Nightly Rituals: The Process of Anxiety and OCD Medication

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Writer: Sarah McKinnon

Medication has a stigma behind it. Some people see the transparent orange-tinted bottle resting on my sink and glance at me nervously. It makes them curious; it causes them to worry, and they sometimes look at you differently. It’s not usually with malice but can lead people down a path of presumptions and self-conclusions about the nature of who you are and what you’re capable of handling. 

Personally, the assumptions and bias from people about the medication isn’t what makes it hard — it’s the process. A process we don’t talk about simply because many of us don’t know or are told about by the medical system. We are not commonly given lectures in heath class about mental health resources, medications or options. Therefore we are left to analyze the conversation among our friends, family and occasionally doctors.

I avoided medication throughout high school, despite the pressure and many breakdowns, I wanted nothing to do with a pill. Even when I had attacks on my own when studying abroad, I avoided getting help. I was afraid. I didn’t want to feel like an experiment. I had heard from classmates that chemical-altering drugs were a trying experience. But then I hit my breaking point in a way I didn’t think possible.

Upon returning home after my huge breakdown, I was immediately taken to the hospital to meet with a doctor. They were extremely intelligent, honest and helpful, as usual. However, when sitting on the table I struggled to process what I was doing. I could her the crinkling medical paper under me and the ticking of a steady clock. I kept my posture straight and my breathing calm to hide the fear radiating from under my skin. But, I was shocked. 

I had expected an elaborate process such as having to divulge my life story over the course of hours, or doing bloodwork and sugar intake measurements. Instead, I held a xeroxed sheet and clipboard. The piece of paper had smiling and sad faces on it, the text barely readable. It seemed like an ad from the fifties. I had to circle a few things, add up my score, and that determined if I had a mental illness. Now, on my chart, it was already known I have severe anxiety, but this was like a secondary check, a form of assurance. Eight minutes later I held a prescription for a serotonin drug, one of the most potent neurological chemicals, and off I went. I sat in the passenger seat, my mom starting the car. I looked over and said, “What just happened?” In my horror, I then started to laugh hysterically at how absurd it was. 

The days to follow, I learned another thing I wasn’t anticipating — the side effects of a chemical drug in your system. I started flinching, shaking, unable to sit still. Then a few minutes later I would feel nauseous, followed by exhaustion, then suddenly I would feel as if someone stuck a caffeine patch on me. Waves of not being in control. It was endless. I didn’t recognize myself. It was as if someone put a lid on my overactive mind; I guess that was the point.

After going back and forth on the phone we realized that it was a guessing game, subjection was the closest form of science they had to this issue. Many people get prescribed the wrong drug for them, and don’t even get me started on the dosage variance. Changing the milligrams or the intake a day, mixing it with other chemicals to find the right fit. It can take months, even over a year, to get it right. Now, I’m not a doctor, not even close. I don’t understand their process, but I want to tell you mine. I hope you can understand what I didn’t — it’s a journey. Don’t be deterred by my initial experience or the fear of voyaging into the unknown lifestyle. 

To my benefit I quickly understood other people. With those I had observed in my high school or in a college setting who had openly admitted they were medicated, I had a new found appreciation. They had a lot of ups and downs, and they got heavily judged for their inability to “control themselves” or be “normal.” It’s so much more than that. There are layers to you, and to them. Please be there for them, and be there for yourself. Don’t be afraid to tell the people you trust about what you’re going through; never be ashamed of the process, it’s brave.

A few months had passed and in terms of my specific situation I decided I wanted to withdraw from the medication. I felt that I could personally undertake this in different ways and would revisit medication possibly in the future when I was ready. The withdrawal process is not easy, as with the starting stages. Please make sure you’re surrounded by people who can support you, in whatever stage, and express any concern to a medical professional.