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I’ve debated writing this post for a long time—not because I’m ashamed of being on an anxiety medication, but because I was concerned that it might change people’s perception of me. But for reasons I won’t go into now, I’ve decided to tell the story. Some of you may say it’s “too much information”; others of you will say I’m weak for taking the drug. Since it changed my entire life and my relationships, I think it’s been worth it.
I’m not talking about the statin I’m taking — high-cholesterol runs in the family — but the generic Lexapro. Here is a description of the drug and how it helps with general anxiety disorder and depression:
Lexapro® (excitalopram oxalate) is an orally administered selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI). Escitalopram is the pure Senantiomer (single isomer) of the racemic bicyclic phthalane derivative citalopram. Escitalopram oxalate is designated S-(+)-1-[3(dimethyl-amino)propyl]-1-(p-fluorophenyl)-5-phthalancarbonitrile oxalate.
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor: A selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) is one of the commonly prescribed drugs for treating depression. SSRIs affect the chemicals that nerves in the brain use to send messages to one another. These chemical messengers, called neurotransmitters, are released by one nerve and taken up by other nerves. Neurotransmitters that are not taken up by other nerves are taken up by the same nerves that released them. This process is termed “reuptake.” SSRIs work by inhibiting the reuptake of serotonin, an action which allows more serotonin to be available to be taken up by other nerves.
There is a story that goes with this information, one that is especially important to me. I never took drugs, never wanted to, so when I discovered that a shift in mindset was called for, I was angry.
I had developed a cough. It was especially annoying because as a trainer and speaker, I wanted to be able to present without distractions for the listener. Since the cough wouldn’t go away, I went to my general practitioner. After checking out the usual potential causes, he finally told me that he wanted to put me on a medication for “stress.”
I could only sputter, “What?”
For years I had been practicing meditation, exercising regularly and eating right. How the heck could I be stressed? As I later found out, the real diagnosis was general anxiety disorder. I had not shown the typical symptoms of depression (although my entire family was depressed). But since the coughing was clearly not going away on its own, I consented to a minimum dose of Lexapro.
It wasn’t enough. After several weeks, I was still coughing. Now I was really outraged! How was it possible that I was going to have to go from 10mg to 20mg! Over stress! But we increased the dosage. The doctor explained that I would not notice any sudden changes, but after four to six weeks, I would notice one day a sense of well-being that I previously hadn’t felt.
He was right. In fact, my sense of well-being was significant. It showed up in many ways. When I had previously been triggered by trivial events, my body tensed up, but my brain didn’t respond. For years, I experienced this mixed response. The times that my husband would expect me to become irritated became more and more rare.
Needless to say, the cough also went away.
About five years ago I asked my doctor about cutting back the dosage and maybe getting off the medication completely. He said, “Why mess with success?” Not only was he right, but I depend on the medication to keep me balanced, especially when my husband, who has a chronic bronchial and lung condition, coughs. He doesn’t cough all the time, but his coughing is very loud. After ten years of coughing, it wears us both down.
So I’m on drugs. I have no plans to stop taking Lexapro. A part of me still wishes that I hadn’t needed to start taking it, but regrets are a waste of time. Taking the drug has dramatically increased my quality of life.
So for those of you who see me as calm and balanced on Ricochet, I don’t know how much credit I can take. Is it me, or is it Lexapro? I suppose in some ways it doesn’t matter. But as a person who treasures being authentic, I wonder who the “real me” would be without it.
I have a couple of close friends whose anxiety is off the walls—they worry about everything, even minor issues, and my heart goes out to them. Living with anxiety can be debilitating and exhausting. I should know.
Finally, for those of you who have had to include drugs in your daily life, it’s worthwhile contemplating the role they play. Only you and your doctor can decide what is best for you. But if you take the drugs, take them wisely.