New York Magazine’s Xanax cover story is offensive and belittling

Let me preface this by saying that I take Xanax. And by “take” I mean I run through my 30-day prescription in at least 6 months–which is to say I don’t take it very often. I have an anxiety disorder and I use Xanax the way an asthmatic uses an inhaler, if I feel like I’m going to start hyperventilating, I take one.

This week’s cover story in New York Magazine is called “Listening to Xanax: How America learned to stop worrying about worrying and pop its pills.” It’s about how the prescriptions for Xanax and other benzodiazepines (“benzos”) have risen 17 percent since 2006 and how the American attitude towards pharmaceuticals is at an all-time high.

As someone who has struggled with an anxiety disorder for as long as I can remember, I found this article to be offensive and belittling.

While I do think the article did an admirable job trying to showcase how seemingly lax doctors are a prescribing potentially addicting antidepressants, benzos and SSRIs what it didn’t do was take into consideration the people those drugs were originally made to help. Before Prozac became the “in” drug it was to help seriously depressed people who had basically stopped living their lives. Before Xanax took over our culture it was aimed at helping people like me who literally can’t deal with even life’s smallest changes.

Before Xanax and a plethora of other drugs I tried, I was a mess. If I had the wrong kind of pen I was a wreck. I moved from one school building to another in the same school district, still with all my friends and my arms went numb as a side effect of a panic attack. Someone borrowed a book and ripped the spine? Forget about even talking to me until I had 2 hours to panic and cry and hyperventilate. I couldn’t deal with these small things which made dealing with big life changes like death and leaving home for college even more difficult. I was a mess and a nightmare, not just to my family, but to myself.

Before I had Xanax as my “inhaler” emergency plan I not only would panic at the drop of a hat but I lived in constant fear of slipping into a panic attack. Before Xanax I was scared of living my own life. Getting out of bed was hard.

This article focuses on the people who take Xanax to deal with life in general. It talks about people who take it before a big work presentation, or busy working moms who take it to deal with the stress of work and kids and home life, people who lost their jobs and are using it to relax and cope.

I’m not saying these are invalid reasons. I might not agree with them but to each their own, it’s none of my business. What I take issue with is the complete unbalanced nature of the article. 85 percent of it sings the praises of Xanax to treat the “symptoms” of busy modern life while the other 15 percent quotes a two or three doctors on why these drugs are terrible and no one should ever take them. What about the people who need them?

This article does nothing but further complicate the stigma attached to mental health drugs. The article makes it seem like people on Xanax are either 1. crazy or 2. too weak to actually deal with life. Nowhere in the “history of benzos and Xanax” part of the article did it mention the good its done the people who need to use it while they work their way through getting better.

In April I’m going off Wellbutrin which I’ve been on for over a year because it’s finally time for me to face life on my own, and thanks to Xanax and some other forms of self-discovery I think I can finally do. I plan to keep the Xanax for a while, just in case, but I hope to one day be off that, too. Before Wellbutrin I was on Lexapro and Celexa, both of which made me gain 8 million pounds and therefore led to even more anxiety, thus defeating the purpose. Wellbutrin helped me lose some weight (it’s a stimulant) and made life a lot easier. Being mentally ready is a big accomplishment for me and for anyone else who has struggled like I have. This article makes it seem like taking Xanax is some flippant decision that people make just for shits and giggles. It belittles the amount of work that some people  put in to use the drugs properly and really get better.

While I understand life is hard to deal with sometimes (I rocked back and forth in my bathtub for an hour when my grandfather died and once got so tense I popped blood vessels in my face and looked like I had a black eye) and while I understand that if someone wants to use Xanax, etc…to deal with it that’s their choice, what I don’t understand is how the author wrote an entire article without even mentioning the benefits these drugs bring to the people they were designed for–not the overwhelmed mother or the executive with a big presentation–the legitimately mentally ill.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned during my time trying to suppress anxiety is that it will never be suppressed. Life is tough. Things are hard to deal with–always will be. Just because you get stressed out about a long to-do list doesn’t mean you have panic disorder, it means you’re a human being. To totally gloss over the people whose brain chemicals don’t know the difference between standard life stress and full-on panic is disrespectful and hurtful. It makes people like me, who seriously needed help, seem like we’re whiners and not just trying to be a functional member of society.

This article was a slap in the face. I wish it had been longer and not just a fluffy, “the modern world is stressful so we’re all going to take Xanax without consequence” piece. Come to think of it, the only message I took away from the entire thing was “Xanax exists and people take it.”


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