To talk briefly about how good my life is now would do a disservice to the complete and total change that has happened in the past few months. Brevity could not adequately explain all that has happened, so allow me to ramble a bit here (and perhaps wax poetic, as I tend to).
I will also give you fair warning, for I will discuss some sensitive topics here—not in too great detail, but enough so that you understand how things were then and how they have changed.
Last semester, the August 2016 semester and my final fall semester at Belhaven University, I was a wreck. That is putting it lightly. I had tried to wean myself off medicine I was taking for depression and anxiety on my own. My reasons for this are deeply confusing and don’t even make sense to me in retrospect, but that is beside the point. The point is that my trying to wean myself off my prescription did not work. (Pro tip: don’t do that).
I was having major withdrawal symptoms despite my attentiveness to a strict weaning schedule I created for myself. These symptoms included brain zaps, tremors, severe anxiety episodes, depressive episodes, fluctuating menstrual cycles due to stress, and a realization that Murphy’s Law came into effect at the worst possible time. To say everything happened all at once would be an understatement—I got scammed out of over three thousand dollars, made a stupid mistake in regards to a minor car accident, and then had to force myself to promise a friend I would see her the next day just so I wouldn’t do anything stupid. I was falling apart at the seams. In the midst of all this, I went to my boss, and she sent me to the school counselor in response.
A bit of disclosure here, because I have seen the school counselor before. I’ve been seeing Belhaven’s counselor since the end of my freshman year. I stopped at the beginning of the fall semester because I thought I was better, I thought I could wean myself off my medication and be fine. Of course, I wasn’t, and the counselor was so worried for my health she wanted to admit me to a psych ward. That terrified me; I knew a psych ward would only make things worse. Besides giving me a huge medical bill, it would reveal exactly what I had been going through to all my friends and family. I did not want that, so I made the decision then and there to go back on my medication.
Allow me here to side-step and give you some medical information about SSRIs, or Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors. These are a class of anti-depressants that level out your brain chemistry. They block the re-absorption of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that carries signals between brain cells, and thus increase the amount of serotonin in your brain. Those who take SSRIs do so because they don’t have enough serotonin, and this causes problems with brain chemistry like depression and anxiety. I am one of those people who doesn’t have enough serotonin in their brain, so I take two such SSRIs—Lexapro and Wellbutrin. The moment I went back on these medications, I noticed an immediate difference.
The morning after going back on the medicine, I woke slowly and lay in bed for a few moments with the knowledge that I was calm. A strange sense of peace had settled in my chest like warm blanket; I felt relaxed for the first time in months. My withdrawal symptoms vanished within a few days, and all of a sudden I felt better. Despite the cliché, the world looked brighter, and even though problems still existed in my life, I felt like I could actually deal with them now.
That is the thing with anxiety; it takes away my ability to deal with problems calmly. Instead, my brain jumps to the worst possible outcome, and it heightens the sense of “fight or flight” we all possess in our bodies. This puts me on high-alert constantly. Can you imagine how exhausting that is? I would wake up every morning with my heart pounding and my head spinning, leap out of bed, and rush to get ready even though I had more than enough time before school started. I was always on my toes, worried that I would miss an assignment or that something would go wrong, and I couldn’t even sleep without working out so hard that my body physically shut down. SSRIs calm me down so I’m not always working off of that fight or flight response. They don’t change who I am or tamper with my personality; they simply return my brain chemistry to “normal” levels so I can deal with problems as they come and not shut down the moment a minor inconvenience gets in my way. All that being said, I quickly realized I never should have gone off my medication.
After that, the rest of the fall semester passed by in a blur. I managed to get good grades in all my classes even though I had floundered in a few mid-semester, I pulled myself from isolation and spent more time with my friends, and everything slowly started to get better. My financial issues were worked out, and the mantra I often repeated to myself in times of stress came true—nankurunaisa, a Japanese phrase from the Okinawan dialect meaning “it’ll all be okay in the end.” And by the time Christmas rolled around, I felt more like myself. I was writing again, buying new books and finishing them in a few days, spending nights out with my friends, getting homework done ahead of time, and just generally enjoying myself.
My best friend, Christian, came back from studying abroad in South Korea around this time to spend Christmas and New Year’s in the States. We were together for a week or so before Christmas, and then we spent New Year’s and a month or so after that in each other’s company. I stayed at her house down in Biloxi for two weeks before the spring semester began, and then she stayed at my apartment in Jackson for two weeks after the semester began to get some things worked out before she went back to Korea. That month with her at my side again was possibly the best I could remember in a long time. I hung out with people, made new friends, went on spontaneous adventures, screamed lyrics to my favorite songs in the car with the windows rolled down, went to weddings and parties and bars, had a bit too much to drink and made stupid inside jokes, and just in general lived so damn hard that the previous semester was nothing but a blurry cloud of gray in my memories.
Even now, looking back on that time, I remember nothing but gray. There was no color in my world. Now everything is bright, saturated, and my friends have doubled. I have found I am happier and more successful in my work when I focus more on my social life; even though I go out with friends most nights and spend all my free time meeting new people, my grades have not dropped at all. If anything, they have gotten better because my mental state has gotten better.
I have been going, going, going now since the spring semester began. Graduation is in less than two months, one of my oldest friends is visiting from Canada tomorrow, I am dating an amazing guy who is the sweetest person I have ever met and is so good to me, and every morning I wake with a smile on my face and a song stuck in my head as I make coffee and get ready for the day. I am not just existing, I am living.
To say life is good now would be such an understatement, but there is no other way to put it, because life is good and I am so happy.
(To all the people who were there for me during that dark time, thank you so much for your love and support, even if you didn’t know how much you helped. Kristine, Christian, Zadie, Claire, India, Christa, Rachel, Morgan, Victoria—I love you all so much. You are the best friends I ever could have asked for.)