, I asked to increase my dosage again and see if things would be different.
And here we are now! 10 paragraphs later and you are still reading. WooHoo thanks. I hardly remember the fact that I take medicine because of how normal I feel. I still get anxious, like all the time, but the physical symptoms of my anxiety are mostly gone. I don’t shake as much or scratch at my skin or overthink till I feel dead. I mostly just write. But every now and then I genuinely forget I take medicine, therefore I forget to take it. It usually hits me that I’ve forgotten around noon, when I feel light headed and begin to overheat. The worst time that happened was during Hurricane Florence. My friends and I were playing volleyball outside before the storm hit; it was the second day in a row I had forgotten to take it. I remember feeling a drop of rain and then immediately passing out. I woke up as soon as my body hit the sand, but it was enough to freak me and all my friends out. I sat out for the rest of the game.
Some days, I don’t have time to eat in the morning, like today! But taking medicine on an empty stomach usually results in light nausea. It’s not too bad, I’m used to that. But for some reason, today, my body was not able to handle the medicine on an empty stomach. Hence why I spent a majority of my English class vomiting up grapefruit kombucha, the only thing I’d had this morning.
Long story short, medicine is cool and helps a lot of people, but it isn’t always fun. It’s quite the process to find the right one, but it is very very worth it. Also, if you haven’t taken your meds yet today, go do that ya silly nugget!!!