By Megan Wolfe
Going on medication for my mental illness was probably the most terrifying and worthwhile decision I have ever made. I’ve made jokes in previous years about one day going on it, and since no one knew that I was actually struggling with severe anxiety and depression, they laughed along with me, not thinking much of it.
I was terrified of being diagnosed with anxiety or depression, because of the chance that I didn’t have either and was just overreacting—if I just thought positively enough, if I just ignored what I was feeling, it would go away. I always thought going on medication changed how I felt, and would make me someone I didn’t recognize. It wasn’t until a friend opened up to me about being on meds for their depression and anxiety that I realized how misguided my perceptions were.
When I was told that I have depression and general anxiety disorder (GAD), it was so relieving that I cried in the examination room. I wasn’t making it up, it was real, and I finally knew what was going on with me.
I had mentioned that I was considering medication to my counsellor a few weeks prior, after having one of the worst meltdowns I’ve ever experienced. If I wanted to move on from the point where the smallest thing sent me into a river of tears, it was something I needed to seriously consider.
I went in to the Health and Wellness centre on campus to see the nurse practitioner for what kind of medication I could take to manage my symptoms, all depending on my upcoming diagnosis. I left with some answers, a prescription for a two-week trial of a synthetic serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), and a whole lot of relief.
SSRIs block serotonin receptors in your brain so that when your body creates serotonin, not all of it is used at once, keeping some in reserve for when it stops producing to prevent a severe emotional crash.
After spending four weeks on my first dose of SSRIs, I made the decision to switch to a higher dose. I wasn’t feeling anxious anymore, and though I’ve had a few depressive episodes, they haven’t been anywhere close to what I’ve experienced in the past. Along with the process of going on medication, I’ve also learned that I’m severely anemic (low iron) and that it played a significant part in my depression.
Everything that scared me about going on medication and being diagnosed turned out to be needless. With the diagnosis, I was finally able to see where I was and where I wanted to be, and since being on medication and supplements for my anemia, I’m the healthiest I’ve ever been and feel more like myself than I ever have.
I’m in the process of building a daily exercise routine, because, in the famous words of Elle Woods, “Exercise gives you endorphins, and endorphins make you happy.” Along with regular exercise, I’ve also significantly changed my diet—I eat less simple sugars and processed food, and opt for more fruits, vegetables, and drink copious amounts of water. I’ve lowered my caffeine intake, mostly by avoiding caffeine after 6 p.m. (or else I won’t sleep), and only have a drink on occasion since alcohol is a depressant and also makes my medication less effective.
I’ve told my friends and family about the process, which has helped them understand how to help me on a bad day and to be supportive on all the other days. It has also helped me realize that there’s absolutely no shame in having mental illness or seeking help for it. My goal is to eventually get off medication, which will involve me making better life choices when it comes to diet and exercise, how I manage my time to lower my levels of anxiety (aka no more procrastination), and therapy to work through what triggers my anxiety attacks and depressive episodes. This is a process that’s going to take years to complete, and going on medication isn’t an overnight fix, but the first step of looking after my mental health. Everyone is different and medication will affect them differently. Like me, if one medication doesn’t work for you, there are others that could.
If you’re feeling depressed or anxious, VIU offers counselling to students—don’t hesitate to reach out and seek help. These services have helped me get better, and hopefully, if you need them, they’ll help you too.