Finding Ourselves Through Cosmetic Pharmacology

image - Flickr / Jamie
image – Flickr / Jamie

It’s no secret that as a millennial, one of our biggest driving forces is self-discovery.
We all believe we’re the next innovator and uniqueness is the keystone to innovation.
We jump from job to job leaving unsatisfied and no closer to discovering that secret that we hope will reveal itself in the form of an epiphany instead of a slow unravelling over time. Millennials are impatient. We absolutely demand instant gratification in an age where everything and everyone is within immediate reach.

A side effect of this expectation is a desire to transform oneself not through working on oneself over time, but through looking outside ourselves for quick solutions. I blame advertising which makes us feel like we’re incomplete intrinsically- constantly emphasizing our lack is an effective way to make us want to change by buying into anything. I blame social media for further instilling this lack and fueling a competitive instinct to appear to be more than we are. We achieve this masquerade any way we can because the messages we’re transmitted day in and day out are ones that tell us once we’ve upgraded ourselves and can maintain that appearance, we can be happy.

Growing up and identifying as a shy introvert, I quickly learned that the favored personality was not mine. Our society is oriented to reward extroverted behaviors. I always felt left out and disliked no matter how sweet and well-intentioned I was. Small-talk made me anxious and big
crowds left me drained. I accepted that there was no way I was going to discover myself if I
didn’t learn to change certain qualities about myself that were holding me back. I understood a
huge part of self-actualization resided in social connections that not only developed and
cemented who you were in reaction. What could I do if my natural instinct was to withdraw?
Of course in college there were drugs and alcohol, but what I sought was a permanent fix, not a
night after 6 drinks that I wouldn’t even recall the next morning. I embarked on a journey of self discovery through cosmetic pharmacology. It might sound like a strange phrase to those not
indoctrinated in psychopharmacology, but this term has been around since the invention of
Prozac.

I’ve openly disclosed in the past that I suffered from chronic depression and anxiety. However, I avoided psychopharmaceuticals until I was motivated by not only a possible cure but for altering my personality in beneficial ways. I was prescribed antidepressants which gave me horrible side effects. “Power through it, it gets worse before it gets better,” was what I found through talking to my psychiatrist and from every online resource. It became way too much to stomach, literally as I started developing horrible stomach pain so I went off of it and began taking alprazolam (generic name for Xanax) to control the anxiety instead. At this time I was studying abroad in Paris. “Don’t worry, it’s so common here. Everyone’s taking it,” my French psychiatrist assured me when I vocalized my discomfort in regards to taking something known for its addictive qualities and long term dangers.

I still remember that tiny little orange pill, with an indentation conveniently in the middle.
Pressing my finger into it, I split the pill in half and slipped one half in my mouth and the other in my pocket just in case. Suddenly I was vocal and hilarious. Without any anxiety and inhibition, I became the life of the party. I felt free, not only from my panic attacks, but from all the personality traits I’d come to think were holding me back.

It became a crutch and often times when I didn’t have a half tucked away in my purse, I felt I
couldn’t be myself at all, or at least the me I wanted to be. I went back to my doctor seeking
another solution, ready to try another round of anti-depressants.

We decided on Celexa this time instead of the Zoloft I had tried before. Celexa was convenient
because it came in liquid form so we could slowly introduce the drug into my system without
major side effects. Although my brain felt numb, like there was veil suffocating my brain, I felt slightly better. Overtime, I found myself more accepting of everything. I wouldn’t say I was
happy, maybe just mellowed out.

Again, I was a jovial, lighthearted person who loved small talk. Things I used to take personally didn’t bother me anymore. Although my brain didn’t feel as sharp and I didn’t feel that I was capable of abstract thought in the way I was before, I didn’t mind. I’d trade my cerebral proclivities for social fluidity any day. Slowly over the course of several months, even after going up in my dosage, the medication started rendering me lifeless. Some days I couldn’t get out of bed as the apathy sank in. I saw no reason to do anything, since I was okay with everything.

My doctor decided to switch my medication to Lexapro at this time, which worked for a while
until I graduated and began working. I found I had a harder time learning and being more
creative although outgoing personality was serving me well, until I had a sip of alcohol and then I became outwardly mean and black out. In favor of doing the best work I could, becoming a
normal person who could have a drink, I decided to get off of the medication. I’ll never forget
how horrible the withdrawals were or that one night when all of my emotions poured back into
me as if the dam had broken and I was being flooded. From elation to sadness, I felt it all at once.

We’re going to have to clean what we hide under the rug, eventually.
After living almost two years medication free and immersed in my work, several huge sources of
stress broke me again. This time, I went to the classic: Prozac, the one drug that’s been officially linked through many past experiments with altering personality. Some people even take it just for that side effect and not for depression. It was fine at first, but then I stopped losing the ability to think sharply or remember details. The apathy sank in again too, and I stopped working out since I felt fine as I was or ditched responsibilities because I saw no reason to uphold them. Our emotions are there so we feel consequences. I felt nothing. I reached my lowest point in the past few years and didn’t even know who I really was anymore underneath the apathy.

Since then, I stopped taking everything. After spending so long trying to “fix” defects I saw in
my personality and change what I didn’t like, I wanted to spend the rest of my life figuring out
who I actually was and find the tools from within to manage depression and anxiety.

The me I discovered was a deeply empathic and intuitive person who loved spending one on one
time with friends but needed time to recharge and process because I feel things more intensely
than most. I love watching obscure films and dissecting them in my mind. I love to be alone
because I can read and write. These were qualities I was ashamed of and tried to get rid of so I
could function better in a society that encourages open office environments and constant
socializing.

I’ve seen some people be transformed positively by antidepressants after a bad break up or after
struggling with depression for years. For those people, psychopharmacology is an important tool.
Through my own trials, I’ve accepted that the best me is one without alteration. If we’re able to change anything about ourselves that we don’t like without working at it, then we’ll never know who we really are or develop pride in ourselves for knowing we don’t rely on crutches. A bigger consequence is that we lose out on the ability to cultivate ourselves organically and hone our most defining qualities so that we can experience more joy in our lives. Watching that film alone in my apartment, snuggled up in bed is always going to bring me more happiness no matter how much I try to enjoy talking over the music at a bar. We are the way we are for a reason and we’ll never be perfect, because we already are perfect.

Today I live anxiety and depression free. I know who I am and have come to embrace the
qualities I once felt I had to reject. TC mark

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