In many ways, I’m extremely privileged when it comes to surviving the COVID-19 pandemic—I work remotely, have excellent employer-provided health insurance, and I don’t live with any chronic health conditions. From the time people started staying home and staying safe, I was socializing less, sure, but in many ways, my life was the same: work, read, get a (solo) walk in, cook, bake, write, repeat. One thing that didn’t stay the same, however, was my mental health. Spoiler: It got way worse.
I can’t blame the pandemic entirely, though I think it’s fair to think the overall conditions and stress of pandemic life exacerbated my lifelong anxiety. I’d been in therapy off and on in recent years, and while it helped, it wasn’t quite enough. I sought out a psychiatrist through a virtual health care website (this was actually completely free, thanks again to my insurance) and got a prescription for an antidepressant that works well for both anxiety and depression. I had a lot of dread—I’d read horror stories about how psychiatric medications caused a litany of negative side effects, turned people into zombies, and stomped out creativity. In my case? The prescription gives me a way, way better quality of life.
This is the point in sharing about my experience where I have to stress that it is, truly, only my experience. I’m (obviously) not a physician or a mental health professional in literally any capacity. I’m just sharing my own (limited) perspective and experience. Are there risks associated with these medications? Absolutely. It’s well worth it to do your own research, talk to medical professionals, and take your time to weigh the pros and cons. I’m sharing my deep success with medication to help break the stigma associated with “needing” medication and to show that sometimes, these pills really do the trick.
For me, the first few days I started my medication, I was drowsy during the day and had difficulty falling asleep. I then switched from taking my dose in the morning to taking it in the evening, and my symptoms went away.
I’ve been taking the same medication, at the same dose, for over a year now, and I couldn’t be more pleased with it. I noticed immediate help with my anxiety symptoms, though in time, I realized that my overall mood was better—I became less irritable and less pessimistic. My social interactions felt a little easier and I felt my social battery improved. I would have never described myself as depressed, but I have to credit the medication with helping with my mood, too.
I’ve joined hiking groups and spent the day with strangers. I've gone bouldering, discovered geocaching, gone to meetup groups. I queried a literary novel and signed with a literary agent. I’ve submitted and published short stories and essays. I moved across the country. I (obviously) have kept my job.
I’ve put work into all of this of course, and I can’t say none of it would have happened without the medication—I’ve always pushed myself, been driven and career-focused. But I feel better about myself, more hopeful about the future, and trust myself and my instincts more each step of the way. I show up as a kinder, more patient version of myself in all aspects of my life—those changes I do credit to a simple prescription.
Is psychiatric medication right for you? I have absolutely no idea. But if you’re thinking about it, I encourage you to talk to the medical professionals in your life who would have an idea or to make an appointment with someone new in the right field who can go over your history, needs, and overall lifestyle to decide what might or might not work for you. There is no shame in trying to improve and enjoy your life, even if self-help wellness gurus want you to believe all you need is green juice and a little yoga.
Everyone deserves this kind of health care—free (or at least, very low cost), accessible remotely, affirming, and safe. Sign and send the petition to your Democratic U.S. senator(s): Climate can't wait, health can't wait, care can't wait, and immigration reform can't wait. It is time to pass the Build Back Better Act.
Be sure to check out our roundup of five free mental health resources, and remember that you can reach the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 24/7. It’s always free, confidential, and has options for both Spanish speakers and folks who are deaf or hard of hearing.