I'm fully aware of how sensitive a subject medication is, which is why I'm starting off by saying I'm not judging anyone. There were times in my life when I felt like I didn't have any other option than to take medication – when I felt so debilitated and strangled by anxiety, I wasn't sure if I could face another day. Medication got me through some very sticky patches. With this said, longer-term, I didn't get on with it.
MY EXPERIENCE WITH MEDICATION & ANTI-DEPRESSANTS
I remember taking a stroll from the doctor's surgery with a prescription in my hand and two options.
1) Cash in my prescription for anti-depressants at the pharmacy.
2) Wait sixteen-weeks to see a local counsellor.
It wasn't my first visit to the doctor. Previous visits had resulted in me nodding my head in agreement with the doctor that my symptoms were anxiety-related, and I should soldier forward, seeing how I got on. This latest visit (probably the fifth within a month), the official diagnosis came back as GAD (generalised anxiety disorder) and depression, with the above two options given as potential solutions.
It took a few days of what ifs before I grabbed my prescription from the side table and went to the pharmacy. I was very aware of not wanting to become addicted. There is a control freak inside me that didn't like such a prospect. I could see the obvious value in talking through my issues compared to masking them with medication, but the anxiety was biting hard and crushing the control freak into submission. I couldn't wait.
I started taking the medication. The doctor said the anti-depressants would take a few weeks to take effect. I started to feel different about a week in. By 'different', I mean more sluggish and tired. I was exhausted, all the time. I just wanted to sleep. That's not necessarily a bad thing when anxiety is crippling you, but it's not so useful when you need to work and live. This sums up why I didn't get on with medication. I felt less anxious, but I also felt like a zombie from the Walking Dead.
There was, however, one example when I thought medication might have been the answer. My partner and I went for dinner at our friend's house, and it was a pleasant evening. We chatted and laughed without my usual social anxiety and panic crushing my insides. But that feeling didn't last. It wasn't long before my star acting role as a zombie came calling.
It was at that point I decided to stop taking the medication. I was petrified of the ramifications of stopping, especially the prospect of anxiety coming back worse than before, but I went ahead. I consciously made the decision that I would rather face the symptoms than mask them. I concluded that solving issue A with medication was only creating issue B, C and D.
SOLVING THE SYMPTOM AND NOT THE CAUSE
When you have a headache, you'll likely take ibuprofen or paracetamol. It's the quickest solution to get rid of the short-term pain.
When suffering from anxiety and depression, you're also in pain. It might be mental pain compared to physical pain, but it's pain nevertheless. And like any form of pain, you want to get rid of it, quick. It's this quick and instant need for a resolution that keeps us trapped in a cycle of anxiety and depression. We chase after the next quick fix, which only acts as precisely that – a quick fix. We forget about solving the real issue. The real issue is the cause of your anxiety and depression.
Medicine for a headache can be effective because headaches are typically short-term. They go. Anxiety and depression don't work in the same way. When you don't deal with the root cause of your anxiety and depression, it stays. Medication and anti-depressants can only act as a short-term fix, masking the real issue. The real issue stays, so the anxiety and depression stay.
If you find yourself trapped in a cycle of anxiety and depression, and you've been suffering it for a while, it will be because you are trying to treat the symptom and not the cause.
Getting to the root of the issue is fundamental to breaking the pattern. It's not an easy task, as most of us pile small and unrelated issues on top of the real issue in an attempt to conceal it. They soon mount up until they bury the cause entirely, making denial the only viable option. If the cause is buried, it means you don't have to deal with it. In some sense, you don't. You certainly don't have to be a victim of your past. But you do have to face what is really going on to start to move your life forward. The trick here is to become empowered by the process, not allow it to make you a victim.
As a coach, one of the first things I work on with my clients is the root cause. Once my clients know the real issue, they can finally deal with it. And as a coach, I help empower them to stride forward. It's a big reason I'm a coach and not a counsellor or therapist. I'm interested in your future and how you want to move forward. I don't want you stuck or trapped in the past. You can understand how you might turn to medication when feeling like this. I can certainly relate to this personally.
A SHORT-TERM VIEW ON MEDICATION
Clinical psychologist, Jordan Petersen, says he would rather medicate a patient with depression than lose them entirely to suicide. Who could disagree with that?
Medication, including anti-depressants, could provide the short-term space needed for recovery. It might act as the barrier to separate you from the feeling of despair, allowing you to see the light at the end of the tunnel. But for a lot of us, once we see the light, we don't want to turn back. It's a scary prospect feeling like you might have to face something alone. What if you go back to stage one, or worse – back to that horrible time before medication, where you felt so bad you couldn't cope? This fear is why medication can quickly become a crutch. You depend on it, even if you only intended to use it short-term. You take it for so long it becomes a fixed part of your life until you can't imagine living without it. As time goes by, you have to take higher doses of it for it to be effective. The only winner in this circumstance is the pharmaceutical company selling the drug.
It's the longer-term effects of medication that need to be taken into consideration, including addiction. There are countless examples where medication might have been avoided, with other options like talking therapies offering a solution.
You are as entitled as anyone else to have freedom from the clutches of persistent high anxiety and depression. The buzz word here is 'freedom'. Achieving freedom in every sense means not being attached to something. That is what an addiction is – an attachment, a need, an emotional tie. True freedom means being able to live an independent life without crutches and addictions. With longer-term use, medication can insidiously become that crutch preventing you from achieving independence and freedom.
DO YOU ALREADY HAVE WHAT YOU NEED?
Developmental biologist, Dr Bruce Lipton, says for medicines to work, you already need to possess the necessary receptors in your brain to make them work. In other words, you already have what it is you need. Although I like this observation, it doesn't necessarily help with the short-term effects of crippling anxiety and depression – when they are biting hard, and you feel like you need an instant fix. I know this first-hand.
The whole point of this article was to get you thinking about medication longer-term. Whether you're currently taking medication for anxiety and depression, thinking about taking it or been advised to take it, what is your goal?
Significant changes start with a decision. Good decisions are combined with sound insight, answers and knowledge – ideally from people you trust. Work with the right people to get the solution you want, including your doctor. Listen to your gut. There is nothing no one can achieve when a strong decision is combined with action.
I'll direct you to a quote from Art Williams who said, "I'm not telling you it's going to be easy – I'm telling you it's going to be worth it."