By Ellie Parker, Features Editor
But thankfully, Z is for Zoloft.
The first time I realized that my daily panic attacks were not normal was around the age of 12. I was never sheltered as a kid and my parents always pushed me to attend the nightly slumber parties that flooded my adolescent social calendar. I had a surprisingly solid group of friends for a sixth-grader, yet something inside of me refused to consent to sleeping away from home. I made excuse after excuse, and my parents let it go, allowing me instead to crawl into bed with them and binge watch episodes of House. I soon realized that my version of the perfect Saturday night varied significantly from my classmates, and as the social pressure intensified, my agoraphobia followed suit.
Although I personally didn’t understand why my body had suddenly become allergic to social interaction, my parents did. I am blessed to come from a long line of oftentimes withdrawn and overly anxious relatives. As I vowed to never leave the house again, my parents jotted down the numbers of every psychiatrist in the area. My therapist ultimately became my best friend and I was a sleepover specialist in no time at all. Not to toot my own horn, but by 14 years old, I had lived through and conquered anxiety, all while carefully balancing a nifty facade of composure.
I prided myself on the fact that I had beaten my angst through hard work and time spent, rather than medication. So proud, in fact, that I contributed to perpetuating the stigma against anxiety medication. I would brag about my resilience and strength, and how I opted to take the “hard road” towards recovery. This illusion lasted until the morning I felt that all-too-familiar feeling of my heart beating out of my chest. I tried to talk myself down, to use my vast psychological knowledge of panic attacks to slow the pounding of my heart. This time, however, I realized I was way out of my element. I was getting ready to experience roughly 2,700 consecutive sleepovers, 6,453 miles from the comfort of my home, all in just a few short months. For once, deep breathing and a stress ball did not suffice.
I caved. I ordered an obscene amount of tiny little pills, and I hated myself for it. I blamed my dad and my older brother, whose combination of genes forced my brain into spitting out ridiculous amounts of serotonin. It didn’t help that I had long since convinced myself that medication was for the inadequate, thus lumping myself in with that “unfortunate” lot. In the beginning, I told no one. I kept the pills hidden in my room, a secret shared between me and my neurotransmitters. But soon my views began to shift. It started after a debate I had with my dad on the subject. I argued that symptoms of depression and anxiety could be reversed with practice and patience, while he tried to explain that my condition was a disorder like any other.
“Let me ask you a question, Ellie,” he said. “If you had strep or pneumonia or any other physical illness, would you not want to get better? Would you want medication, or would you rather sit and meditate on the fluid in your lungs? Treating anxiety follows the same principle. It doesn’t mean you can’t be happy or fulfilled or live your life the same way. Medicated or not, this malady does not define you.”
I realized then that although I hadn’t won the gene pool lottery, I had gained something more valuable. Sure, I may never wake up in the morning and kiss my pill bottle a thousand times. And of course, I would much prefer a serotonin level that doesn’t require daily regulation by Zoloft, but none of this really matters. Like my wise, proudly medicated, abnormally anxious father said, this “sickness” bears no weight on my happiness. People search the world over for peace and happiness, never realizing it can only be found in one’s state of mind. If it took but a few pills to teach me that, then it was well worth the experiment.