Recently, I decided to try a new anxiety medicine.
I’ve been taking the tiny pills —the shapes and sizes so varied!—since I was 15 years old. The little baby supplements began after I had a panic attack en route to my older sister’s college graduation in which I told my father that I was—without a doubt—dying of leukemia.
I started on Celexa, and we spent many unstable years together, often forgetting to check in each morning through high school and college and studying abroad and then fumbling into adulthood. Amidst this time, I fought a phobia of flying with a world renowned combination of Celexa, therapy, gin and a tiny, un-refillable Xanax prescription. After crying and shouting much of my way through my early twenties, I decided it—this little Serotonin pixie dust— wasn’t working well enough, and I switched to Effexor, another pill with the same function but slightly different side effects, they say. Other family members had taken this one and loved it, and if it works for others in your family, it’s a good place to start, they say.
And then my sex drive plummeted. It sprinted off a distant cliff and dived into the deepest ocean, disappearing from my 25-year-old ass. An ass, I kept thinking, that I would not have forever.
So I stopped completely. I did not need anxiety pills anymore. I could continue talk therapy and deal with an occasional panic attack—even the monstrous ones induced by hangovers at Bonnaroo.
And then I remember the day that my fiance found me curled in a tight ball on his hardwood floor crying about something, nothing, anything, everything; I’d been off of the medicine for weeks. I sobbed and breathed erratically and then, I’m sure, he found me a glass of wine. I made it through that night like so many others, alive and existing but not so much thriving.
I found a new doctor—a psychiatrist!—and said to her, “Dr. _____, I am getting married, and I would like a sex drive, and I would like to feel maybe just a tiny little less bit batshit crazy than I currently feel right now, please, could you give me a prescription for that?! I have tried a few different anxiety cocktails; do you know another one? You know the brain.”
How about Cymbalta she says? Sometimes it has less sexual side effects. Some do very well with it.
I thought: how fantastic that there are so many different tiny dots I can put on my tongue, and they uptake or inhibit or something with the Serotonin and who knows, maybe I will want to have sex four times a day until I am 100, and I will feel so at ease that that I will not even need the nearly-unlimited prescription of Xanax she gave me.
And oh, Cymbalta, I felt like we were so close! Like maybe I had found my SSRI, my little mini bar concoction made just for me! I felt you doing your best work inside my brain and bloodstream, and I can’t thank you enough for the valiant effort I know you put forth with yet another anxiety riddled twenty-something who simply wanted to feel sane.
But, then the sex drive went running running running away again, and I thought, I will not have these legs forever. I would like to feel the urge to use them in inappropriate and naughty ways, but my vagina feels dead, and the world is a little numb, and I wonder perhaps if I could star in a remake of Garden State.
So my doc—MY PSYCHIATRIST!—and I talked. She gave me a sad, head-tilting nod like the one people use with friends who have recently been divorced and they don’t know what to say or how to move their head in front of them. “Oh, sweet patient of mine, so many of these drugs have ‘sexual side effects’ but we can try another one I suppose, we can try one called Wellbutrin,” she said with so much doubt in her voice I didn’t know if she had ever actually heard of the drug or prescribed it before.
But she is very smart and always compliments my outfits, and we only had a 15-minute appointment that costs two dollars a minute, so I took her suggestion, and she strained her eyes and said we could give it a try. She said that “nobody really knows how it works,” but it doesn’t work the same way as the SSRIs or SSTRs or SPIJFSDLKSJD<MC<>XMCs so we shall see. Something about Dopamine.
Three weeks later, I was crying on the hardwood floor I now share with my husband. Two in the morning and there are no lights, and I’m crying for mostly unknown reasons, but am sitting nearly under our bed, holding our dog and wondering wondering wondering: what will I do if something ever happens to this dog? (Something will happen to him; he is a dog, and he is a disaster, and he is kind of old, and he is an animal so he will not live forever and….)
Two days later, the shower head in the bathtub is not pointing in the right direction, and I cannot fix it, and it falls, and I drop into the tub, and I cry, and I cry until my husband must come and hold me while I drip snot and salt into the soapy water. Each day, I wake up dizzy and spacey, like I am drunk but the bad kind of drunk, the kind of dizziness and space head after you’ve had a shot of tequila and are sent home by your friends.
There is no reason to be crying on hardwood floors or undersized bathtubs over hypotheticals—that’s what actual anxiety has you do. This medicine; it is the fourth type I’ve been on. It is supposed to even out my chemicals that don’t always work right. Find the balance. Something with Serotonin. Make me feel just a little more balanced than the day I believed I had leukemia or the flight on which I had to hold hands with a stranger or the night I curled up in a ball and cried for hours and could not explain why. It is not worth it; I told my husband. It is not that I do not believe in these medicines or that I do not think they work, but this is not worth it; it is not worth it.
And the truth of the matter is: I do not even have it all that bad. I have a relatively acute generalized anxiety disorder. I am not crippled by depression or by my anxiety as I had been in the past. I do not have any other major mental health problems, and I feel as though I have reached the end of my time with these medicines. I know that I am not alone in this, but there has to be a better way. There has to be a better way.