Love, Wellness

It should’ve been a red flag when I couldn’t leave the house for days

Even when my anxiety was subsiding, I advocated for myself so I didn't lose who I was while medicated

The last few years have been a blur.

I’ve lived in three different states, worked at four different companies, and have had two different family tragedies. In the summer of 2015 my maternal grandfather died, and the following summer my mother had a stroke.

My life and mental health were a mess.

What came next were severe panic attacks that felt like heart attacks which landed me in the emergency room. For the next 4 months, I would be in and out of the E.R., urgent care, and multiple therapists offices.

None of these visits came with an actual diagnosis.

I did, however, get thousands of dollars of medical bills and more debt. The only remedy I was given for my symptoms was being told to “relax” and “maybe have a glass of wine after work.”

Fast forward 4 months to when I finally found my primary care physician, who diagnosed me with generalized anxiety disorder after talking to me for 5 minutes. I was relieved to finally have a name for my panic and anxiety attacks.

Unfortunately, it also meant taking anti-anxiety/depression meds.

Medication side effects are a bitch. Heart palpitations. Shaking hands. Body chills. Random body pains. Pretty much the same ways my anxiety physically manifested.

After two months with no real improvements, my doctor decided to up my dose. After another two months with the same side effects and symptoms, he upped the dosage again and added a complementary medication with a side of Klonopin.

After he added another med and upped my dosages, I noticed I wasn’t feeling like myself. Lethargic was the name of the game. I was tired all of the time. No focus. No sex drive.

All I wanted to do was sleep and eat.

Those are classic signs of depression, but I didn’t realize it at the time. I never felt so bad that I was alarmed. It should’ve been a red flag when I wasn’t leaving the house for days. Showering was an afterthought. And I’d rather spend 110+ dollars on takeout a week than actually muster up the energy to cook a meal.

Depression is one of those things where you really don’t understand it until you’ve experienced it. Although I was feeling a bit more tired than I usually was, and didn’t want to leave the house unless it was completely necessary, I wasn’t feeling that different. In my mind, depression equaled feeling sad and alone with suicidal thoughts. Although this is how many people experience depression, this is not always the case.

It was in a brief moment out of the fog that I realized I couldn’t live like this.

Even if I wasn’t having panic attacks on a regular basis, being so depressed that I wasn’t actually living my life wasn’t an option either.

Fearing that I would fall back into this endless fog, I immediately made an appointment with my PCP. Even though I’d never brought up depression during my time as his patient, because my doctor actually listened to me, he immediately acknowledged that there was a high likelihood my depression was caused by the medication.

The only problem was, he wanted to keep me on the meds and add another complementary dosage to combat the depression.

This is where I had to push back.

I was nervous because my biggest fear is being that person who reads WebMD and thinks they know more than the doctor. Keeping in mind that I know my body better than anyone, I realized I should speak up if I didn’t agree with something that was going in my body.

With my newfound confidence, I pointed out that it seemed my depression started once he upped the dosage of my second medication. This was something he and the nurse missed. Although it wasn’t his first choice of treatment, I again stated I would rather try this as a first course of action before adding on additional medication.

He obliged.

I was fortunate enough to notice a change in my overall mood and demeanor within a couple of days.

After two weeks there was no trace of the depression that had been plaguing me for the last few months.

When it was time to check in with my PCP, I was happy to report no feelings of depression, and he was pleasantly surprised. His acknowledgment that I was right to push back on his initial plan confirmed that I’d made the right choice.

It may be because I went through so much hell and stayed silent for so long that I finally felt the power to speak up against my doctor’s treatment. But it shouldn’t take that.

As a fat black woman in America, I am always wary of how I will be treated by doctors in the healthcare system. This catalyzed my being so adamant about my prescribed anxiety medication and its link to my depression. Without those negative experiences, I may have accepted the “doctor’s always right” mentality, and not spoken up.

Since this revelation almost six months ago, I feel a new sense of empowerment to be more vocal during my appointments.

Even with my therapist who I pay to listen to me, I’ve been more forthcoming with what I hope to gain from our sessions.

My hope that is by sharing my story I will inspire others who are unsure about their medical diagnoses, medication dosage, or just if their doctor is the right one for them or not, to speak up. Even though you aren’t an expert in the technical sense, you are an expert on your body.

And making sure that you are protecting your body is what matters.