“Carson, time to get up,” my mom shouts as she flings open my bedroom door.
Dimples and Freckles herd in and greet me with sloppy licks.
Before I can check my flip phone for the time, it hits.
I shove the blankets off and pull myself out of bed. I storm through the hallway and into the bathroom. My knees hit the rug. My head bows over the toilet. I dry-heave.
My body has nothing to release. Just acid, saliva, sweat, tears.
On some mornings, Dad knocks: “You OK, honey? OK. I’m headed to work. Love you. Have a good day.”
The bouts last no more than 10 minutes. They’re scheduled into my routine: dry-heave, insert contacts, wash face, brush teeth, swipe on mascara and pick an outfit while MTV music videos play in the background…
This was my life, from about seventh grade to 10th grade.
At first, the pediatrician pegged it as stomach acid and prescribed Prilosec. Then more antacids.
But the issue persisted.
When I was 15, in tenth grade, she suggested Prozac, 20 milligrams.
It worked. The morning nausea largely subsided.
No one explicitly told me, but I was suffering from anxiety.
Aside from my mom, I didn’t talk about it much.
I opened up to my high school boyfriend in a promise-you-won’t-tell-anyone way.
I told my freshman year roommate at Clemson. We were probably in our respective bunk beds. That’s when we had our best talks, when I felt closest to her. I’d stare through the dark at the ceiling as my voice traveled across our 10-by-14-foot room.
I take Prozac because I have anxiety.
Over the years, I’ve managed to open up more. In grad school, I began realizing I’m not the only one who takes medication to temper anxiety. I’m not the only one who bites her nails, who feels prickles at her chest, who feels like she needs to crawl out of her skin.
I shifted from feeling ashamed and alone to, well, kind of cliché. I fit the emerging millennial mold: anxious for nothing. Pop a pill; it’ll help.
But here’s the thing: Close to 25 million adults have been on antidepressants for at least two years, according to The New York Times. Then there are the 15.5 million Americans who have been on antidepressants for at least five years.
Me? 10 years.
The article continues.
Antidepressants were originally intended — and approved — for short-term use. After trauma, loss. That means the initial studies of the drugs’ effects ran about two months.
“Even today, there is little data about their effects on people taking them for years, although there are now millions of such users,” the article continues.
And later: “Long-term users report in interviews a creeping unease that is hard to measure: Daily pill-popping leaves them doubting their own resilience, they say.”
Although the nut of The New York Times article highlights the difficulty people face as they attempt to taper, I wanted off.
I had been 15 when I started taking Prozac. I had recently lost an aunt to cancer, the first loss I truly understood. I was crying, dry-heaving, throwing up. I felt out of control.
I firmly believe Prozac ushered me through my past 10 years. It eased my anxiety and allowed me to study abroad for a month in high school. To move out of state for college. To date. To socialize. To participate in classroom discussions. To take on leadership roles. To go to grad school. To write. To interview. To tell stories. To secure a job.
To land on my feet.
So I talked to my therapist — the one I’d been seeing less than a year because no one had suggested I use therapy to cope with anxiety instead of a pill. Anyway, she thought tapering off the Prozac was a good idea. I talked with my primary care physician. She approved: 20 milligrams to 10 milligrams to 5 milligrams…
The process commenced in May.
It’s now August.
I attended a wedding in Dallas this past weekend. There, I saw old friends from Missouri. It’d been more than two years since we’d last connected.
“I love keeping up with you on social media!” they said.
Scrolling through my Instagram, I see what they mean. My travel-filled profile looks pretty perfect. And, really, my life is good. But I’m reminded to open up about the not-so-bright spots, too. Especially because I’ve been there — in a position where I felt stuck, lonely and bored as everyone else seems to live a life of adventure and bliss.
So here’s the update, the not-so-bright spot that’s difficult to convey on Instagram…
It’s been three months since I started tapering my dose, and I’ve stalled.
I jumped from 20 milligrams to 10 milligrams. At first, it felt easy. I felt fine. I even cried, which was welcomed after years of suppressed tears. It felt like rain after a drought. I embraced my emotions.
I haven’t necessarily experienced withdrawal symptoms. But I’m anxious all over again.
“About what?” my editor will sometimes ask when I accidentally vocalize my mental state at my desk.
“I have no idea,” I respond, as my leg bounces up and down.
I mean, sometimes I have an idea. Sometimes it’s something silly. I know it’s silly. As my therapist suggests, I acknowledge it, and I pledge to move on. Breathing helps. Focusing on something else helps. Forcing myself out of bed helps. Throwing medicine balls against the wall of a 100-degree warehouse helps.
I’m teetering, though. I don’t feel like I can cut those 10 milligrams in half until I feel confident. And I don’t right now. And I’m scared I never will.
My therapist says that it's OK — that some people just need serotonin regulation. But at least I’ll know I need it, that Prozac isn’t an unnecessary crutch.
So I’m trying not to rush the process. I’m trying not to be hard on myself, on what my brain can and can’t handle. I’m trying to be patient.
Maybe one day.