I turned the pill bottle over in my hand and listened to the white cylinders clatter against the orange plastic. Maybe this medication would be the one that stuck.
While my hopes were high, my expectations were low. Since my sophomore year of high school, I had tried Zoloft, Vyvanse, Prozac, Lexapro and Prozac again. Every drug came with its own side effect—or, if I was lucky, several of them. The Prozac, at least, seemed to have some discernible effect on my overall disposition while still allowing me to sleep, eat, and interact normally. So, my junior year of high school, I settled on it.
I convinced myself early on that this medication would make a substantial difference in my anxiety. But despite continuing to take Prozac for two more years, I never quite felt the difference I sought. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure it was doing something—but I’d hoped its benefits would be more potent than they actually were.
Still, I never thought about trying another medication. I’d worked so hard to find a drug that my body didn’t reject. Why risk it?
By the time my freshman year at Duke rolled around, I was in worse shape than ever. This had nothing to do with the Prozac—but it soon became clear to me that the Prozac wasn’t doing enough. After a couple of months, I decided to visit Student Health. The doctor recommended I increase my dosage by 20 milligrams. This seemed reasonable to me. I picked up my prescription that day and started taking the new dosage the following morning.
Less than a week had passed before I found myself in Student Health again. I was supposed to wait at least two weeks for the medication to “fully” take effect—but I couldn’t do it. I was miserable. This seemingly harmless increase in dosage had wreaked havoc on my body and mind, forcing me into a state of emotional distress like nothing I’d ever faced before. It was all chemical—and it was all-consuming. I told my doctor that if I kept taking the medication, I didn’t know if I could survive.
Up until this point, I had only taken anti-anxiety meds. I knew I had Generalized Anxiety Disorder—that was the only thing I knew for sure—so it was the only illness I thought to treat with a pill. So when my doctor recommended I start on Wellbutrine, a drug typically used to combat depression, I was taken aback. I wasn’t depressed—why should I take an antidepressant?
My doctor explained that, given my symptoms and my family’s history with similar medications, Wellbutrine could be my best option. I might have questioned her more if I hadn’t been so incredibly desperate. But I chose to trust her professional opinion because I wanted, more than anything, to find a cure for my perpetual anguish. I picked up the prescription from the Student Pharmacy and carried the bottle in my hand back to my dorm, the fingers of my other hand crossed behind my back for luck.
Two weeks later, I was walking across West Campus listening to music when I noticed that I was smiling. For no particular reason. I was smiling at strangers, walking in time with the music, feeling pure joy rush through my body. I was having a good day. I’d forgotten what those felt like.
I felt powerful. I felt like I was finally capable of putting in the work I needed in order to heal.
I’ve been taking Wellbutrine for about a year and a half now. Spoiler alert: I was depressed. But after years of cycling through medications, therapists, and coping skills, I’ve finally found my way to happiness. My depression is far less frequent, my anxiety is manageable, and I’ve learned how to handle the bad days while feeling proud of the good ones. My antidepressants brought me to a place where I could make those changes. That day in Student Health was my turning point.
I don’t recommend seeking out medication at the first sign of suffering. A drug can only do so much. But if nothing else seems to work, if therapy and exercise and meditation just aren’t cutting it on their own, medication could be a worthwhile option. There’s no reason to feel helpless forever.
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The road to finding your perfect medication can be long and stressful. But finding the right medication for you can be life-changing. Not because that medication will change your life—but because it can give you the power to change it yourself.
Rebecca Torrence is a Trinity junior. Her column runs on alternate Thursdays.