in which i come home and get caught up without anxiety (hooray for medication)

I recently had a very positive experience with anti-anxiety medication, and realized I should share it here.

I've written many times about the wonders of modern medicine for treating depression and anxiety, and the life-changing, relationship-saving, and quite possibly life-saving effects of using the right medication. While these drugs may be sometimes prescribed unnecessarily, I believe they are under used -- that many more people could be helped by these meds, if their own biases didn't stand in the way, and if everyone had equal access to healthcare.

My mega-wrap-up of my perspective is here: in defense of drugs: anti-depressant medication saves and improves lives.

* * * *

I've had a prescription for an as-needed anti-anxiety medication for many, many years. In the past, I used them very infrequently, less than once a month, and sometimes only a few times a year.

Two years ago, I had a sharp uptick in anxiety, and realized I should be taking the meds more often. When I asked my doctor for a refill, she expressed concern about the frequency of use, and suggested I use an SSRI instead -- that is, she wanted me to use something daily, rather than as-needed.

I was pretty resistant to the idea -- which is interesting, given everything I've said and written about this! I already take several medications, and I just didn't want to believe that I needed another. I let it go for a while, but when I needed yet another refill, my doctor was more insistent.

She explained to me things I knew but had conveniently forgotten. Drugs like clonazepam are very habit-forming. The body builds up a tolerance very quickly, so that it takes increasingly higher dosages to achieve the same results. After a time, your brain "forgets" how to feel normal without the medication. There has been substance abuse in my family, especially around prescription painkillers and sleeping pills, and I have struggled with my own addictive personality as well. So what was I doing?

That was all I needed. I decided to try one.

Wow! I could not believe how much better I felt. I discovered that I had been experiencing anxiety almost all the time. I had become so accustomed to it, that it felt normal to me. I only recognized the anxiety when it spiked, when it felt like an anxiety "attack".

I felt calm, clear-headed, and in control. I was suddenly able to look at my to-do lists and my crowded calendar without panic -- and without the not-quite-panic-but-something-approaching-panic that I usually experienced.

This has led to greater focus, and to greater enjoyment of my jobs. I can think more clearly. I can understand -- finally -- that my life is within my capabilities. I can get it done.

I don't know if there's been an external manifestation of this or not. I have no idea if I seemed anxious and now seem different, or if the whole time it has been internal only. I only talk about my health issues to a few people. This is not because I fear stigma or negative reaction, but because I prefer to de-emphasize it for myself. I do not want to identify with an illness; I find this an important part of maintaining good mental health. (I mean this with no judgment of anyone who does otherwise. There's no one-size-fits-all.)

Coming home from our recent trip to Egypt and Jordan was a big test of this new-found calm. I knew I had a ton of work waiting for me, both library and union, including some Big Things I had been preparing for before we left. In the past, I would have felt a lot of anxiety, beginning the day before we headed home. Once home, I would be in a state of semi-panic, trying to plow through all the work at once, moving as fast as possible, as if it all had to be done immediately.

This time: none of that. Anxiety was a place in the distance. I could see it, I was aware of its presence, but could simply choose not to visit it. Clear-headed, calm, getting things done.

* * * *

One more thing. When I was looking for an image for this post, I saw a lot of the mini-posters you see on Facebook, supposedly articulating what anxiety feels like. I didn't relate to any of them. None of them described how I feel. Don't know why that is.


James Redekop said...

I saw a great comment a while back about the stigma about using drugs to treat mental health problems. It was something along the lines of: "If my thyroid doesn't produce as much thyroxine as it should, and I take supplements every day to compensate for that, nobody bats an eye. But if my brain doesn't produce as much [whatever the example was], and I take supplements every day, suddenly everyone's falling over themselves telling me that I shouldn't be taking medicine for my problem."

(I did a Google search to try to find the original post, but all I got was pages and pages of rants about the evils of psychiatric drugs -- or claiming that there's no such thing as mental illness at all -- kinda proving the point.)

laura k said...

(I did a Google search to try to find the original post, but all I got was pages and pages of rants about the evils of psychiatric drugs -- or claiming that there's no such thing as mental illness at all -- kinda proving the point.)

Argh. Yes.

A friend of mine explains her meds to her children that way. "My brain does not make enough of this chemical, so I take these pills to give me more of that." or words to that effect.

James Redekop said...

Yeah, and if it's any part of your body other than your brain that's malfunctioning, everybody's fine with it (well, almost everybody). But there's something about brain pathology that freaks people out far more than (say) spleen pathology.