For mental health, medicine is the best medicine
Every morning I take four tablets:
• 60mg of Cymbalta
• Another 30 mg of Cymbalta, because they do not make 90 years
• 20mg of Concerta
• A multivitamin
I have a habit of knocking them down with what’s left of yesterday’s coffee while battling a bib on my 18 month old daughter, and then I don’t think about it until the next morning.
I have been taking these four pills for about a year. Prior to that, I took the 60 mg of Cymbalta (and the multivitamin) and Ativan as needed. Before that, I took Celexa. Before that, Effexor. Before that, Lexapro. Before that, I was worried that the psychiatric drugs would rob me of my identity and turn me into an uncreative zombie.
Being terrified is kind of my thing. I have generalized anxiety disorder. As far back as I can remember, intense and irrational fears have been a part of my life. Downtime in kindergarten would make me lose my appetite for the rest of the day. I had panic attacks at almost every sleepover in college – the ones I begged to go to – and had to be picked up in the middle of the night. My body literally stopped functioning during wrestling matches during my senior year of high school, shifting me from team captain to off the team.
In the 15 years since I started taking anxiety medication, the defense of mental health has exploded. I finally feel comfortable putting “therapy” on my work schedule instead of a generic “doctor’s appointment” that is just around the same time each week. I can joke with my colleagues about how I believe every atrium meeting is called to specifically fire me.
But for some reason I always stop before I talk about drugs.
Maybe I’m afraid it’s like when the elementary school kids tried on my glasses and said, “Wow, you’re so blind! Maybe I’m afraid some people will see me as a weakling, or a fake, or someone who has taken the easy way out. Like I said, being scared is kind of my thing.
If I have learned anything over the past 15 years, it is that, when used correctly, psychiatric medicine can change your life.
Here’s how it changed mine.
There’s not much therapy can do.
I love therapy so much, I married her.
My wife is a licensed clinical social worker. She was never my therapist, at least not officially, but our mutual support for each other’s mental well-being is fundamental in our relationship.
The therapy helped tremendously with my anxiety. I identified triggers, shattered negative thought patterns, recontextualized issues, and learned to live a happy and successful life with anxiety.
But I still have to live with it.
The pit in my stomach will always override my coping skills, and just because I’m managing it productively doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt. It’s like taking a blow to the body. I can absorb the impact and not let it overtake me, but at the end of the day I still get punched in the stomach.
For me, medicine relieves every stroke, allowing me to use what I have learned in therapy more effectively. Now, something that used to take a lot of energy to solve is more manageable and I can reserve my efforts for real problems.
Or articles about my sanity.
You are not your mental illness.
If you have cancer, you don’t call yourself cancerous.
We also shouldn’t call ourselves anxious, bipolar, or obsessive-compulsive. We have these troubles just like us have diabetes or asthma or high blood pressure. It’s not just semantics, it’s an important distinction for those who fear that taking psychiatric drugs will make them a less authentic version of themselves.
That’s something that worries me, at least. Before I started taking medication, the idea seemed inherently unnatural to me. Anxiety had always been such a big part of my life, who would I even be without it?
A copywriter, it turns out. And a father, a husband and a chicken wing enthusiast. I’m more than an anxiety disorder, and taking responsibility for my mental health has helped me become the person I always wanted to be.
There is nothing more authentic than this.
There is no creativity in pain.
Vincent Van Gogh made great paintings. He also cut his ear.
If you don’t believe creativity and mental illness are related, please ask the Creative Department for more information. But that doesn’t mean that one comes from the other.
The “tortured artist” trope is as persistent as it is false. Studies show that artists are more creative when they are in a good mood and less creative when suffering from the effects of mental illness.
Anxiety makes me a terrible writer. I’ll rewrite sentences dozens of times, work on irrelevant details, and spend hours on a paragraph just to decide I don’t like it and start over. It’s exhausting. And conquer.
Van Gogh thought so too. “If I could have worked without this damn disease, what things could I have done,” he wrote in a letter shortly before committing suicide.
The good news is, you can. And you should.
Taking care of my mental health helps me perform better, which helps me get positive feedback, which improves my mental health. And while the sports and bug jokes aren’t exactly post-impressionism, I think Vincent would have liked them.
These are the two words that changed my life. Hope they change yours too.
Breaking up with a college girlfriend is pretty lame, but for me it was cataclysmic. I couldn’t eat or sleep. I stopped going to class. Even writing about it now still makes me uncomfortable because of the intensity of the emotions attached to memory. Besides, it’s a bit annoying.
In one of the many heart-to-heart conversations with my parents, the topic of talking to a psychiatrist came up when my mother said those two words. They hit hard. All my life until then, suffering had been obvious.
Now, 15 years later, I know this is not the case.