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Auntie SparkNotes: Should I Take Medication to Manage My Anxiety?

Auntie SparkNotes: Should I Take Medication to Manage My Anxiety?

Dear Auntie,

I've been waffling back and forth between asking someone for advice, or trying to deal with this on my own. Obviously, I've chosen the latter. For a while now, I've suffered from anxiety, and not just the kind you get from worrying about a big test or passing a class. It's the crippling kind that makes it difficult to get out of bed most days, and obsess over future events that are out of my control. As irrational as it is, I worry over graduating college and getting a decent job even though I still haven't finished my college applications. Up until recently (recently being 4 years ago) my anxiety was something that rarely interfered with my life and school, then 8th grade happened. Now I'm a senior, and my anxiety is worse than ever, to the point that I beg my parents to let me stay home with the excuse of studying for a big upcoming test when in reality I'm only going to stay in bed, surf the Web and cry in the shower. (And yes, I've done the last bit many times, much to my chagrin.) But now I've been faced with something else to worry about, aside from my AP classes and getting accepted into a half-decent college.

My dad recently informed me that my mom was considering getting me anti-anxiety medication. (The fact that I had to find out about this from him rather than from her is a whole other can of worms.)

Now, my family has a history of anxiety and depression, which, again, I've only found out recently. It would seem I've been handed the short-end of the genetic stick, since my little brother doesn't suffer from the same problems I do (again, a whole other can of worms). But that aside, out of curiosity I did a little bit of research on the side-effects of anti-anxiety medications, and was less than pleased with what I uncovered. Already I suffer from sleeping problems, difficulty concentrating, and a whole plethora of other issues that, according to what I read, would only be exacerbated by the side-effects of the medication. Already my grades have been suffering from my frequent absences at school, but if my understanding is correct this would only get worse if I took the medication. This in turn leads me to my questions:

1) Should I take the medication or not?
2) If not, should I consider alternative treatments?
3) As superfluous and vain as this may sound, should I be concerned about the possibility of weight-gain? I play water polo for my high school, and will be on the varsity team this year, so this is definitely a major concern of mine, since being heavier would make it more difficult to move in the water, and play competitively.
4)Also (and I swear this is the last question) should I consider seeing a therapist as a way to lessen my anxiety?

Luckily for Auntie SparkNotes, who is old and crotchety and tires easily, the answer to every one of your questions is… yes.

But let's dig a little deeper, anyway.

First and foremost: side effects are not the inevitable result of taking a given medication. They are a thing that happens sometimes, to some people, and since nobody knows which people those will be, pharmaceutical companies must—for the sole purpose of adequately covering their enormous corporate behinds—enumerate them right out in the open for all consumers to see. So, there's a good chance that you won't suffer any side effects (or if you do, that you will still not be in the unlucky 0.0000001% of people who respond to the medication by growing second, evil heads.) There's an even better chance that the symptoms you're afraid of exacerbating with medication will actually be helped by it, since sleep and concentration problems are a well-known effect not of anxiety drugs, but of anxiety, period.

But most importantly, there's pretty much a 100% chance that your fear of side effects is not rational or reasonable, but rather a smokescreen excuse thrown up by your anxiety in a last-ditch, frantic effort to maintain its status quo.

"Just think of the side effects," whines your anxiety. "Plus, swallowing pills is gross! And they probably taste bad! And what if they make you fat?! And those pharmacy bottles are so hard to open! Let's just forget this whole 'getting better' thing, go have a nice, long cry up against that mildewy wall in the shower, and then spend another four years feeling paralyzed by the agonizing stress of being alive."

And that's because your anxiety is a jerk that wants you to be miserable (and probably to get pink eye from all that crying in the mildewy shower, to boot.) But you, Sparkler, know that you deserve better than that, and that something's wrong, and that four years of feeling like you can't handle life is four years too many. And while anti-anxiety medication isn't magic, it does make it possible for an enormous number of people to live happy, healthy lives where they otherwise couldn't. So, as a person who is not currently living a happy, healthy life—because happy, healthy people do not routinely bail on their responsibilities to sob it out while shampooing—it's a possibility that you, too, would be wise to at least explore.

In short: yes, you should try medication (if you and your doctor conclude that medication is your best course of treatment.) And yes, you should also look for other ways—be it getting more sleep, changing your diet, getting more exercise, or anything else a therapist might recommend—to help yourself feel better. And yes, you should see a therapist, because there's no reason not to, and it could really help.

And finally: yes, of course, you should always be concerned about and paying close attention to the effects of any treatment you try—whether the treatment is drug-based or something else, and whether the effects are positive or negative. Keeping tabs on your condition is how you'll be the best advocate for your health and happiness, and how the people in your life will know how best to help you. So, if you find that anti-anxiety meds are affecting your weight, and if that's problematic for you, and if it's not an issue that can be resolved while remaining on that medication, then you'll know it's time to look into alternatives, be it a different drug or a lifestyle change or a combination of the two. Because that would be an informed decision made with the benefit of lived experience. But you won't get to make that decision if you don't tell the fearmongering voice of your anxiety to shove it, take some steps toward managing your condition, and open yourself to the possibility of things being so much better. Please do. We'll be rooting for you.

Got something to say? Tell us in the comments! And to get advice from Auntie, email her at
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Topics: Uncategorized, Advice
Tags: auntie sparknotes, health, medication, anxiety, therapy

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About the Author

Kat Rosenfield is a writer, illustrator, advice columnist, YA author, and enthusiastic licker of that plastic liner that comes inside a box of Cheez-Its. She loves zombies and cats. She hates zombie cats. Follow her on Twitter or Tumblr @katrosenfield.

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