Antidepressants Have Improved My Quality of Life
A 13-year spiraling journey to medication helped me with clarity, relationships and memory
"Uh huh huh, Uh huh huh," I breathe in and out heavily and rapidly. "Tranquila, tranquila. Ok, ok," my mom says softly, rubbing my right shoulder.
"Next!" the cashier attendant calls me over. With a full face of tears and a shaky hand, I gave him a receipt and told him I wanted to return the massive box next to me. At age 29, in the middle of a Target in downtown Brooklyn on a Saturday afternoon, I experienced my first panic attack.
Unknown to me, I was in the age range where I was still experiencing cognitive development; therefore, mental illnesses had more of a chance to develop. This new reaction was triggered by three consecutive incidents of mistreatment I had with random people over a week, and I felt paralyzed to defend myself each time.
However, from a broader perspective, it resulted from the gradual culmination of years and years of a destabilized nervous system, disassociation, rumination, overthinking and feeling unheard and unwanted. I learned later on these were all symptoms of my deeply rooted childhood emotional neglect (CEN).
I learned later on these were all symptoms of my deeply rooted childhood emotional neglect.
Even though I had seen a slew of therapists on and off since I was 19 years old, no one ever mentioned CEN or provided in-depth explanations for the causes of my inner turmoil. These therapists always put medication on the table, but no concrete knowledge of my symptoms was supplied in my sessions.
Too young to ask the appropriate questions, coupled with my mistrust of the U.S. pharmaceutical industry, I didn't realize that taking medication was a serious option until many years later. As a result of not receiving a targeted treatment for my anxiety and depression, I increasingly endured consistent bouts of brain fog, dissociation and mood swings throughout my 20s.
I rarely felt my body, retained much information or maintained a constant, healthy friendship or partnership. By age 29, I was ripe for a severe anxiety disorder that initially had started as general anxiety.
I rarely felt my body, retained much information or maintained a constant, healthy friendship or partnership.
Sadly, this crescendo of events occurred at the end of my first semester of graduate school in the fall of 2017. I had no idea the uphill battle I would encounter in the next two years in trying to accomplish this milestone.
My First Panic Attack
After leaving Target, my mom and I took an Uber to my then-therapist's office to seek guidance. Unable to focus, I had typed in the wrong address. When the Uber driver refused to drive a few blocks down to my intended destination, I unleashed a tirade on him that was unprecedented and ominous. I was unrecognizable.
My mom had no idea what to do. She just apologized to the driver and tried to calm me down. Somehow we arrived at my therapist's office to learn that they didn't do emergency mental crisis intervention. The receptionist said I would have to wait for my next therapy appointment and handed me the 24/7 NYC mental health hotline number instead.
The rest of the day was a blur, but I remembered crying nonstop for about four hours and experiencing headaches and dizziness for over a week. In my next therapist appointment, we talked about medication.
My therapist was apathetic, seemingly unaware of how central this experience was for me. Feeling desperate, I agreed to see the psychiatrist the following week. In her cold, damp and clinical office, I immediately noticed her antagonism, and I was put off by her sense of superiority and ill-natured demeanor.
She was pushy, with no real understanding of convincing someone to do what she thought was right. Soon after, I left that therapist and didn't entertain taking medication until three years later.
My Journey to Medication
In those three years, I went through multiple severe panic attacks, with consecutive ones in the summer of 2018. I contemplated suicide numerous times to relieve myself from my emotional and physical pain, but I tried to manage it all in my second year of graduate school that fall.
I surprisingly felt comfortable with my therapist, a Hasidic woman in her 50s who validated me in all the ways I needed.
I also sought knowledge about my symptoms while working two jobs to pay rent and tuition, finishing coursework and dating. Because I never had a therapist who shared the language around my symptoms, I sought out some recommended books.
I went through a binge of self-help books that accurately facilitated my understanding of various facets of my difficulties. I started with "Attached," which provided insight into the reasons behind my destructive cycle with intimate love.
Followed by "The Emotionally Absent Mother" and ending with "Running On Empty," both were catalysts to naming my symptoms and hence, starting the path to transcending them. When stabilizing my nervous system, I dealt with it in several unhelpful ways that didn't affect the root of the problem. I frequently smelled and dabbed on lavender oil, took the [wrong] dosage of CBD, journaled and exercised.
People say everything will help your anxiety, but these methods are coping tools rather than a chemical treatment to heal how my brain was reacting. At some point, I sought another therapist who recommended medication without guidance.
After seeing her for about a year, she casually diagnosed me with Borderline Personality Disorder. Not knowing what that was, I went home and was devastated by what I learned. BPD is beyond what I imagined I had or what she ever suggested, solely based on the two instances I lashed out at her. I probably stopped seeing her when I finished graduate school in the summer of 2019.
In October, the night before celebrating the completion of my thesis and graduate degree, I had a massive panic attack and lashing out that was directed at my mother. This incident was what made me seek a therapist with the intent of going on medication.
I can put things into perspective because the medication has calmed me down enough to explore my mind outside survival mode.
In January 2020, I found a Jewish mental health clinic in the orthodox neighborhood of Williamsburg, Brooklyn. I surprisingly felt comfortable with my therapist, a Hasidic woman in her 50s who validated me in all the ways I needed.
I talked to her about the casual BPD diagnosis I had received, which she went against, saying that I was suffering from severe anxiety caused by significant stress in my childhood and, as a result, I didn't develop enough serotonin in my brain.
The medication would help heal the "wound." Three years after the start of the pandemic and another massive panic attack, this time directed at my then-new roommates, I decided to get on medication, and was prescribed 20mg of Citalopram. At the age of 32, for the first time, I consented to antidepressants.
It took a few months to experience the benefits of the medication, which has improved my quality of life and day-to-day activities. For ten years before medication, I remember I felt I was in a matrix every time I went outside. My mind had difficulty adjusting quickly to a new setting. It always felt like I had left half of me in the apartment.
However, I wasn't only dissociating, but throughout the day, I was unable to see the reality around me because I ruminated on perceptions from the past which consequently caused a lack of knowledge retention.
Now in year three, I rarely dissociate. Every time I go outside, I can enjoy the different colored greens from the trees. My stress levels are manageable. I can put things into perspective because the medication has calmed me down enough to explore my mind outside survival mode.
Memories have resurfaced, and with more clarity, I can slowly let go of the harmful relationships I maintained for years to build healthy ones. In therapy, since I was 19 to now, being in my mid-30s, I don't wish I'd gone on medication sooner.
I did it when I felt ready and comfortable, but I'm glad I found the right solution. It has transformed my life positively and continues to open pathways where I feel delighted. I encourage everyone to keep seeking the right path for them because a life where you thrive instead of surviving is possible.
She has been published in Mental Floss, Latina Media Co., NACLA, The Latinx Project at NYU, and others. Follow her on Instagram @damalyscorner or Twitter @damalygz. Read More