questionmarkI was recently prescribed an anti-anxiety medication, but it’s just sitting there on my desk, untouched. My concern is that it will affect my ability to work — I am a writer, in a Graduate program, coming to the end of the second semester of my second year (of three). Now is absolutely not the time to be inhibited in any way.

On the other hand, I was prescribed it for a reason, advised to take it on an “as-needed, it’s-up-to-you” basis. But I was also advised that the medication could cause drowsiness, an inability to focus, etc. So what would you do?

Say you had to have a second draft of a new screenplay, a first draft of an original TV pilot, a spec script for another TV show, 2 short scripts and a 20-page essay due for… an entertainment magazine (yes, this is an accurate reflection of what I need to finish in the next… 20 days or so), would you take a chance and pop a pill? Or power through and hope the stress does not overwhelm you?

— Jenny
New York

random adviceFollow the directions on the label: take it when you need it.

I’m not a doctor or pharmacist, but unless they told you otherwise, you don’t need to take it prophylactically, the way you take medication for depression or other conditions. If at this very moment you are spinning with anxiety that needs to be shot down, take the pill. Maybe it will help. Maybe it won’t.

My only experience with anxiety medication is Xanax. I take it so I can sleep on international plane flights. 1 A writer/producer I worked with years ago took it much more casually, half a Xanax with a glass of wine at lunch.

It made him calm, which made my life less stressful. But his productivity was functionally nil.

Anxiety medication isn’t going to help you write. It may help keep you from running full speed off a cliff of panic.

More than any pill, you need some serious work intervention. There is no way you’re going to write all of those projects, so you’re better off dropping a few now rather than waiting for missed deadlines to drop them for you.

Aim for smaller victories to avoid bigger defeats.

Write the thing for which you’re being paid. If that’s the magazine piece, buckle down and get it done way ahead of schedule. Then take half a day, see a movie, and get started on the next most important project.

In a graduate school writing program, your grades don’t matter at all. So disabuse yourself of all valedictorian fantasies, or the desire to make your professors happy. You’re much better off leaving with two great scripts than eight decent ones. Don’t waste time writing things you don’t believe in.

Play this smart, and you may never need to open that bottle. But if you do, don’t beat yourself up over it.

Our brains are wired for a completely different existence, one with lions and bears trying to eat us. Your neurochemistry treats a spec pilot like a predator. It may need some help sorting itself out.

  1. Yes, for sleeping on planes there are other medications I could take that are strictly sleep-related. But Xanax works and doesn’t make me freak out, binge eat or forget the past few hours. So I’m sticking with it.