Medicine and Anxiety. The difficult decision I made to initially seek medication to help me combat my anxiety.
Blog Preface: I have not been on medicine in four years for my anxiety. I am fortunate to have learned to manage my anxiety extremely well without the need of medicine. However, that was not always the case. I do want to say that I encourage medicine only as a last resort... BUT if you need help get it people. At the onset of my anxiety, I had tried every homeopathic treatment I could find, taken every supplement and relaxing tea, attempted every exercise and breathing routine, modified my diet, etc. and nothing helped me...it was time for me to pick up that phone and seek help. I needed help with getting my happiness and life back.
There is nothing shameful with needing that little bit of help, and certainly nothing wrong with taking medicine if it gives you your life back. My first year living with complete overwhelming anxiety, I chose to take medicine in order to stabilize myself. Once the medicine began to really help, I used that time on medicine to teach myself ways to manage my anxiety. I used the medicine to give me the time I needed to have a game plan for when I felt I could wean myself from medicine and manage my anxiety independently. I would not have been able to learn these strategies otherwise, because I was not mentally able to plan and think ahead since it was a daily struggle to just survive.
At the onset of my anxiety, I was unable to be the person I not only needed to be, but wanted to be. I was overwhelmed with everything to the point that even small things would send me into stress mode. I was scared to drive, I was scared to be by myself, I didn't want to be left alone at my condo or Chris's house anymore, and I was terrified that my body and mind would betray me at any given moment. I was having panic attack after panic attack, I was becoming paranoid about all the dangers in the world, and I was not able to turn off the worry and overwhelming thoughts that had taken root in my mind. I remember feeling like a child again...unable to take care of myself and scared of what I didn't know.
I looked up and tried many a number of things to try to calm myself down and relieve stress over the course of those first two months of extreme anxiety. While some things helped a little bit, none actually made the difference that I needed them to make. This is more than likely due to the extent of my anxiety at that time. I will share with you all what I tried in the early days of my anxiety. These tips and products are things I still use to help me manage my anxiety today and I highly recommend them.
⦁ I was always an avid runner, so I made sure to exercise everyday. Keeping myself in motion takes some of the tension away from my body.
⦁ I tried meditation,massages, and yoga classes, but I could never relax enough to reap the benefits of any of them, as I was always too worried about needing to relax while trying them. How could I meditate and clear my mind when my mind was a continual circle of worry, fear, and scary thoughts?
⦁ I looked up vitamins that could help. I remember using Nature's Way B-Stress Formula in the morning and then taking melatonin at night. I think these two actually did help me relax and I recommend them. However, at the time I was so worried about anything else effecting my body and leaving me not in control, that I stopped taking them a few weeks into trying them. Chris said that those did seem to relax me marginally, and on the nights I took melatonin I did fall asleep easier.
⦁ I drank decaffeinated green tea and several Yogi Tea's. These teas are teas that I still drink almost every day. I have a good friend that swears by chamomile, but I am allergic to chamomile so I can't personally recommend that one, but I have heard it works really well.
I remember very clearly the day that I decided that none of the above things were going to help me the way I needed to be helped. I decided that I would need to seek professional help. I remember feeling ashamed and embarrassed that I could not overcome my anxiety by myself. I had made the decision to call the doctors' office on a Monday morning after having spent the weekend alone at my condo while Chris was working night shift. That weekend, I had not sleep more than a few hours. I had stayed in a heightened anxious state and felt like my body was in survival mode. Chris was at a loss as to what he could do to help me relax, sleep, and not be so scared to be by myself. It was hard on him to not be able to be there for me, and it was hard for me to feel like a burden. I knew he felt he needed to be with me constantly to protect me and make sure I was okay.
Monday morning I did a quick search on Google to find a local family doctor in the area, and before I lost my nerve I called. I remember rambling with the receptionist about why I needed an appointment. I tried telling her I just wanted to have a physical to make sure I was in good health, because I was too embarrassed to admit to a total stranger the real reason I needed an appointment. I remember her telling me that there were no appointments available for a new patient unless I was sick. I remember starting to cry on the phone out of embarrassment, and finally told her I thought I was having anxiety attacks and that I was scared all the time. I told her that I just needed to see a doctor to see if they could help me get back to normal.
That poor receptionist is all I can say, she sure got an ear full that day and way more than she was being paid to handle. The receptionist told me that it was going to be okay, and asked if I could make it to their office by 10:30 the next morning. I told her that I could and then set about my day already feeling better that someone was going to be able to fix me the next day. Little did I know that you don't just get "fixed" upon talking to a doctor like I had hoped. Triumphing over my anxiety was going to be a journey, and not a pleasant one.
The next morning I went to work and slipped off for a "sales meeting" at 10:00am. I was too embarrassed and ashamed to admit that I was going to the doctor for something related to a mental illness. At that time, I had never heard anything positive about people who suffer from mental illness. I battled with myself over the shame I felt with going to the doctor. I shakily got into my car and drove what was now the scary ten minute route to the doctors' office. I remember sitting in the office parking lot trying to talk myself into walking in the doors. I told myself that no one was going to judge me for being there, and no one except the doctors knew why I was there. Chris had offered to come with me, but I told him no. I didn't want him to have any other reason to view me as weaker than I knew I already was at the time. In my heart, I knew he wouldn't have loved me any different. However, at the time I wanted to shield him from the worst of me when I could.
I pushed open the office doors, averted eyes, didn't say good morning to anyone, walked to the front and wrote down my name, and sat down away from everyone. These aversions are all things that are highly uncharacteristic of the woman I used to be and now am again. I know this sounds egotistical, but I felt like everyone was staring at me. I felt like I had a huge sticker on my forehead that said, "Looking to judge a mentally ill person suffering from anxiety? She's right here."
Looking back, I don't think anyone was looking at me any different than they would a stranger that shared the same waiting room, but at the time I started sweating and my heart started to thump loudly in my ears. I was utterly convinced that every single person in there knew why I was there, and were silently judging me. Time ticked past 10:30 and I was thinking of just getting up and leaving when a nurse at the door called me back.
I went through the standards: weight 145, blood pressure 110/65, height 5'3, etc. and then I was seen to my room and left to wait some more. When the doctor finally came in she introduced herself to me and asked preliminary questions. Finally, she asked what had brought me in to see her. I told her what had been happening: I was scared to drive because I was having panic attacks, I did not want to be alone anywhere anymore, I was having difficulty breathing and catching my breath, sometimes I thought I was unable to swallow and had to have a bottle of water with me everywhere we went, I was scared to fall asleep at night because I was scared I wouldn't wake up, and I told her about the events going on in my life.
The doctor asked what I had tried, and I told her all the tips/products that I had used to try to help, and she took notes. The doctor asked if anything traumatic had happened recently. I told her no, I was just dealing with a lot of change at once.
The doctor asked me if I would trust her to help me and I answered her honestly that I wanted too, but that I didn't know if I could or not. You see part of my anxiety was always second guessing myself and my decisions, and oftentimes over analyzing everything. I liked to be in control of myself, and giving that control over to anyone made me feel scared. Also, I did not go to doctors often, so being asked to trust a doctor I had just met was hard for me to try to do.
The doctor told me just short term, until my life settled down, that she wanted me to be put on Lexapro in order to help my anxiety. I remember feeling equal parts relieved and upset. I was relieved that there may be something that could help me, and upset that after talking to me for ten minutes she already thought I needed medicine. The doctor then told me that she also wanted me to have Zynaex on hand too if a panic attack hit me while I was alone. These medicines, she assured me, would help me get my life on track.
I didn't want to need to take anything to manage my anxiety, but she told me that since I had tried so many different strategies that I was at the point that I needed medicine at least short term. I was terrified of the side effects that the medicine could have: mood swings, dizziness, nausea, suicidal thoughts, etc., but after talking with her I felt that I needed to try the medicine to see if it would help. I asked a million and one questions and more than likely drove her crazy with what-if scenarios, but I decided to trust her.
I went to the pharmacy and filled my prescriptions, and I had a panic attack on the way home worrying over if the medicine would help or make things worse. I was terrified to take anything that could alter my mood or my mind. Questions ran through my mind all the way home. What if it didn't help and I instead developed side effects worse than my anxiety? What if it did help, and then I could never go off of it?
When I made it home, I talked to Chris and told him my fears and doubts about being put on medicine. I also confided in him that I was equally hopeful this would help me get my life back. Chris told me to listen to my gut and reminded me that a doctor would not have prescribed me something that she didn't think I medically needed. Let me add here that Chris would have supported WHATEVER decision I made, however, instead of telling me what to do he was adamant that the decision had to be mine.
That night I remember crying as I readied myself to take my first Lexapro pill. I was so scared to take this medicine....the medicine itself was anxiety inducing. Why was I so terrified of taking a pill that could make me better? Gezzz, get it together, Ginger! I swallowed that first pill like it was vinegar, and I told Chris thirty minutes after swallowing that first pill that I thought I was allergic to the medicine. I told him it was already making my stomach hurt, I was nauseous, and I was dizzy.
My heart was pounding in my ears and I was having a hard time breathing. I attributed this all to the medicine, when in reality it was my anxiety. I was allowing fear to make me become a hypochondriac. I was now allowing the side effects to become real things by mentally telling myself they were happening. I knew somewhere deep down in the rational part of my brain that thirty minutes after taking the medicine it was not going to affect me that way. The doctor told me the medicine needed a week or two to build up in my system, and that I was not likely to notice any changes until a few days into taking it. However, the rational side of me was not present.
I didn't sleep that first night after I took the medicine except for when Chris held me and rubbed my back, and even then it was a fitful night sleep. Chris was so strong for me when I felt so weak. I was so glad to have him by my side helping me through my nightmare, but I also felt guilty that this all landed on his shoulders.
The next morning at work I was pacing by 7:30 AM waiting for the doctors office to open. I was in full fledged freak out mode that this medicine was causing me major side effects already, and I needed the doctor to validate that I was going to be okay. Mind you, I also had not slept which does a lot to your mind too. At 8:00 I had called the office and left a message. By 8:15 I had called again and had persistently asked for the doctor. The doctor finally called me back at 8:30 at which point I burst into tears telling her I was experiencing half of the side effects already.
The doctor told me that the medicine had not had a chance to build up in my system yet, so what I was experiencing was self inflicted symptoms. Yeah right; this HAD to be the medicine because it could not my fault again. I stopped taking the medicine the next day as I was too scared to take it. I was too scared that it was going to effect me some terrible way. I was too scared that it was going to make me feel out of control. I had finally decided to call my parents and tell them what was going on and get their help. Even though I felt I needed to be there for my family, I finally realized that I needed to let them be there for me too.
My mom was battling her cancer and working at the time and could not get off, but my dad decided to drive up the next day. Relief flooded through me and I felt myself hope. I had hope in the fact my dad was going to help me get through this. Dad told me we were going to go to the doctor together, and that I was going to be okay. I felt like I was relying on others to see me through the worst of my life when I should have fought my way through it myself. I was a grown woman...I should have been able to do that for myself.
Looking back, I was being taught a lesson during that time in my life. I was not made to handle life by myself. It was okay for Chris to be my support and my rock... it was okay for my dad to come down and protect me like I was a child again because I always would be his child... it was be okay to let others give me a life line.
My dad did drive down that next morning, and I did start taking the medicine again. My dad stayed with me for a week, so I was not alone while Chris was on nightshift and not alone starting my medicine again. It took me a few weeks, but the medicine started to make a difference. In those first few weeks, I was able to keep my head above water for the first time in a long time. I was able to sleep better, I drove short distances without being white knuckled and scared, and I was not as agitated/worked-up all the time. I knew I did not want to be on medicine long term, but I needed to be able to function before I could try to figure out how to manage my anxiety on my own. Medicine in the short term was something I needed, and long term I am blessed to have figured out ways to manage my anxiety so that I no longer need it.
Until next week my readers,
Hey all you awesome people reading my blog. I'm Ginger and this blog chronicles how I live my life fabulously with anxiety.