My first memories of depression and anxiety are from the time I started kindergarten. My parents had recently divorced. I was leaving preschool for a whole new life, with new teachers, classrooms, and friends. I survived the transition, but the anxiety stayed with me: a horrible burning sensation in my chest that wouldn’t go away for hours or even days at a time. Within a few years, I found myself constantly worried, sometimes unable to sleep or eat. Eventually, I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder and dysthymia, a moderate but chronic form of depression.
I didn’t seriously begin to address my condition until after I graduated from college. In late 2011, I began attending weekly therapy sessions. But nearly three years into weekly therapy with excellent counselors, I still wasn’t reaching my mental health goals.
It wasn’t that I wanted to be happy all the time; I just wanted to feel like happiness was possible. I wanted to only be worried if I had something specific to be worried about, and only feel blue if something upsetting had happened. I wanted to feel what I thought of as “normal,” my default state neutral instead of panicked. My therapist suggested SSRIs —selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, common antidepressants that work by balancing the levels of serotonin in the brain. He told me they had been very beneficial for other clients with similar backgrounds. But I stubbornly resisted. I didn’t want to take SSRIs, I told myself, because I was determined to conquer my mental health issues “on my own.”
But I couldn’t manage my mental illnesses with therapy and willpower alone. I was working hard in therapy (years of spilling my guts, doing “therapy homework” like brainstorming things that might make feel good, exposing every part of my psyche until I had no secrets left from my therapist), but I was still experiencing terrible symptoms, especially from anxiety. I became desperate to feel better. Eventually I didn’t care how much I didn’t want to explore medication; I was willing to do whatever it took to feel better. I relented. I got a recommendation for a psychiatrist from a friend, made an appointment, and tried to keep an open mind.