The wrong pill

On anxiety and social media

“Today, I’m going to reset my life,” I said to my partner, Sarah, on Sunday.

Our Starbucks breakfast sat on the dining table. A caffeine-less frappuccino and caprese sandwich for me—perfect fuel to delete my social media accounts, start a meditation routine, and begin the prioritisation of feeling good over feeling anxious and distracted.

Before I could eat, I had to take my daily antidepressant for anxiety. I popped into the bathroom, retrieved the pill from a cabinet, and swallowed it with a slurp from the bathroom sink.

The pill travelled my throat. It felt larger than normal and had a strange, bitter taste. I reopened the cabinet, read the label on the prescription bottle, and realised I took the wrong pill. Instead of citalopram, I took prednisone, a steroid my doctor recently prescribed for asthma attacks which I had never taken before.

As someone who can’t eat a chocolate-covered coffee bean without experiencing anxiousness, never mind drink an actual cup of coffee, I worried about how the steroid might affect me. While I knew prednisone wasn’t a stimulant like caffeine, less-powerful steroids had given me jitters in the past. At the very least, prednisone wasn’t the anxiety-reducing pill I was hoping to ingest on the day of my mental and spiritual renewal.

I told Sarah what happened, and she immediately looked for answers on what to do. While she scanned Google results on her phone, I spouted a frenzy of “just my luck” statements.

“Of all days this could have happened, of course it has to happen today.”

“I wish I could go back in time.”

Etcetera.

“You’ll have to puke it out,” Sarah said.

I looked at the toilet, then at Sarah for further guidance.

“Get on your knees,” she said.

On my knees in front of the toilet, I poked hard at the back of my throat. After several pokes, I managed to elicit some acid. No pill.

I told Sarah I couldn’t do it. New plan: just ride it out.

It couldn’t be that bad, I reasoned. I’m in recovery from addiction. Not that long ago, I used stimulants like cocaine and bath salts. If I could ride out stimulant psychosis, I could ride out a single prednisone pill, surely.

Back at the table, I gobbled the breakfast I had planned to savour. A few minutes later, my arms felt fuzzy and light, and my chest was tight with anxiety. Everything sounded harsher, from the refrigerator buzzing to the crows cawing in the backyard. If someone rang the doorbell, I might have hid in the closet.

I couldn’t tell if my increasing anxiousness was due to the prednisone taking effect or my fear of the prednisone taking effect. Was I hyping myself up without reason? Or was this new drug hyping me up like I thought it might? Or, alternatively, was my increasing anxiousness just part of a pattern of increasing anxiousness that drove me to seek out major life changes in the first place?

It was impossible to know. I felt out of touch with my body and mind. Rarely did I know, or try to know, how I was feeling. At the briefest moments of boredom or anxiousness, I whipped out my phone and scrolled social media. Instead of easing my discomfort, absorbing news headlines and life updates from people I hadn’t spoken to since kindergarten only amplified it. There might have been some relief in scrolling, but only briefly and probably because I was avoiding the original discomfort.

My afternoon was a nervous scramble. Instead of planning a meditation routine and deleting my social media accounts, I did laundry, updated my website, and crafted a Facebook post telling friends and family I was leaving the platform. Then, of course, I spent hours compulsively checking the post. How many likes? How many reactions? How many people are interested in maintaining contact with me?

The question I was really trying to answer was this: “Am I worthy?” It’s a question I don’t want algorithms and Mark Zuckerberg to help me answer anymore.

In the evening, I found relief in a hot bath, my go-to stress reliever since I was young. For the first thirteen months of the pandemic, I lived in an apartment without a bathtub. Now when I take a bath in my new home, I feel like I’m enjoying a luxury reserved for five-star resorts. But more than that, baths allow me to relax and explore my thoughts with a kind of self-compassion I can rarely muster elsewhere.

With lavender bubbles embracing my body, I breathed in, then out, as a man’s calm voice on my Bluetooth speaker instructed me to do. My nose, partly blocked and need of a septoplasty, struggled to bring in air. If only I had the nose surgery already, I thought, then I’d be able to meditate better. The more I kept at it, however, the deeper breaths I was able to achieve.

I reflected on my day, the last year, the up-and-down trajectories of my mental health. I’m okay, I thought, and I’ll probably be okay tomorrow. If I can just remember that for a few minutes each day, a much easier task without social media, I think my anxiety might lessen over time. The future will send more wrong pills my way, and I want to be better prepared.

In the throes of stimulant psychosis, I used to hold my breath. I believed that if someone heard my breathing—a family member, a roommate—they would know what I was doing and bust down my bedroom door. For hours, I’d lie in bed, mouth and airways shut, struggling to survive. If only I stopped using stimulants. If only I convinced myself the paranoia wasn’t a reflection of reality. If only I breathed.