You would think that the most carefree you can remember yourself being would fall between the ages of 5 and 10, when responsibilities were still a lifetime away and you were 100% sure you would be a child forever. So, it seems a bit weird to say that the actual most liberating and carefree point of my life came when I just moved in to a new apartment, started a Master’s degree with over an hour commute each day, and am trying to balance household bills on a meagre student budget.
I reluctantly started taking sertraline about 3 months ago. I started on 50mg and was boosted up to 100mg after the first month. Whilst I had my reservations about treating this disorder with medication, it proved to be the best decision I’ve ever made, and I thought perhaps it would be good to start a discussion on a choice that a lot of OCD sufferers will have to face at some point or another.
First, a bit of context. I’m not a fan of taking pills, in fact they give me just as much anxiety as they are trying to treat. I also have a nasty habit of reading the side effects of any medicines I take, which is never a good idea [unless you know you are particularly susceptible to certain effects, everyone experiences different reactions] which creates a whole new set of anxiety. So, despite one of the first pieces of advice I got from the doctor being to start treating this condition with sertraline, it actually took over a year for me to finally down the first tablet.
A big part of this apprehension was an unwarranted sense of defeat – I was under the impression that if I started the pills, then the anxiety had won. I wanted to beat this thing myself, so I tried doing more exercise, eating healthily, meditation, getting a regular sleep cycle and all the other self-care strategies typically used as a first line of defence. I was hoping that with enough persistence, I would magically wake up one morning without that feeling of dread I’d become so accustomed to. But every time I opened my eyes in the morning, that panic and fear was still there, and after a while I lost the motivation to keep fighting against it. I tried a new approach: indulge. Let yourself be worried, and perhaps it will wash over you and the pass over like any other phase. Embrace the panic, practice those compulsions, if it wants to control your life then let it!
I probably don’t even need to tell you how badly that plan went.
The pivotal moment came one evening, when, in the grips of one of the worst panic attacks I had ever experienced, I could not move, I could get dressed, I could not eat or drink, all out of fear. I cried, wailed in fact, for nearly an hour, whilst my boyfriend tried his best to stop me from sobbing. It was then that I realised, this disorder is stronger than I thought. It’s my own mind working against me – how on earth would I be able to fight against myself to treat myself?! Not only that, but I started to realise the toll that my condition was having on other people. I had started to alienate my close friends, and demand demeaning tasks of them (“wash your hands before you come in my room”). I could see my parents trying their best to understand and care for me, but getting more and more worn out as my anxiety persisted. The doctors had run out of non-medical treatments for me, and couldn’t understand my apprehension for taking these tablets. I took the first pill that evening.
It’s important to remember that your mind is the only tool you have for perceiving yourself and the world around you, so when it, for lack of a better term, fucks up, you really don’t have a choice but taken along with it. Medication is a necessary intervention for regaining control of yourself.
Starting medication is not a sign of defeat but rather a method of bringing your mind back in to line. There is no point trying to manually bring your mind under control when your mind itself is what is giving you grief in the first place. Taking medication gave me a chance to reset, to bring me back to the starting point to start my journey to healthy and effective recovery from a stable beginning. I don’t intend to be on these tablets for the rest of my life, but if that’s how it goes then so be it, I like not worrying all the time. It’s nice.
Since being on sertraline (one of the many types of medicine available) I’ve felt my world open up. Before I felt tight, claustrophobic in my own body, too afraid to venture out of my own imaginary bubble of safety. Now I can sense the infinite possibilities that are out there, and they are actually exciting! It’s hard to describe what it’s like to go from anxious to calm, it’s not like euphoria, its simply returning to normal, which in comparison does initially feel like euphoria because seriously, anxiety is hell and not worrying all the time is actually living the dream. I suppose the best way to communicate it is to imagine all those things that scare you, and all those habits you’ve made to control those fears; when you start medication, they just don’t seem to bother you, and you start to see them for what they really are; illogical, unnecessary and unhealthy. You can brush them aside with ease and the balance of power is shifted, you become the controller of yourself once again.
I know that recovery is not a constant upward gradient, and there will be times when the anxiety comes racing back, but each time it will be easier and easier to deal with. I just wanted to mark this one week I’ve had free from the grip of OCD, and just take a deep breath and enjoy it.