The Negative Side Effects of Medicating Mental Illness — A Case Study on Treating Anxiety
I took an SSRI anti-depressant (Escitalopram) for Social Anxiety Disorder for 7 months, and I took Ritalin (stimulant medication) for ADHD. In some cultures, psychiatrists shy away from treating people with pills, which is the case in Algeria. The drugs were a quick and very effective fix for me. I truly became the best version of myself. However, the SSRI had a mind and personality-altering effect, it numbed happiness as much as it numbed fear. Excuse my following cliches on the discussion: They change you as a person, and therefore dramatically change how you perceive yourself, and how others perceive you. “Mind-altering” gets thrown around a lot, even by the likes of Andrew Tate who want to seem Avant-guard and use shock factor opinions to get to their fame. But it’s not just psychiatric pills, the same goes for cigarettes, coffee, and alcohol.
Altering your mind can change everything about your life. When I was on SSRIs, the shifts in how people treated me were dramatic: I fell in love, I had higher grades, people were significantly more respectful towards me, and because of all of this, I was eventually satisfied with my life. But the drugs “robbed” me of who I am. I am not a relaxed numbed person, I am not an extrovert. I lost my energy, introversion, and excitement of music that makes me want to immediately practice the song. I lost my very quick to cry trait at touching movies, relatable characters, etc. I simply didn’t need them anymore I guess. I became drowsy and lazy, I lost a sensitivity to things that completely changed, sort of ruined, how I live life: I did not care for music or poetry that much, I did not laugh that hard at tv shows, but I did find it just enough for me to just play video games and do comfortable, slow, assertive, talking with friends or acquaintances. It seems it’s a mixed bag here, I became a zombie, and something I simply am not all my life. How can I have the positive effects of this medication without altering how I experience music, human beings, tv shows, games, and most importantly, myself? I worked hard to make sense of what I like, and what I don’t like, and I can’t believe how a drug can change my taste in music and hobbies. Self-made, by luck, “Exposure therapy,” recently proved to be better than the unfortunately zombifying medication.
The other side effects of SSRIs were:
Lower ambition and energy.
Weight gain and hunger for fast food and snacks.
Sleepiness and napping.
The benefits of the SSRI
Ability to focus clearly.
Ability to stand silence.
Dramatically fewer times of body and brain going to panic mode.
SSRIs made me dependent on them. After I started taking them, talking to people and being around them became much easier, but it took away an energy inside me, which, I, unfortunately, have to call the “Anxious Energy.” The anxious brain I have now gets excited easily, happy easily, but, sadly, at the same time, it gets scared easily. On drugs, my brain is more mellow, relaxed, and definetly more “normal.” I related to brain-wrecking extents to my friends after I was put on medication, the way I can just be “chill,” assertive, take the time to think before acting, take on the silence in the world, perform the polite manners of normal society (like talking to coffee baristas), etc.
“DrUgS MaKe Me LeES CrEaTiVe” — Every seemingly annoying person, seemingly selfish and a hurtful presence to their peers and family when they are not medicated.
Something specific got me a bit angry at medication-oriented culture, and it is the fact that I found out how to get over my anxiety through another means where I can still be myself, get easily excited and ambitious towards things, etc. That’s Exposure Therapy.
Exposure therapy is a fancy term, and it happened to me almost by chance. I was lucky because I had a supportive culture where peers help out and embrace strangers and a forgiving family. The trick is to simply experience the fear situation while having a safe box to go back to, and that box was my parents, mostly my mother. The reason that social anxiety cripples is probably the fact that you cannot show people you have it because they seclude you the moment they see you have it. “Why is he like that?” “What is he hiding?” “Who is he performing to, he is so fake!” Etc.
Once I feel socially anxious, my mind goes: “FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK, I'm ashamed of this. Why do I have social anxiety towards him and not the other guy, they’re gonna get offended if I show it, I can’t show it, but that’s gonna end up showing it even more. God, I am so bad at acting indifferent.” That’s when the self-feeding spirall starts. It sounds silly, but in the real world, the person starts to freeze, be offensive in his body language, or they might outright express that rudeness and aggressiveness to protect themselves, and it’s uncomfortable for everyone. They might even experience a panic attack where the fear is overwhelming. For me, panic attacks are good, because they make my body stop freezing and take action, like leaving, wide-eyed and not blinking. I literally feel like I’m going to die so I don’t care about social norms or making people feel comfortable anymore, or acting, which turns out is, most of the time, unproblematic.
“Should I check my phone? No, shit, if I obviously shake while reaching for my phone they’re going to know, and it’s going to be worse from there. Should I say what I actually think? Should I let my mean humor show that is actually a defense mechanism about how this person’s outfit/gender/sexuality/economic class/personality/race is scaring me? No, that’s offensive too. Well, I’m stuck here.”
The root is obvious, I associate certain characteristics of people with me being hurt, and this is why my body panics. I anticipate harsh loud judgment, maybe even hitting, maybe them secretly talking to each other about how I am selfish, weak, pathetic, uncooperative, simply a leech, etc. I trust certain characteristics: If I look at a person and they look away, I feel safe. If I see a familiar smile that reminds me of my best friend. If I see someone who has similar anxiety as me, I feel safe, etc. It’s not always good, like being comfortable with people that I relate to about my anxiety, it makes life very dramatic. But, that’s my challenge in life. At least I can see it from above and laugh about it a little.
So, exposure therapy, what’s the secret?
Once you have someone that sees that you have social anxiety and then is still indifferent about it: Ignores you, talks to you normally, etc, you heal from it because it stops the self-feeding spiral. It says: “It’s okay to feel like this, you’re not offending anyone, we’re too “secure” to believe that or shame you for it, don’t worry. You can be your judgmental self, we are judgmental too, we don’t take offense.” Then, you start to heal from it. I can be myself with everyone. Is this a good thing? I don’t know, but that’s how exposure therapy worked for me. I need to show my judgmental selfish self, but not act hurtfully. I guess I can’t be truly egalitarian in my body to how I treat different types of people and classes and I just have to be honest about it to the world. Or maybe there’s a whole other perspective that might be truer and I am ignoring it, I don’t know yet, but I will think about it.
If someone sees your social anxiety and stares at you more, pity talks to you, pretends like it’s not real, or literally shames you and bullies you for different things about you because of it, that adds to the shame.
I started to feel comfortable with my anxiety, I basically don’t look people in the eye unless I naturally feel like it. When I want to make sure they are okay with me, okay in general, or if they’re lying, I look at them. It is simply how I feel most comfortable and how I was raised. Maybe I was spoiled, but eye contact is simply very intimate for me, I can’t possible convince my body to throw it around to strangers. Much like “Thank you’s” and “Please.”
Exposure therapy is best first done with your parents. One time, I was lucky that I went to visit distant family members with my parents. I’ve let myself feel bored and naturally express it with my body language. Social Anxiety’s spiral comes from the hiding of the shame associate with not expressing your true self. Social life is a performance and a language of our feelings, and if I try to act something that isn’t what I am inside, it is too uncertain for me, too unpredictable. I let myself feel shyness and did not lock eye contact with a particular person in the family who made me feel uncomfortable. The other way would be that I act okay with them, but I am simply bad at acting. So, I let my body be free, let it get distracted with things that interest him. Let it look down at my shoes, at the glass, look away from the triggering person, leave the room and check the garden, etc. God it is difficult, I don’t know why it has to be like this, but I can’t possibly question it for long. I don’t know how I was raised or what about me has conditioneed me, growing up, to be like this around people. But that’s how it is.
I think some people simply have different boundaries, because of trauma or maybe just, a different personality, maybe even learned or genetically inherited from parents. Some people just don’t like to talk that much, and it is better for everyone if they are themselves than if they try to be someone else. If someone is uncomfortable, they shouldn’t shy away from showing it, because it would mean that they will show when they are comfortable too. But the moment they start to fake it, I think they can’t be either.
I think the world became too interdependent on strangers, and that’s why people feel uncomfortable and shy but can’t express it. I want to be mean to you in a way, by restricting a smile and eye contact, but I can’t, because I need to work with you or get you to make something from me. I know I sound mean and selfish, but some people, like me, literally feel like they are fighting a heart attack and a big beast by trying to force politeness. When I’m on medication, it was so easy to perform these things, it didn’t matter, but god, before and after my medicated brain, it’s alot. I’ve always been like that since I was a kid, I can keep myself busy, but when I feel comfortable, which does happen when I spend enough time with someone not being polite to each other, we become great friends.
I’ve had social anxiety since I was in primary school. I remember a weird feeling of embarrassment. I was a quiet and shy kid. But when I like someone, I want to stay quiet with them, then slowly show my authentic naked self. I love that weird feeling, it gives me great adrenaline. Once I start hiding, I tend to get depressed. It’s either all or nothing.
Are people really that different?
I’m not sure if you relate to this with yourself, or if you are a little more on the outside m or if you are in a completely different spectrum of feelings about the world and people. I just hope you get to know people like me, and how we think of ourselves and the world. I’m not sure if people really are different from each other, intrinsically, or if we are all the same and think the same but we just have different levels of understanding and reflection. I don’t know if there are people out there that read this and think I am an alien and I read how they feel and I think they are an alien. I tend to think that people are more or less the same, but I want to believe we are different species of “human” by our personalities, abilities for introception, extroversion or introversion, individualistic or collectivist, tend-to-be-traumatized or tend-to-be-healthy, tend-to-be-sensitive or tend-to-be-methodical. For some reason, I believe that to be sensitive is just a level below being methodical, but, that might not do human society justice. Maybe we are really just different in ways that cannot be bridged and we just have to deal with the fact that it is rare to find someone truly like you. Others aren’t just versions of yourself, but other people that are so different. Maybe that’s freeing to know. Maybe that makes us all very special and worthy for others, even if it is just a perspective.