The last thing I ever wanted to do was take a benzodiazepine. It’s not that I look down on people with anxiety who do take benzos like Xanax or Valium. My own Quinn started taking Xanax after forcibly committing her mother. Knowing how addictive they can be, though, really scared me. Substance abuse kind of runs rampant in my family. I have a hard enough time taking Tramadol for my joint pain. I didn’t want to add anything else to my regimen that I could potentially abuse.
I’ve had anxiety for a while, but in January, it got worse when I lost a close friend. Then, in February, I lost my day job. This kicked both my anxiety and depression into high gear. In March, it really slammed into me. I couldn’t concentrate enough to work. At night, I tossed and turned because I couldn’t shut my mind up enough to fall asleep. Even when I did finally fall asleep, I woke up over and over again, my heart racing and my brain fluttering in a panic.
I had asked my doctor for an anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medication. I also started therapy. While I waited for the Prozac to kick in, I practiced meditation and mindfulness—being in the moment and accepting your feelings. Anti-depressants can take weeks to start working, though, especially if you have to tweak the dosage. When I went back to my doctor this past Monday, she asked how I was doing on my daily 10mg of Prozac. I told her I hadn’t really noticed a difference, and that I was still having a hard time getting things done and sleeping.
I’ll be honest: admitting those things made me feel like an incapable adult. I want so badly to have control of my life. Here I am, almost twenty-six and have this amazing opportunity to be a full-time writer, yet I’m struggling to get through every day. For the longest time, I just told myself I was being lazy. The truth is, though, that I have a mental illness—two, to be exact. Depression and anxiety on their own are enough. Put them together and it’s a miracle I was able to get out of bed in the morning.
My doctor had suggested Xanax before, but I turned her down. On Monday, she offered it again, as a way to get me through while we waited for my now 20mg of Prozac to set in. I told her exactly what I was worried about: becoming addicted to it. Instead of telling me that I was being silly, she nodded and came up with an alternative solution. She offered to give me Ativan, which is less strong than Xanax, and at a super low dose. She said she would only prescribe seven of them. I agreed to let her write out the prescription, but told myself I didn’t have to actually bring it to the pharmacy.
After spending another day paralyzed by my anxiety and another sleepless night, I decided to cash it in. I don’t have to take it, I told myself as I handed the pharmacist the prescription. I took home my new Ativan (0.5mg) and Prozac (20mg), and put them in the bathroom. I decided I wouldn’t take the Ativan at all. I moved through the rest of the day, practicing mindfulness when I started to feel overwhelmed. I actually got a lot done, for the first time in weeks. I shut down my computer at night, exhausted yet satisfied. Maybe, I mused, the Prozac and mindfulness together were enough.
Then, as I got ready for bed, worry after worry slammed into me. My mind fluttered, beating itself against a window the way a bird trapped inside will. I thought of all the things I still needed to do, and felt my shoulders and neck tense up. I knew I was in for another sleepless night.
Okay, I decided. I’ll go lay down, and if I start tossing and turning, I’ll take the Ativan. I stood in the bathroom as the words sank in. I would have to lay down, spend maybe an hour or more tossing and turning, and only then would I allow myself to try the medication. I realized that I was making myself suffer. Pausing, I asked myself what was the worst that could happen. If I tried the Ativan and didn’t like it, I never had to take it again. I could at least give it a shot, though.
Taking a deep breath, I tapped one of the tiny white pills into my hand. It was smaller than even a birth control pill. I snorted while looking at it. Maybe it wouldn’t even do anything. Maybe a half a milligram wasn’t enough to help. Shrugging, I swallowed the pill with water. Then I left the bathroom, got into bed, and got comfortable.
I can remember the exact instant that the Ativan kicked in.
The usual flurry of thoughts began. I worried about ridiculous things, mulled over my To Do list, and my mind repeated the same broken record thoughts. Once again, I was in for a sleepless night. Then, all of a sudden, this pure sense of calm just washed over me. My entire body relaxed, and my mind became like a still pool. The stillness moved through me.
Wow, I thought. This is what it’s like to tell my brain to shut the fuck up! I smiled, reveling in the moment. I had long wished for a switch, something to just turn all of my racing thoughts off. Then, I tried to remember what I had even been worrying about when the medication kicked in. I couldn’t. All I could feel was calm. I drifted off to sleep, sleeping through the night for the first time in months—maybe years. When I woke up, I desperately wanted to sleep more, but knew I had a lot to get done.
I’m not saying that I’ll use Ativan every night—or that I’ll ever even use it again—but I learned something really important last night: I don’t have to be afraid of medication. I do need to be smart about it, given my family history, but I can also let it do its job and help me. I’ve decided to use the Ativan and Prozac as part of a bigger plan. I will continue my biweekly therapy sessions, using the Prozac daily to help me. I will also continue to listen to meditation podcasts at night. During the day, when I start to feel overwhelmed, I’ll use mindfulness to scan my body and mind and sit with how I feel, rather than trying to bury it or push it away. I will create a better work schedule, allowing me to calm down before bed, so that I’m worrying less as I try to fall asleep. If I’m having a really hard time calming my mind, I may use the Ativan.
I’m proud of myself, for accepting the help and also learning to get over my fear of addiction. I love my life so much, and need to remember that I deserve to feel better. It’s okay to accept that hand up. The rest of the work, though, is up to me.
Do you struggle with anxiety or depression? How do you manage it? Leave a comment and share your tips and tricks.