I first started taking medication for my mental health when I was 19—Cipralex, once a day, every day.
It was a rough start. For the first three weeks I spent most of my time exhausted in the morning, nauseous all day and then terrible insomnia through the night. Eventually, the symptoms did start to level off and the normalizing effects on my mood came into play, but it really wasn’t what I expected.
At the time, I remember being terribly self-conscious about my mental health issues. It was 2013, and mental health conversations were beginning to happen, but they weren’t mainstream and there was still a lot of stigma surrounding the subject. I hadn’t even been open about the fact that I was struggling, so talking about the fact that I had to be medicated for it was entirely out of the question. I was also in a relationship that I had no idea was incredibly toxic and would play a tremendous role in how the medication would affect me.
After about a week of feeling “normal” on the medication, I started to experience a weird sense of feeling completely numb. I didn’t feel terrible anymore, but I also felt like I didn’t really feel anything at all. It was a weird sensation and I had no idea what to do. I was too scared to talk to my friends because there was so much explaining I would have to do about how I’d gotten to this point.
My boyfriend at the time was putting me through so much emotional abuse so there was no safety or support from him either. On top of all of that, because of the self-stigma I had inflicted upon myself and due to the way society viewed mental health issues, I didn’t even feel comfortable going back to the doctor and asking for help.
The numbness terrified me more than the lows I had been experiencing before. I made a decision and after three months on the medication, I stopped altogether.
No one told me that coming off of medication should be assisted by a doctor and should be a slow weaning process. Instead, I went cold turkey and had a complete crash. It was followed by many dark nights, suicidal ideations and a lot of isolating myself so no one would ask questions.
A part of me always knew that I needed the medication, but I was too scared to try again. I began searching for other ways to heal myself,—some which were good, and some that only further contributed to the issue. Eventually, I did find a regime of self-care that would keep me level enough for the most part, but over the years, I’d still have long periods of time where I was too overwhelmed to care for myself and knew I needed help, but would just try to wait it out.
Each year, as I became more immersed in the mental health space for work, I did find my capacity for healing and growing—but no matter how much we grow, we still need outside help sometimes. In April of this year, I went through many tough experiences including my grandfather being severely ill, the loss of several friendships and other big life changes. I found that my capacity to handle it all was diminishing and I didn’t think I could do it anymore. Nearly a decade later, I decided it was time to try medication once again.
So I did what I did last time. I went to the doctor. She prescribed me Lexapro (which was the same thing as Cipralex, just a different brand) and I started again. Lexapro, once a day, every day.
It started off pretty much the same. 3 weeks of nausea, insomnia and utter exhaustion. Then it started to get a little better…and to my surprise, over a month later, it was still better. This immediately caught my attention. I thought to myself, “what’s different this time?”
As I looked around me, I realized that although I was taking the same medication, my surroundings had changed immensely. The conversation around mental health struggles had become much more open. I felt comfortable asking for help and saying I was on medication. My friends and I had been speaking for years about our mental health and had set up a system of doing check-ins with one another and making it a point to ask each other how we were feeling.
Moreover, I was now in a relationship where my partner supported me and understood my mental health struggles. He made sure I took my medication every day and on the days where I felt horrible and like it wasn’t helping, he’d remind me that it was a process. Though I was still going to have bad days, they were a little easier to bear and it was totally okay to take a little white pill to help with that. It was a small price to pay for such an incredible reward.
Nearly a decade later, I’m taking the exact same pill now, but in a world that understands mental health a little more and with a support system that encourages me, motivates me and makes me feel safe. We’ve always known that our mental health is impacted by both nature and nurture, but those who nurture us in our everyday lives play an equally important role in our healing.
I’m so thankful to the people who love and care for me unconditionally. You’re one of the most important parts of my healing journey and without you, I wouldn’t have found the courage to demand better for myself. I love you.
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