In September, I shared that after a lifelong struggle with generalized anxiety disorder, I started to take medication. That was a big and needed step for me, but there’s so much more I’m doing that I want to share with you all.
So many of you have checked-in with me, particularly interested in how medication has been helping me, and I appreciate that so much. I’ve even gotten messages from longtime followers that I look happier and more at peace on my stories, which honestly broke my heart a little bit initially because I was so surprised it was ever evident to anyone that I was struggling. I guess that’s a little insecurity peeking through on my part. I’ve always been transparent about my mental health, but I guess I never felt I came off as unhappy or sad. What I’m trying to focus on though is that y’all have noticed a positive difference – that brings me a lot of joy. Not because I need external validation that I’m doing better – but because it’s nice to hear when it’s genuine and comes from a place of kindness.
I’m in a much better place with my mental health than I was last summer, but I’m also doing a lot of other work outside of taking medication and wanted to share more about everything I’m doing to combat anxiety in this post.
I see a psychiatrist
This journey all started with finding a wonderful psychiatrist who is committed to supporting and helping identify the right medication for me. Adjusting to medication is full of ups and downs – the side effects can be tough to deal with and some medications take 4-6 weeks to have a clinical effect. My psychiatrist is incredibly compassionate and kind – checking in with him always makes me feel more confident and reassured. Now that my symptoms are more managed, I only check in with him once a quarter.
The way I describe medication and what I feel it does for me is that it “takes the edge off.” I think there’s a perception that medication will make you suddenly just not have anxiety, but your brain can’t easily be re-wired. Medication helps me cope better when I’m anxious and it prevents me from spiraling. I still worry, I still overthink and I still have anxiety, but it’s better managed and doesn’t feel as crippling anymore. That doesn’t mean I don’t have hard days or that I’m “cured.” I just don’t feel as paralyzed by it as I used to.
I did genetic testing
I did a test called GeneSight to determine which medication would likely work best for me (it analyzes how your body might metabolize different psychiatric medications based on your genetics). The test indicated that the medication I’m currently on (buspirone) is a good fit for me and that some popular SSRIs used to treat GAD such as Zoloft and Lexapro would likely require higher dosages for me for them to be effective. I was glad to know this information and felt the test was worth the $300 I paid out of pocket.
This testing isn’t necessary, but I was already so anxious about taking medication that I wanted a little extra data and information my psychiatrist could use to ensure I was on a medication that would likely be a good fit for me as there can be a lot of trial and error. What I like about buspirone is that it’s been around for a very long time and tends to have less side effects than some SSRIs and other medications used to treat anxiety. It’s also known not to be habit-forming. The only side effect I’ve had is that I sometimes experience a very brief (less than a minute) period of dizziness after taking a dose. Other than that I haven’t noticed any side effects.
I took time off
My psychiatrist recommended that I take medical leave from work (this was back in October) and that was incredible for me. I was not functioning normally and was unable to focus and was having anxiety attacks daily (a combination of adjusting to medication and feeling really overwhelmed by how unproductive and hopeless I felt while working). Taking time off of work is something I have never done in my life (other than my maternity leaves), but it allowed me to take time to rest my mind and body while having the ability to deal with any medication side effects without worrying about needing to feel “on” for work everyday. I realize it’s a privilege to have a job where I was able to take FMLA, it’s something I don’t take for granted for even a second.
I also permanently reduced my hours at work in November of 2020 and it’s one of the best decision I’ve ever made, in terms of my mental health and overall happiness.
I see a therapist
Medication isn’t the be all, end all – it’s just one way to support your mental health. I decided to pursue talk therapy to continue to support my mental health needs and to work through some traumas in a productive way. I’ve continued to see my therapist virtually every week since I started last year.
I reduced my caffeine intake
I’ve read a lot about how caffeine can increase anxiety. I now only have one latte or coffee in the morning. Occasionally if I do make an afternoon latte, I use decaffeinated Nespresso pods. On weekends, I do allow myself two morning lattes if I’m in the mood for another cup. I do think it has helped.
I continued to focus on sleep
I wish more people talked about this because if there was a “magic pill” for human health, it would be sleep. If you’re not focusing on sleep, forget about your other goals – it will be much more difficult to achieve them (for most people). Find out how much sleep you truly need and work towards achieving it. I go upstairs every night by 9:15 or 9:30, am in bed by 10 and asleep by 10:10 or 10:30. I sleep for 8 hours and feel much better about literally every aspect of life when I’m rested.
I don’t take a “wait and see” approach anymore
I used to suffer through headaches and mini panic attacks thinking if I just waited them out, they’d go away. I never do that anymore. If I have a headache, I take Tylenol instead of suffering for hours. If I feel a sudden high level of anxiety (for me, it manifests in my chest and makes it difficult to take a deep breath), I take a rescue medication (an extremely low dose). Though it’s rarer for me these days to get that “feeling” of teetering on a bad anxiety spiral, when it does happen, I hesitate zero percent to take medication to prevent myself from the horrible discomfort in my chest and the feeling of unease that lasts for hours.
One goal I have is getting back into exercise. I really miss Melissa Wood Health, P.volve and moving my body. I typically take Q4 off of exercise each year because it’s such a busy time for me, but I also had to go back to work at the office in November and it really threw off my routine. I was much more successful with consistent workouts when I was working from home.
I miss working from home and using the time I would have commuted to exercise, but since I don’t have the option to do that anymore, I’m going to have to find the motivation somehow to get back into a routine. My body really needs to feel strong and flexible again.
Thank you to everyone who has supported me, sent a kind DM or checked-in on me. It really means a lot. Something I’m working on in therapy is accepting that I have anxiety and not trying to fight it anymore.
Have a great weekend!