I always vowed to myself that I would never take them, those pills tucked away in a maroon bag. I left them in the farthest corner of a dusty unused drawer. As long as they were out of sight, they were out of my mind as a viable option. I’m strong enough, I told myself whenever I started to panic. I am bigger than this. I don’t need any medicine to control my stress.
Once, the smartest person in my high school said that they wished to be as calm and on top of things as I was – quite a compliment to someone whose primary stressor was schoolwork. Usually, about one time a year, I would feel overwhelmed by my studies and break down into a crying mess. At one point it happened as early as October; I bawled especially hard then. Why do I feel so out of control? Why can’t I get a hold of myself?
But, after a good while of heaving misery-laden breaths and tears running across my red swollen face, I felt better. That one night would pass, and I would awake to my (mostly) normal self. I could go on with my week and, ultimately, the rest of school. It almost became an annual thing, like “let’s see how long I go before I break down this year”. I didn’t think too much of it. I always overcame the feelings each time they came. I would overcome them the next time, too. You just stress out too much. But, you are stronger than your stress.
My mother warned me that there was a history of Anxiety in our family, but I didn’t pay too much attention to that either. I never really thought about it as something I might have – just as some vague idea to guard against with the aid of those pills stuffed away in the corner of my drawer. And although I never said it, the thought stayed dim in the back of my mind:
Medicine is for the weak.
College came. I made it through my first semester with no medications. I survived the week my stress was so great I made myself physically ill, the month and a half of constant heart palpitations and trembling hands and tight chest and interrupted sleep, pushed through the nights when I cried in the darkness of my dorm, past the hours of feeling lost and hopeless, beyond the hidden mantras I had to repeat to myself just to get to class. I made it through the troubles that settled themselves on my shoulders and dug into my heart and weighed me down – all without any medicine. It was a reality slap to the face though, realizing I really did have Anxiety. I had Anxiety, and it was here in full. But, at least I had the consolation of making it through on my own. My mind was above the Anxiety. I was the stronger one.
All semester long, I had made myself wait patiently to get into my car and drive back home for winter break. I had waited and dreamed for those feelings of elation and achievement to wash away my Anxiety, as the campus faded behind. Instead, as I went, I just felt a mild relief to be leaving. Not the wild fluttering of joy I was expecting.
Driving away, my Anxiety secretly hidden in the backseat, I unknowingly headed straight into a storm of Depression. It lasted all though the last-minute shopping, gift-giving, and other traditions I once loved. Everyone around me seemed to be full of the season’s cheer, while I was left clinging to a few drops. Christmas night, I found myself trying to fend off the gloom and lethargy with holiday sweets. What is wrong with me? Why do I feel so terrible? Pull yourself together! You should be better than this. I am supposed to be stronger!
Exactly one week before I had to drag myself back to campus, I exploded into tears. I felt like I had sunk down to the depths of my heart’s dark places. Tired of dealing with my Anxiety and now this Depression, I climbed into bed and let my cries flow. Perhaps I was being overdramatic or small-minded, but it felt like my whole life was going wrong. Nothing seemed to have gone right. My mother, weary of seeing me deal with this for months on end, decided enough was enough. Amidst my tearful gasps for air, she insisted I take some medicine. I said no, that small thought still lingering in my suffering mind. I didn’t want to be weak. She asked again.
I almost immediately conceded.
That was surprising. The little thought had fled rather quickly – years of resistance gone in less than a second. Drained from all my previous efforts, I swallowed the white pill I had rejected during so many painful moments before. Nor was I mad at myself for taking it, as I always thought I would be. I was just … grateful. Within a few minutes, I felt a peace that I hadn’t experienced since the summer. My heart slowed. The worries unwound themselves from my chest. I took a deep breath. There was a sweet, simple lightness. Everything was ok.
I had just done the thing I promised I would never do, yet I wasn’t upset. In all actuality, I was thinking more about why I hadn’t done it sooner. For so long, I had refused to open the bottle – to give in, as I saw it. I just wanted to be strong enough without it. I never felt like people would look down on me, if I did take that medicine; I was more afraid of looking down at myself. I was afraid of not being able to handle things on my own, to admit weakness and lose a battle within my mind. If I lost there, where would I lose next? Where can you find a more important field? But in the end, all I did was make it worse. My fear of failure only drove me away from something that was meant to help.
For sometimes, what we fear the most is the thing that will make us into our best.
H.R. Deutsch is 19 years old, a Linguistics student, and a recipient of a Stossel in the Classroom Honorable Mention and other language arts awards. She has always been a writer, and she is looking forward to sharing her passion with the world.