There's maybe a 20lb difference between these pictures. MAYBE.
The real difference between the two is how happy I am now versus 2014.
In the 2014 picture, I was visiting my favorite person, in my favorite city, in my favorite country, but I was overwhelmed with anxiety, even though I thought I was managing it just fine, and I know I did not enjoy this trip as much as I should have. I absolutely was not managing fine at all.
The issue was that no technique for managing anxiety without medication worked for me but I didn't want medication, partially because I didn't have insurance to help cover the cost, but mostly because I knew I couldn't write when I was medicated.
That sounds weird right? I can't say it's true for everyone. I didn't even consider it a possibility until I read The Midnight Disease where the author discusses different neurological issues and how it affects writing, including medications. Only then did I question how ssri's had affected my writing when I was on one.
From 2007 to 2009 I was on an ssri and doing pretty well. Although it didn't manage my anxiety 100%, it brought it down to a level where it wasn't suffocating or debilitating. Everyday life got easier but writing became more and more difficult. The words were there but I had extreme trouble getting it from my brain to the computer. This was a real issue in the 2007/08 as I was finishing up my BA in English and creative writing. But I didn't realize the medication was part of the issue then. I stayed on my meds because I wasn't going back to my old anxiety levels.
It wasn't until my health insurance ran out in 2009 that I stopped taking the meds. And I started writing again. I still didn't make the connection to my ssri. I thought I was writing because I was happy again. I had quit a job that made me miserable and suddenly I felt like I could breathe. I had all this freedom and all these stories to catch up on.
When I look back at it now, life kept getting smaller and smaller around me, like a shrinking black circle. At the time I reasoned it away. I blamed money, growing older, friends moving, and so and so forth. But after the 2014 trip, I realized it was none of those things. Instead, I had let anxiety swallow me up again and close off my life.
A few months after my 2014 trip, when I got health insurance again, I went to a doctor, just a regular general practitioner, with two things on my mind: stopping my periods from lasting two to three weeks at a time and managing my anxiety without an ssri because by then I had read The Midnight Disease and I needed to balance my writing career with my mental health.
To be honest, insurance wasn't the real thing stopping me from going before, it was anxiety. Insurance was just a reasonable excuse that everyone else would accept. I'm terrified of doctor's visits. I don't know why. I don't know why I'm terrified of everything. I just know it's not normal to pray that you get hit by a bus on the way to the doctor's office because you would rather die in a bus accident than visit a doctor.
But I didn't get hit by a bus. Instead I went to the doctor and was prescribed Wellbutrin, Xanax, and a referral to a therapist. Wellbutrin was awesome, I was like over the moon happy and never terrified. I'd still be on Wellbutrin now, except it made me feel like my heart was going to explode through my rib cage. Wellbutrin gave me heart palpitations, so goodbye Wellbutrin.
Then we tried amitriptyline. amitriptyline was doing pretty ok but I still had to use Xanax more than I would have liked. So we upped the dosage of amitriptyline and since then my world and life has opened up again.
There have been other things that have changed in the last couple of years. Medication didn't solve all my problems. Medication still doesn't take away all my anxiety, but I can go to the doctor without having a panic attack and thinking of ways to die to get out of it. I can ask for help in a store. I can go to a store. I can make a phone call. I'm not constantly worried and terrified of absolutely every little thing. I still sometimes get panic, I still sometimes take a Xanax but maybe only a couple of times a month, maybe less. Or if I have to get on a plane.
My life isn't perfect.
I'm still older, my friends are still far away, I still have no money.
But I'm happier now than I was in 2014. Maybe it's not visible in the two pictures to everyone. There are little signs I can see like my smile is more genuine in the after picture. I'm not wearing a jacket or a sweater because I'm not scared that someone will make fun of my fat arms or whatever I was scared of before that made me cover up. Instead, I'm enjoying my time with my best friend. I'm having the time of my life.
Not all transformations are visible.