In 2016, I finally got my anxiety and depression under control by participating in trauma therapy for my PTSD. In November, that all went away. Every day brings a new lineup of surreal, horrific headlines. New policies take aim at me, people I love, and people I’ve never met but feel for nonetheless. Hate crimes are on the rise and I worry constantly for friends and strangers alike. I’ve been having panic attacks, nightmares, and just feel horribly anxious in general.
It’s trauma all over again.
I’ve been saying for weeks that I might need to have my prescription for Ativan refilled. Over a year ago, I said goodbye to all psychiatric medication because antidepressants don’t play well with my system. I also stopped taking Ativan because I didn’t need it; meditation, self-care, and getting enough sleep were working for me.
Yesterday I decided I was finally going to ask for an Ativan refill. I have a lot of anxiety surrounding asking for medicines because it’s been harder and harder to get refills for my pain medicine. The war on prescription drugs has made casualties out of patients who rely on them—people who follow the rules and safety guidelines.
It took a lot for me to ask. I felt a panic attack coming on from the second I left my house. It didn’t help that I finally lost my ongoing battle with the narrow walls in my driveway and gouged my car on my way out. Sigh. Then I drove right past my doctor’s office and had to turn around, which made me a few minutes late. My anxiety ramped up with each passing second. I decided not to ask.
After discussing my IBS and UCTD, though, my doctor asked if there was anything else he could do for me. He’s new to the practice and I switched to him from the APRN I’d been seeing. I really liked him after my first appointment; he’d been attentive and kind. Taking a deep breath, I told myself to just do it. It was okay to ask, I told myself. There’s no shame in asking for something I need.
“Okay. Um. I’ve been having a lot of trouble with anxiety lately, and I was wondering if I could refill my Ativan.”
There. I’d done it. I felt immensely proud of myself. Even if I didn’t need it, at least I could keep it in my purse. It was there just for reassurance. I could make it through any panic attacks while continuing my regimen of meditation, relaxation, and regular unplugging from social media.
“Ativan isn’t a good anti-anxiety medication to start off with,” my doctor said.
I nodded; I was completely open to trying something else if necessary, though I’d thought Ativan was the lightest of its kind. (Turns out Ativan is somewhere in the middle.) But then my doctor switched gears entirely, urging me to check with my rheumatologist about Tramadol and whether it’s the best pain treatment for me.
This confused me, because I’d thought all of my doctors were in agreement that I’d stick to Tramadol as needed because it’s working for me. My rheumatologist had told me that in bad weather, I’d still have flareups, so Tramadol and Advil on those days were okay. But my doctor was talking as if he wanted me to stop Tramadol completely.
I also felt like he was brushing off my anxiety, because he suddenly said he’d be back in a few minutes. I started to panic, because not only was I not getting an Ativan refill, but it also looked like I was losing Tramadol. Again.
Plaquenil, Prednisone, Tramadol, and Advil are the medicines that give me quality of life. They’re the difference between being bedridden, wracked with pain, and actually getting out and living. When it’s a constant fight to keep the medications you need in order to have a good life, it can be emotionally crippling when someone threatens to take them away. There is nothing I fear more than my pain forcing me back into bed. I don’t want to go back to needing my husband to dress me every day. I would prefer to have Tramadol on hand when the weather gets nasty and my joint pain flares so that I can continue living.
I’m tired of being brushed off or treated as if I’m doing something wrong when I ask for medicine—especially when I hadn’t even asked him for Tramadol. He’d refilled my prescription the last time I saw him and I still have plenty left because I’m not taking it every day anymore.
I pulled myself together, hoping that he’d come back soon so I could just get the hell out of there and do my cry thing. When he came back, he brought samples of an IBS medication. He also told me that he would refill the Ativan but he was also prescribing me an anxiety medication called Buspirone that I had to take twice a day.
“What is that?” I asked warily.
If you’re new to my blog, you might not know that before I got treatment from a trauma-certified therapist, my previous mental healthcare practitioners had loaded me up with various psychiatric medications over the years. Every single time, I had awful side effects from them. It didn’t matter which class they were from, how “tried and true” they were, or how low the dosage. These medications simply make my anxiety and depression worse. I avoid them like the damned plague. (However, they do help lots of people. They just don’t work for my particular condition or body chemistry.)
“It’s an anxiety medication,” he said.
“Yes, but…” I took a deep breath. I really didn’t want to get into my history—my anxiety was already through the roof—but I needed to explain. “Okay. Look. I was sexually assaulted. But I didn’t get the right kind of help at first. I saw lots of different practitioners whose solutions involved just piling antidepressants on me. And I always get very bad side effects from them.”
My hands shook and tears rolled down my cheeks.
“And then I started seeing a trauma-certified therapist, who helped me so much. I got off all the meds and I even stopped taking Ativan. It’s just…” I swallowed hard. “This is going to sound silly, but my anxiety now is coming from everything going on. With the healthcare act…”
He nodded. “Definitely. I understand.”
I exhaled. “Maybe I should just avoid both of these medicines altogether. I’m just very, very wary of them—though I never had any trouble with Ativan.”
“Here’s what I’m going to do,” he said. “I’ll take off the Buspirone and refill the Ativan, but I don’t want you taking it all the time.”
I shook my head. “Oh, no—I understand.” Benzodiazepenes can be highly addictive, and can even be fatal. It’s super important to follow dosage exactly. (Not that it’s never important to follow dosage, but I’m sure you know what I mean.)
“I’m also going to refill your Tramadol, but you need to talk to your rheumatologist and see if he thinks it’s best. I’ll see you in June and we can stop the Tramadol.”
My head spinning, I held up a finger. “I don’t need the Tramadol refill yet,” I said. “If I were to take one every day, I still have about two weeks’ worth left. Can I just call you when I’m ready?”
“Yes,” he said. “I will refill it once more, but you need to talk to your rheumatologist.”
He offered me water and told me I could stay in the exam room for a few minutes to collect myself. He was very kind, but I felt mortified. The panic attack I’d been avoiding all day had basically sideswiped me in front of my doctor—which made me worry that I looked like a hot mess. Anxiety is a liar, so of course I started worrying that it looked like I’d just faked the crying so I could get the medicine. I didn’t want to blubber, dammit. I wanted to be able to calmly discuss my needs. I wanted to be able to discuss my history of trauma and bad experiences with psych meds without panicking, without tears and numb hands.
I scheduled my followup, then went to pick up my prescriptions. Amongst the Ativan and other things was the Buspirone that I’d thought we’d agreed to leave for now. I realize I don’t have to take it, but now I’m worrying that if I don’t, he’ll think I’m just making stuff up.
Today I looked it up. It acts on neurons and serotonin the same way antidepressants do. It’s clear that it’s not a good fit for me. I really don’t want to even try it, because other than the world being on fire, I’m actually in a really good place. Once again, my problem isn’t chemical—it’s trauma.
Last night I had another panic attack. I took an Ativan and, 20 or so minutes later, was calm. I watched The Shining. The tension in my neck was gone. I slept without nightmares.
Of course I still have to practice self-care. I still need to unplug, keep firm work hours, treat myself to good sleep hygiene, etc. I may even need to schedule an appointment with my therapist, although last I knew she was only working one day a week at the practice and that was difficult to coordinate because we only have one car (which Mike primarily uses because he works full-time outside of the home).
You can do everything right and still need help, and that’s totally okay.
Even though asking for Ativan was one of the harder things I’ve done, I’m really glad I did.