I Chose to Seek Treatment for My Anxiety, and I'm Finally Feeling Free

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, approximately 18.5% of adults in the United States experience mental illness every year. That's a significant portion of our population—one in five people—yet the stigma and misunderstanding that surround mental health remain. That's why in honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, we put the call out to our readers to share their own experiences with mental illness: their victories, their struggles, and what it's really like to negotiate a society that makes misguided assumptions about who you are based on an arbitrary definition of the word "normal." Our series My Life With highlights the raw, unfiltered stories of women who deal with anxiety, bipolar disorder, postpartum depression, and more, all in their own words. Below, Susan Doetsch shares how she came to the decision to go on medication after a lifelong struggle with anxiety.

why I chose to go on medication for my anxiety
Photo: Stocksy/Sergey Filiminov

The first appointment I had with a psychiatrist is an experience that I’ve replayed in my mind more than a few times. It’s a recent event; I started seeing the psychiatrist at the beginning of March after my therapist and I discussed the possibility of starting anti-anxiety medication. I sat in his spacious office, on a couch big enough for three people, across from the single chair where he perched. He looked at me squarely. I thought to myself, So this is what a psychiatrist is like. I’d figured as much. Relaxed, professional, focused, but deeply connected to an emotional current somewhere under the surface—this quality in him was something tangible but not visible.

The doctor asked me a few surface-level questions, and I would tell you what they were, but I was so nervous in that moment that I forget them now. He asked me how long I had been experiencing symptoms of anxiety, and I told him that I have very clear memories of being 6 years old and going through a period of time where I had a compulsion to tell my mom every single negative thought that popped into my head. Things like “Mommy, I just had a thought that one of my classmates is fat” or “Mommy, I just thought a bad word." Instead of being able to dismiss the thoughts as just that—thoughts—I was overwhelmed by such a feeling of intense guilt that it would often bring me to tears. I would constantly tug on my mom’s shirt or call out to her from bed, and she would do her best to comfort me.

The psychiatrist looked up at me after making a few notes on his iPad. He asked me to describe the symptoms I currently experience. I told him about the stomach aches, the distinct feeling of anticipation where I feel like I’m at the top of a roller coaster that is about to drop but never does, the racing thoughts, the worry over how I will be perceived or if I will be liked, the inability to focus, feeling so overwhelmed sometimes that I just shut down, feeling the compulsion to be perfect so deeply that I constantly say sorry… The doctor looked at me and said, “Am I the first psychiatrist you’re seeing?” I told him the answer: Yes. He scribbled some more on the iPad screen with a stylus and then looked back up at me.

This is the moment that I keep coming back to, the moment that I have been turning over in my mind when I think about the changes that are happening in my 22nd year. This man, a middle-aged psychiatrist whom I’d met just 30 minutes prior, uttered a sentence that performed the emotional equivalent of a weight-lifting spotter in the gym. He said, “So, you’ve been white-knuckling it for a long time.”