First, we want everyone to remember that WE ARE NOT DOCTORS. Anything we say about medication is based on experiences other Anxiety Sisters have shared with us, literature reviews, and our own trial and error (a lot of errors and many trials). The best resource for questions about medication is always someone medically trained. Which we aren’t.
That said, both of us take anxiety medication—despite the controversy surrounding the issue. We are both on an SSRI, which is a medication taken daily, to manage our disorders for the long term. We have been on these meds (Zoloft and Prozac) for years and will probably stay on them until the end. We are very lucky that these meds work so well for us with minimal side effects.
We both have also taken Benzodiazepines (Ativan and Xanax), which are “as needed” drugs to help immediately diffuse acute anxiety, like panic attacks. While “Benzos” have not worked well for me, Abs finds them to be extremely helpful. As do a large percentage of the hundreds of women we have interviewed. There are also several other medications that are prescribed for anxiety, depending on a person’s specific needs and medical history, but SSRIs (or SNRIs) and Benzos are the primary classes prescribed for the treatment of anxiety.
We believe that, based on personal experience and the experiences of so many other Anxiety Sisters, when you have panic attacks and other types of severe anxiety, it is very difficult to manage (especially in the beginning) without medication. If you are in a place (like we were) where you limit what you will do and where you will go in order to accommodate your anxiety, you too may want to consider medication. Drugs will probably not cure your anxiety, but they may reduce it enough for you to be able to try other non-medication strategies. Many women opt to take medication in the short term, just to gain back some control over their lives, and then go off the meds when they are strong enough to rely on other strategies and techniques (therapy, acupuncture, meditation, yoga, etc.). Other women, like us, find that nothing works as well as the medication.
It’s a very personal decision.
So let’s talk about the “bad rap” anxiety medication has because we believe it is a cultural issue, more than a medical one. Mental illness has always been stigmatized and treated as less valid than other diseases, so it makes sense that medications used to treat mental illness are stigmatized and treated as less valid than other medications. This is still, after so many years, infuriating to us.
Nobody takes issue with blood pressure medication or cholesterol-lowering medication or diabetes medication. These are all considered “legitimate” and necessary for the treatment of illness. Society’s ignorance notwithstanding, anti-anxiety meds are just as legitimate! For the nation with the most pill-poppers, this distinction seems hypocritical and causes real pain for many sufferers who feel shamed by their need for medical intervention for a medical disorder.
This is not to say that anxiety meds are benign. They, like all drugs, herbs, vitamins and anything else you ingest, come with side effects, some of which can be nasty. Baby aspirin can produce some pretty severe side effects (stomach ulcers and internal bleeding), but a huge percentage of the US population takes one every day as prevention. And nobody gets judged for doing so.
Even vanity gets a better rap than medication for mental illness: I can’t imagine the hair dye I leave on my head (next to my brain!) for 30 minutes every eight weeks is not doing something awful to my health, but I have never once been criticized for coloring my greys.
We preferred to manage without medication, but felt we had no other choice. We were suffering and would have done anything to get some relief. All these years later, we both would still make the same choice because, simply put, medication has allowed us to live fully despite our anxiety disorders. Likewise, all Anxiety Sisters who are suffering from an illness of the brain should feel good about mitigating the effects of their disease using all available options. Shame should not be part of this process.
There are some very real disadvantages to taking anti-anxiety meds, including side effects ranging from mild to deal-breaking. As is true for any decision, you have to weigh the pros against the cons. Speaking with a medical practitioner (preferably one who specializes in anxiety medication) as well as a good pharmacist (such an underutilized resource) should help you decide what is right for you.
Please remember to bring our Questions for Your Prescriber, which will help you address all of your concerns.
We wish you the best of luck, and please let us know how you are doing.
Mags & Abs