Three times off, three times on. My eight-year-old fingers flipped the light switch until my heart rate slowed and I felt safe again.
In some ways, my obsessive-compulsive disorder was my greatest creative act. In a home where I couldn’t predict which version of my parents I’d get on any given day, I had built my own world, one I could manage and control. But what I desperately wanted it to give me, my anxiety actually stole. I’m not sure if what happened in my brain was a product of nature or nurture, but my attempt at control was out of control. So my mom took me to a child psychiatrist and I haven’t known the world — or myself — beyond the veil of medication since.
A perfect storm of panic attacks, General Anxiety Disorder and OCD makes my world feel unbearably small and large at the same time. I’ve spent weeks and months willingly isolated in the confines of my bedroom. Being alone behind closed doors and being in charge of the stimuli around me feels worth the expense of missing out on the very people and places that could actually heal me. I’ve also had long stretches of panic-attack free time, when I’ve felt free enough to entertain the thought of stopping my medicine all together.
I’ve tried it, but I’ve only ever lasted a few months before resuming my medication.
As a millennial and a person of faith, I commonly find myself uncomfortably wedged between culture’s back-and-forth assertions that anxiety isn’t ideal, but neither is the medicine that’s supposed to fix it. In response, I’ve tried almost everything you could think of to nourish my body and mind back to a place of stability without medicine: herbs and supplements, exercise, major dietary changes, therapy, mindfulness, support groups. Some of these things have blunted the edge of my struggles, but so far, I’ve found that for me these complementary therapies work best in tandem with medical care.
… I commonly find myself uncomfortably wedged between culture’s back-and-forth assertions that anxiety isn’t ideal, but neither is the medicine that’s supposed to fix it.
Whether I’m taking medicine or not, I would prefer to find and treat the root of my anxiety — to do the difficult work of teaching my brain and body what they missed when I was young. In the process, being on medication doesn’t give me a free pass out of my fears. It simply keeps me afloat in a world where I feel like I’m drowning, so I can actually address them. The key for me is to be mindful with wherever I am, continually asking myself if I’m acting in fear or hope. Am I staying on medicine because it’s easy and I want to avoid pain? Or am I itching to stop taking it because I want to prove I’m strong enough?
Right now, three months on the other side of my second baby, I’m miraculously more peaceful and content than I’ve ever been. Could this be my opportunity to find who’s beneath two decades of changes in my brain chemistry, to discover if I am who I am because of or in spite of my anxiety medication? When I listen to my body, I feel it telling me “no.”
Because just less than a year ago, newly pregnant and in a city across the country, I plunged into the lowest low and the darkest dark I’ve ever experienced. It was a time I needed to be carried. A time I hid and missed out. So right now, though I’m in the light again, I feel prompted to stay — to sustain instead of push forward. To, with the support of my medication, let things be easy for a little while so I can give myself to others in ways I missed out on last year. I want to rest here in this place of peace for a bit so I can remind the eight-year-old little girl inside me what it feels like to love and be loved in a healthy, stable environment, all the while creating a stable environment for my family. I have a hunch this might be the most profound healing work of all.
I’ll probably explore the option of trying life without medication again in the future. But for now, I treat it like a lifejacket. Some days I’m still treading water, but I’m not as powerless against the current. My medicine keeps me awake to what’s happening in my mind and spirit so I can speak to them instead of them speaking to me. It reminds me I have a say in how I feel.
What does it really mean to heal? In this season, it’s doing whatever I can to keep myself buoyant so my head stays above water. My little pink pill helps. But so does showing myself grace.
What does it look like to show yourself grace?
Feature Image via Matt Scorte