Monday, October 21, 2013

pills and Jesus but not a Jesus pill

Everything had been fine up until the moment that it turned really shitty - 

These things were true:

I was sitting in a movie theatre. 

I was with my friends.

I was breathing.

I stopped breathing.

My chest was tingling.

My arm was numb, it was crawling up my body,

it was up my neck,

my face was numb,

I was dying????

Everything felt real - I ran out of the movie theatre on Paramount's studio lot, where I worked at the time, and ran back to the Page office. A friend and coworker immediately noticed something was wrong.

"I'm having a heart attack," I rasped. "I am going to die. I'm going to die."

I kept thinking and saying it over and over. My friend was alarmed and quickly walked with me to the medical building. The nurse examined me and remained calm but in my head I kept thinking, "This is it this is it, I won't be able to breathe any minute."

The nurse listened to my symptoms - I was shaking and crying - and told me I was fine.

"I don't feel fine," I cried feebly, fumbling for my phone, wanting to call my mom. 

I was so convinced that I was going to have a heart attack or stroke that I called my best friend, Chanelle, and she came and picked me up and drove me to the ER.

The doctor at the ER was sweet and as I sat there on the exam table she looked at me and told me I was having a panic attack. 

She was sympathetic:

 "You don't want to live like this," she told me. "I get it. I'm from the East Coast too. LA is tough and being away from family is hard." She was young, but she looked tired and patient and I was grateful for a nice doctor.
 I didn't say anything, just avoided eye contact with the medical student, who was a guy my age, that was taking notes. I felt like an idiot. 

"You should talk to someone," she continued, handing me pamphlets. "And maybe go on medication."

She was really sweet and after I left the emergency room the statement kept swirling around in my head. 

And maybe go on medication.


Anxiety meds.

Anti depressants.

Was I going to become one of those people? Someone who needed medication? But I have God, I would tell myself. I'll pray it away. I'll read my bible every morning, I'll go running, I'll eat gluten-free, I'll even become a vegan before I go on "medication."

I didn't listen to the doctor and eventually I felt better because she told me my skull wasn't closing in and I wasn't suffocating and I was okay.

And then a few months passed and I felt a scratch at the back of my throat one day at work, and then my heart started racing, and I thought I was suffocating and I thought my throat was closing and I was having another panic attack all over again. But I still didn't take the doctor's advice - I didn't go to a therapist, I didn't go on medication. I avoided it and the anxiety consumed me. It was so bad that it got to a point where I would be out with friends and then suddenly I thought my throat was closing and I would run out and start crying.

 If you have ever dealt with severe anxiety you know that it feels like there is a dark veil surrounding you at all times.

It started to dictate my life - everything from a car ride home alone to going to bed became a terrifying and huge obstacle. It was better in the morning and during the day, but the minute night fell or I was alone, it would come back, clawing its way through my body until it had such a strong hold on me that I felt trapped and crazy. I really felt crazy - like there was something wrong in my head. I couldn't sleep, I couldn't eat, I couldn't hang out with friends without being afraid I was about to have another panic attack.

A second ER trip later and several family phone calls of, "If you don't do something you need to move home, you need to get better," and I finally found myself with a small bottle of anxiety meds in my hand.

I looked at them - it was this strange line I felt like I was crossing. In so many ways, I felt like I had failed. 

But I'm only 24. I should be happy. 

I shouldn't be taking these. 

And then I took them and I haven't had a panic attack since and sometimes it feels like I failed or something. Like I should've prayed harder or ran more or stuck to that gluten free diet.

But sometimes you can't listen to stigmas and what people tell you and you just have to freaking take Zoloft and stop having panic attacks.

That's the thing - 

It doesn't mean I don't love God if I take anxiety meds. It doesn't mean I'm weak, or foolish, or stupid. It is exactly what it is. And what hurts me is when people tell me I don't need them. 

I don't need them? We don't need a lot of things. We don't need to take Advil every time we have a headache. But we do because it helps. I take anxiety medication because it helps.

* * *

"Happiness is just a feeling. Joy is deep and real and isn't the same thing."

I lie on my back, staring at my ceiling, thinking about these words. I've heard them a thousand times at a thousand different bible studies, a thousand different sermons, a thousand different conversations with friends. The sunlight filters in through my bedroom window and I close my eyes.

"I don't feel happy all the time," I say aloud because saying words out loud sometimes makes everything seem a little more real.

"But I don't think I'm depressed," I say again.

The light shines in my room and warms my face and it's soothing and it kind of feels like I'm dreaming--you know, that space in between sleep and awake when you feel warm and safe and lazy.

Happiness is fleeting - some days we feel happy. Others we feel sad. It's normal and it's life and it shouldn't dictate the deep joy that is in the core of who we are. 

Because these things are true:

I am 24.

I get panic attacks.

I take medication for said panic attacks.

The Creator of the UNIVERSE knows me, loves me, and created me.

I am okay.

* * * 

Do you struggle with anxiety? If so, how do you deal with it? Do you feel as if there is a stigma, perhaps especially in the Christian community, about taking medication for anxiety or depression?


  1. Love you for writing this. I definitely think there is a stigma - I once had a well-meaning guy tell me, very earnestly, that he didn't understand "why anyone who has Jesus would need that sort of thing." I tell people that God doesn't expect me to cope with messed up brain chemicals AND my normal problems, just like he doesn't expect someone with cancer to pray about it but not get treatment. I lean on God in times of trouble - I just also use every tool he's made available for me.

  2. This is so spot on. I struggled with the same problems a couple years ago. More so on the depression side but the anxiety crept in more often than not and I felt like my whole existence was going to shatter. The pills definitely help. And I totally agree, when people say I don't "need" them. It's like a backwards compliment, "you're not THAT crazy."
    Anyway, great work :)

  3. Hi Nina, I had anxiety issues last year too. I had it for about 7 months before I recovered. It's not as long, but I understand the terrifying experience of waking up daily and having this heavy grey veil over you. My heart beat at an unusually fast rate for quite a while and I was getting affected in every way possible, couldn't get through a day or two without reaching a breaking point and having to hide in the toilet. Anyway, I refused taking meds until I couldn't control my anxiety on my own one day and decided to fake ill and went to the doctor to get an MC to approve my leave. But the doctor could tell I wasn't emotionally stable and I ended up explaining to her why I wanted a day off work. She gave me some really very good and encouraging advice. She advised me to take some anxiety pills to help myself face my challenges. I wasn't able to face my challenges with the anxiety strangling me and my failures were really due to my anxiety which added to the anxiety. I decided to take the meds until I was mentally strong again. I thank God for the timely advice, held onto her encouraging words and continued praying and fighting until one day I felt the depression and anxiety lifted..just a little.. and then a little more and more. Within a week, I was (I'd say miraculously) healed. It happened to abruptly and quickly that I know it was God. The battle was won. My purpose of sharing these with you is that I believe you've taken the right first step in not rejecting medicine. But from your post it's not clear whether you've also allowed yourself to seek help elsewhere, like in a counsellor. Having someone who is skilled at counseling, skilled at drawing out your fears and helping you face them is very powerful. the meds don't address the root issue. You need to find out the cause of your anxiety. There's a myriad of possible reasons and I hope you will find the courage to face them. The medicine would help reduce the anxiety, take it to strengthen yourself but go further and confront your fears. Don't do it alone, allow someone to walk through it with you.