For the first time in ages, I am angry. Truly, really, deeply angry and its wonderful. Not some muted, watered down hint of emotion. Rage, in all its glory. Exhilaration. I’m ecstatic. Not merely happy. Not simply content. My emotions are returning with a vengeance. I feel. And it is beautiful.
After living under the veil of anti-anxiety meds for the past seven years, it is a shock to my system to be so raw and exposed. Each day is getting better, I am a little bit stronger. A little bit more of myself. This is my homecoming. Coming home to me.
However, I have moments, such painful, overwhelming moments that I can barely breathe. That is the problem with having hidden away who I really am and then inviting myself back in. It’s a glorious torture now. I’ve missed myself and slowly, me, myself, and I are getting reacquainted.
Please don’t misunderstand. I do not, for one moment, regret having been on medication for my general and social anxiety. In fact, I think it is imperative that I did. For a period of about five years in my late teens and early twenties I did not know what was wrong with me. I thought I was broken in a way that could never be fixed. Anxiety was not as well known back then as it is now. There were not drug commercials being forced upon us every thirty seconds. So I suffered, quietly filled with despair and anger. I was such a bitter person because I didn’t understand any of it. Rage was my coping mechanism, the cloak that protected me from the outside world, the one that kept anyone from getting too close. If they got too close they may find out that there was something broken about me.
When I was 23, nearing 24 I was at the point that I could no longer ignore my illness. Also by then anxiety and drug commercials were more prevalent. So I steeled my resolve and headed into the doctors, my own diagnosis in hand. No big surprise, they concurred. That started my experience with medication. Prior to that I was not one to hardly take a tylenol for a headache. Being on medication helped me in a lot of ways. I was able to start going out again, like a “normal” person would. I was not having daily panic attacks leaving me feeling like I was dying. In that sense, being on medication was such a blessing. After several months and some sort of production issue later my medication had to be changed. That didn’t seem to help me as much and so increased the dosage. Shortly after that I had to admit to myself that the medication was leaving me strung out and not myself at all. I tried to work with my doctor to go off the medication safely but her office never gave her my message that I needed to go off, so cold turkey it was.
Withdrawals were HELL but I managed. I figured I really had no other choice. The next several months I was living without medication and doing quite well. It seemed as everything had calmed down for me. Then my Papa fell ill. Then he passed away. Then my school closed. Then… I was a mess. So I called my doctor and back I went on medication, this time something new.
The new treatment plan worked well for me. For several years I stayed on the same dose and life was pretty steady. I had no real drive to write anymore, my passion, my fire had dwindled to the smallest flame, a faint memory of what it had once been. This saddened me but I accepted this new life. I kept telling myself that the drive would come back, I would come back… But I didn’t. Not really.
After years of being on the same dose I finally hit a plateau (something very common I am told when being on medication for a long time). We upped the dosage and I continued on my way. I was conent(ish), living life, functioning. My family was proud of me for seeking help, etc. I made that all be enough. After all, I even agreed it was strong and mature of me to admit I was broken and needed fixing.
Then another year went by and I realized that I really had no quality of life. I was constantly fatigued. By the time I’d be nearing the end of my shift at work I was so damn tired I felt like I was moving through quicksand. I was sure that my bosses/coworkers/customers must notice how sluggish I was. If they did, no one ever said. I’d come home from work, get something to eat and shortly thereafter fall asleep. As early as 5pm I’d fall asleep and often times sleep through until the next morning. This had become my life. On occasion I would force myself to go out and visit with a friend or two or run some errands. Mostly though I would surrender to sleep. Sleep has it benefits. You burn more calories sleeping than watching television. Its also an escape. When you are not happy with the state of your life you can dream of something better, and dreams work best when one is asleep. It was also the only place I could be left alone. I live at home with my parents, three sisters, three dogs, a cat, and an aquarium. There is no such thing as quiet time in my home. I am someone who loves being alone for considerable amounts of time. Being asleep was the one way I could guarantee I’d be left alone.
Eventually I decided that sleeping my life away was not healthy, not to mention a waste. At my next doctor’s appointment I told them what was going on. Evidently, this is also common, and so I was prescribed another medication. This one to counteract the fatigue brought on by the medication to treat the anxiety. Imagine my joy! Another pill to swallow all in the name of being healthy and normal. It took a couple of weeks for the new medication to kick in but eventually it did and I was able to stay awake longer. I’d go to work, come home, read or visit with my family. I didn’t pass out until nine or ten at night. It made me happy to be awake, to feel like I stood a shot at living my life. BUT (and there is always a but), it had some nasty side effects. I won’t go into details but on occasion I was in excruciating pain thanks to the new meds. Yay for being awake I’d think as I was crying and on the verge of throwing up because it hurt so bad. Being the stubborn person I am, I stayed on the medication telling myself that being awake but having to deal with pain was better than sleeping all the time, right?
Realization dawns slowly. Still it forced its way into my consciousness. During all this time I was treating my anxiety, was I really better? True, I no longer had panic attacks. I was also a lot more educated on the sheer presence of anxiety disorders in today’s society. I have met so many people who also suffer and battle with anxiety on a daily basis. But was this really better? I was no longer very creative. I didn’t have much drive or interest. I was not happy, not continually anyway. I still battled the depression that seems tied to anxiety for me. So was this really better?
As I looked around my life I realized (as usual) that the signs had been there for a long time. And I decided that I had to get off of medication for good. While it “helped” it certainly didn’t cure. It was a bandaid and one I’m very much allergic to. The past year I have been contemplating when and how to go off medication and what my next step should be. I kept coming up with reasons to put it off. Some milestone or impending drama I needed to get through first. Doubt over whether it would be in my best interest to go off of medication.
A few weeks ago, I woke feeling miserable. I think it was maybe a touch of a cold but the rest was the usual discomfort, flu like existence I have had the entire time I’m on medication. It was just rearing its head, again pointing out my misery. That did it, I was convinced I had to go off of medication and I had to do it soon. Though I had not committed yet to make that be the end of it, I knew the end was near. After forgetting a dose or two while I was home sick from work, the lack of the medication in my system began to hit. (AKA withdrawal.) I decided it was now or never. Yes, I know the smart thing would be to wean myself off. Call me stupid.
Three weeks later, I’m stronger. Everyday I get closer to being me. A few days after I went off of the medication my creativity started to seep back into my being. The urge to write had returned. Composing stories in my head. It was bliss. I wish that I could say bliss is the only thing I have experienced the past few weeks but that couldn’t be further from the truth. I have been a mess. Headaches, stomachaches, feeling my heart fluttering through my chest like a butterfly on crack, having my breathing come in gasps on occasion. The first few days/nights off of medication I couldn’t sleep. I’d be awake until six or seven in the morning before I’d finally be exhausted enough to pass out. My dreams have been even trippier than usual. (I dreamt I had a baby girl and left her at the hospital to be spayed. Then I freaked out realizing that in twenty years my daughter may not appreciate my decision. So I called the hospital in a panic and asked them to skip the surgery and I’d just pick her up and bring her home. Which I did. And I kept her in the oven. Yes it was turned on but I kept it open a crack and left the light on). The hardest part is the way my emotions are running amuck, mainly rage and annoyance. I have to work to keep myself in check, which working with the public can be challenging. I feel the worst for my family. The smallest things set me off. Say hello the wrong way and I’m fighting the urge to rip their heads off. Thank god its starting to subside. Thanks to the withdrawals leaving my mental/emotional state in a shambles I’ve screwed up twice this past week at work and it was not until my absence trigged a phone call that I even realized I was supposed to be at work. I hate that I have had to admit something so personal to my bosses but I had no other choice. Having to admit it was weak and left me vulnerable, two things I hate in life. Of course they were supportive and offered everything and anything they can do to help me. I’m very blessed to have a job I love, working for a company that actually cares, and working for a leadership team that values people above all else. I’m also thankful that I had previously requested some time off because I am hoping by the time I am back to work my withdrawals will be nothing but a memory. I think that will be the case.
But for now, right here in the moment, I’m just glad I can feel again. Truly, deeply, and completely FEEL.