The Happy Pills Myth: Living with Anxiety, Panic, and Depression
The Happy Pills Myth: Living with Anxiety, Panic, and Depression
happy pills

“Happy Pills” don’t exist. If they did, I would have already taken them a million times over. Living with, and being medicated for, anxiety, panic, and depression, I know all to well there are no “Happy Pills”, only medications that alleviate the symptoms enough to let you know that there is possibly hope for happiness.

“Why are we afraid of emotions, are they not just a part of the human existence?

Could I have just popped a pill and gotten through? Yes, I could, we all could….

I …felt resentful that she could take a “happy pill” to get through. Knowing that her case was extreme to mine – she has suicidal thoughts all the time, and this is something that needs help. But, here I was, some days I couldn’t figure out which way to turn, dealing with anxiety, heart aches and losses, and all the while I didn’t think I could get through.”– Hemalayaa (who has apologized and removed her original post.)

Everyone has days where you can’t figure out which way to turn, where broken hearts over lost love or anxiety about which direction to take on the path to the rest of your life completely discombobulates you. It’s normal to have a few days, maybe even a week or two, in a row where you just feel paralyzed by life and overwhelmed with emotion.

As someone who lives with mental illness, that is my whole life. “Normal” people have short periods of depression and anxiety that may feel like an eternity. I have brief periods of normal that are fleeting.

I hate the term mental illness. If there is a better term leave it in the comments. I don’t consider myself “ill.”

The “Happy Pills” concept is pervasive. There is this idea that those suffering with anxiety or depression just need to suck it up, pull themselves up by their bootstrap, and get on with life.

Because you know, everyone gets sad or scared about stuff sometimes!

Then you remind those people it’s nearly impossible to pull yourself up by your bootstraps because you can’t even get out of bed to put your gotdamn boots on.

You just need to get more exercise, pray and/or meditate more, eat healthier! More blueberries and spinach! Drink lemon water and green tea!

If blueberries, spinach, exercise, and meditation was the cure, my 3 A.M. night terror panic attacks wouldn’t exist.

I haven’t really discussed or written about my anxiety or depression issues, except around the holidays when I feel like the pressure of everything will boil over unless I burp the pot a little. I’ve written about it in the greater context of recognizing I have anxiety and panic attacks and why I walked away from yoga.

I don’t write about it much because, honestly, I’m ashamed. I shouldn’t be, but I am. I have always been strong-willed, determined, and able to accomplish anything I set out to do. To admit that I couldn’t…can’t overcome anxiety and depression through sheer mental fortitude, makes me feel weak. When strangers, and sometimes even loved ones, tell me I just need to get over it, I feel as if I have to hide so they don’t see my weakness and judge me.

Sure, I joke about it sometimes, but I joke about it in the same self-deprecating way you joke about anything embarrassing. As if it’s in the past, or just no big deal, to deflect.

But also test the waters to see if it’s okay to be vulnerable.

Well, here’s my moment of truth:

I have panic attacks. I have an anxiety disorder. I have depression issues. I take “Happy Pills.” 

General anxiety I can manage.

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Physically, it feels like I need to yawn a lot, I sweat like I’m having a hot flash, and I have a hard time focusing on minutia. I think the only way I might be able to put what’s happening in my head into reference is to ask you to imagine the feeling you have when you think you left a curling iron on or the door unlocked, but instead of just the curling iron it was the gas stove and oven, and instead of an unlocked door, you are pretty sure you left all of the windows and doors open. You are fairly certain you didn’t, but it still feels like there is a 30% chance you did. Either way, you’re just counting down the minutes until you can get back home and be absolutely positive.

General anxiety makes it difficult for me to relax and accept moments of joy. There’s always the nagging reminder of “Don’t get your hopes up, you’ll be disappointed. Don’t enjoy this too much, something bad is bound to happen.”


 

Panic attacks are considerably worse.

panic

Actually, that’s a huge understatement. Imagine the most terrifying experience of your life. Now multiply that by at least a thousand. And not only are you completely paralyzed, but you’re being suffocated while the walls close in around you. Your rational brain knows that this is a fight or flight response gone haywire. Neither your mind or your body can decide whether you should be fighting or running for your life because there is no actual imminent danger to face. Since there are no wild beasts to fight off or tsunami’s to run from, the somewhat rational part of your brain attempts to assess other possible threats in rapid fire succession.

With no immediate external threat and all physical senses at Defcon 5, all of those senses immediately turn inward. 

My inner monologue sounds something like this on fast forward and repeat:

Headache from the surge of chemicals: Diagnosis – undiscovered brain tumor IMMEDIATE DEATH

Tingly fingers and arms: Diagnosis – heart attack IMMEDIATE DEATH

Shortness of breath: Diagnosis – lung cancer IMMEDIATE DEATH

The rational part of my brain that knows this is a panic attack, is now in an epic battle arguing with itself over the umpteenbillion reasons why those things are or are not real. It is a point-counterpoint argument that goes at lightning speed and drowns out all of my other thoughts or feelings.

It feels like I’m blindfolded, handcuffed, chained to a chair in a closet, on top of a bomb big enough to blow up a city block, and in order to even begin to neutralize the threat I have to open a puzzle box containing an infinite and unknown number of other puzzle boxes, to find the key to the handcuffs, to unchain myself, to attempt to defuse the bomb. In the dark.

Sometimes, there’s disassociation. I feel like part of my brain is just floating like a balloon out in front of me. So not only am I going through all of the stuff above, but now I’m also hoping to put myself back together enough to defuse a bomb.

This can happen when I’m sitting on the couch watching a cheesy rom-com, or it can happen at three in the morning waking me up from a dead sleep. Which is usually what happens. So add all of the awfulness above with the disoriented feeling of being startled awake in the middle of the night.


 

Then comes the depression.

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Now, because my brain is in what feels like a constant battle for its life, when it’s not fighting itself off, it’s going over everything it did wrong in the Battle of Panic Ridge. Positive self-talk can be a challenge. I’m so exhausted the only thing I can manage at times is to remind myself “Hey, you didn’t actually die, did you? We won the battle!” 

Brain doesn’t care. Brain is determined to figure out what went wrong, how to fix it, how to make it work, how to win. This is so exhausting that sometimes it’s nearly impossible to get out of bed. If I do get out of bed, it’s to go to the bathroom and make it to the couch. There is no energy to eat, shower, brush my teeth or hair, there is only the overwhelming need to alleviate the excruciating pain. There isn’t even energy to cry. All I know is if I stay really, really still there might be a handful of seconds where things are almost quiet and don’t hurt as bad. Those few seconds are about as close to bliss as I might get for a while.


There is this horrific misconception that those of us struggling with these disorders and taking “happy pills” are somehow weak or cowardly, unable to face the pain and reality of life’s ups and downs.

The reality is, we do feel it. We feel every little bit, every second of every minute of every hour of every day. And it is cranked up to eleven.

Somehow, most of us still manage to function at a reasonable level. We go to work, we smile, we converse with others. We may even seem authentically and undeniably cheerful. Charismatic, even. We’ve adapted to hide our pain and discomfort, to entertain or distract those around us so that you won’t judge our agony.

It’s not that we are weak, it’s that you don’t understand our burden.


CamProfileCamicia Bennett: Founder of The Well Written Woman, Florida Native and cerebral creature, she loves her  husband, yoga, red wine, potty humor, swearing superfluously and putting hats on her dog. If given her druthers  she’d be surfing the web and writing randomness from someplace sunny and tropical whilst sipping her favorite  vino. Oh wait, that’s exactly what she does.You can find her randomly sharing her own  brand of slightly pretentious propaganda at her personal blog.

 

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  1. […] UPDATE: I’ve revised and republished this article at The Well Written Woman.  […]

  2. […] last weeks post describing what it is like to live inside my head with all of the anxiety, panic, and depression, I’ve of course been at high anxiety. Not […]

  3. […] last weeks post describing what it is like to live inside my head with all of the anxiety, panic, and depression, I’ve of course been at high anxiety. Not […]

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