Off the Meds: How I’m Coping With Anxiety and Depression

I’ve had anxiety and depression my entire life. No tragic event triggered any of my issues; it’s just how my brain is wired. Always has been. When I turned eighteen, I started getting “help”, though the regimen of one prescription after another never provided much relief. I spent most of my adult life medicated, trying out more prescriptions than I care to admit.  At one point, I was on four anti-anxiety/antidepressants at once. I had four mood-altering drugs floating through my system, and I still couldn’t deal with the day-to-day stresses of life.

I’m better these days, but I am having an “episode” right now. It started yesterday in a class I’m taking, where the instructor is expecting advanced-level work from beginner students. I’m incapable of producing the kind of product she’s assigned (I think most of the students in class are in the same boat), and I’m afraid I might fail the course. Not for lack of effort, but for lack of skill.

It started as a tension headache at the base of my skull and migrated to the front of my head. By the time I got home, it had turned into a full blown migraine. I became nauseated, and my thoughts started spinning so fast, I got dizzy. Then another trigger. And another. Before I knew it, I had five or six issues pressing down on me, all unsolvable, all requiring my immediate attention.

I shut down. The pain, the nausea, the anxiety. I couldn’t deal, so I went to bed. At 5:30 in the evening.

I’m up today, and while the headache is still lingering, throbbing dully on the top of my scalp, I’m coping. I’m coping because I noticed something. I noticed the throbbing sensation in my head, and I am letting it throb. I noticed the tightness in my chest every time I think about one of the unsolvable issues I need to solve. And I’m letting it be.

I noticed I feel overwhelmed. I noticed the tears that threaten to spill every time someone asks me what’s wrong. I recognize all these reactions my body has to stress, and I’m not trying to get rid of them. I will ride this out, because eventually, it will go away. Eventually, I’ll either solve the unsolvable, or I won’t. This class will end, and I’ll either pass or fail. But if I fail it won’t be because I didn’t try. And I won’t die. My life won’t end if I get an F.

I’m noticing. Acknowledging. Accepting. And I’m sitting here, staring bleary-eyed through my headache at the computer screen because I’m able to do these things: notice, accept, acknowledge. It wasn’t easy to get to this point where I can acknowledge and accept the things my brain and body do when I’m stressed. Six years ago, if I were feeling what I’m feeling now, I’d be in bed wondering why the medications weren’t helping and berating myself for being weak.

I’ve been off the meds for almost five years now, and I owe it all to a friend of mine who pointed me toward a certain kind of therapy. It’s called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). I’m not running an ad for this. The creators of the therapy aren’t paying me or anything. I just wanted to share some information because it worked for me, and maybe it can work for someone else too.

I’m writing about this because I’m having an episode right now. And because I recognize how I’m handling it. And it made me think about everything I’ve gone through, and how different I am now than I was six years ago.

ACT uses mindfulness and visualizations to essentially rewire your way of thinking. That’s how it feels to me, anyway. Like my brain has changed. I won’t get into all the details because this post is already way longer than I intended. But if you’re struggling with anxiety or depression, I encourage you to look it up. Search for a therapist who practices ACT. At the very least, you should read the The Happiness Trap: How To Stop Struggling and Start Living.

The Happiness Trap breaks it all down into exercises that walk you through the concept of ACT. I’m not saying this book will change your life. But it’s a start. I read it while I was going through the program with a therapist, so I can’t even say the book changed my life. But it definitely helped reinforce what I learned in therapy.

I’m nauseated and trembling a bit just thinking about hitting the publish button on this post. It didn’t turn out nearly as eloquent as I’d hoped it would be, but it did help me cope to type it all out. Hopefully it might help someone else who is struggling. Mental health should be openly discussed like any other health issue, so I’m going go to hit that publish button now before I change my mind.

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4 thoughts on “Off the Meds: How I’m Coping With Anxiety and Depression

  1. You are stellar! Thank you so much for sharing. I also suffer from severe anxiety, and it’s helpful to know I’m not the only one out there. I appreciate you so very much!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for sharing your experience, I started taking Zoloft in my early 30s but decided to stop about a year ago. It didn’t seem to help much anymore and instead of increasing my dose or switching to another I chose not to be dependent on any drugs. Not that I’m against them, if it helps someone that has anxiety/depression then that is great. At times I know where mine stems from, and mostly it’s financial worries. Other times it just seems to come from nowhere and I’m struggling with tightness in my chest, if I’m home when this happens it’s a fight to not lay in bed and try to sleep just to escape that feeling. At times I use a meditation app, I’m fairly artistic so I will draw or carve, sometimes it works sometimes I give in. I try to tell myself it’s going to be ok while thinking of my children and how they make me happy. I’m still learning to do it on my own and it’s a daily struggle but I know i can’t give up. Keep up the fight! It’s unfortunate that so many people struggle with anxiety but it is nice to know you’re not the only one out there that has it,and that it doesn’t make you any less of a person.

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