It's Okay to Take Medication for Your Mental Health

Hypothetical situation: Let's say you have a mental illness. Depression, generalized anxiety disorder, bipolar--whatever. The point is, you have a mental illness, and you've been going to therapy for it. Your therapist is great, and they might have been giving you some awesome tips, and sometimes they work--but other times, no matter what technique you try, you just can't stop that panic attack from coming on, or that immense pressure in your chest that is a sure sign that your depression has come out to play. So, what are you going to do? Do you really want to take medication, something that can alter your mind entirely? Something that can make you a different person entirely?

I'm not going to lie to you: deciding to take medication to help with your mental illness can be a scary process. One in six Americans currently take some form of anti-depressant, and that sounds like a scary number. You want to take care of your problems on your own, take responsibility for them without relying on something else. As someone who has been in that boat before, I know it feels. I wanted to handle all of my problems by myself, prove to myself that I was stronger than my anxiety. I was doing Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), and in the early stages of my anxiety diagnosis, that seemed to be enough.

Well, what changed? I don't know what changed. Maybe I overloaded myself by taking 17 credit hours, at my community college, while working 35 hours a week at a stressful job. Maybe the envy of my friends having the time of their lives, at four-year colleges, made me scared that I wasn't going to be successful. Maybe I pressured myself too much into being perfect and happy while trying to suppress the fact that I was absolutely miserable. It could have been one of those things, it could have been all of those things, it could have been something else entirely. Whatever the case, I started having anxiety and panic attacks more frequently, to the point where I would end up crying, in my bedroom, at least three times a week. But one day, something inside me clicked: what if I tried medication?

So that's what happened. I went to my primary doctor, told her what I was experiencing, and she recommended for me to try taking 50 milligrams of sertraline (better known by its brand name, Zoloft) and see how I felt after six weeks. If the side effects were too severe, or it didn't seem to be having any effect? No problem. Go back and see her, and we'll try something else.

Photo credit: Sarah Pflug

I'm going to be honest: I didn't take a magical happy pill that made all my problems go away. My anxiety didn't go away. My anxiety is still here. But a few days after taking my medication, something changed. My anxiety tried to start back up again--you know, business as usual for the both of us--but I felt a change. I could say no to it. I could tell it to shut up, to leave me alone, to let me concentrate, and focus on the techniques my therapist taught me--and it worked. For the first time, my voice was louder than my anxiety. It was like putting on my glasses and having decent vision for the first time; was this how other people lived?

There are still moments when my anxiety flares up, and the medication can't control it, but those days are few and far between. And I want you all to feel the same. I want you all to see what other people see, I want you to have control of your life again--and I want you to be happy. After I started taking my medication, I actually felt happy and in control of my life, for the first time, since my freshman year of high school. I felt like a huge weight had been lifted off my chest. And that's the thing with medication. Your therapist has given you great techniques and will continue to give you great techniques--but sometimes you have to give yourself a little push to get that voice to shut up before you can apply those techniques.