Just over a week ago I swallowed what I hope was the last pill for anxiety control that I will ever take. After six months of medically induced mellowness, I felt ready to boost my serotonin levels on my own. Plus, I really missed my libido.
The medication had taken the edge off my anxious personality, but it also made me slightly numb (in more ways than one) and unmotivated. I’d lost my internal fire and I wanted some of it back.
Many people have anxiety levels that may require lifelong medication, but for others, making lifestyle changes to minimize triggers and developing coping skills can eliminate the need for prescription drugs. I want to be one of those people.
I felt confident I’d made the changes and developed the coping mechanisms I needed to live an unmedicated life, and my therapist supported this decision.
Sadly, the first week was an emotional explosion of temper tantrums, uncontrollable tears, angry rants and lots and lots of second-guessing.
Had I stopped the meds too soon? What if I needed happy pills forever? Should I resume medication, sacrificing sex and part of my personality for the ability to control my fiery temper and anxious obsessive tendencies?
Out of desperation that I really was going to lose it, I nearly started popping the pills again. Then I realized the real problem: I had done absolutely everything wrong that first week.
First, I had ditched the meds the same week I had PMS. What normal, healthy woman doesn’t feel just a little bit nuts during that time of the month?
Second, I took my last pill the day before my husband and I began house hunting—a stressful activity for any couple that was made extra special nerve-racking because we feel pushed into buying due to circumstances in the rental market. I should probably also mention that our time frame for buying a house before our lease runs out and the school year starts is less than two months. Oh, and it’s an extreme seller’s market.
The housing pressure cooker sent me into a total tailspin, and my two best anxiety-fighting tactics—sleep and exercise—went right out the window. Add to the situtation that I was in week three of my stint as summertime stay-at-home mom and had barely seen or talked to friends I usually saw daily—my usual support system was MIA.
By day four without meds, I was a volcano of spewing, hot, uncontrollable lava, ready to bury anything and anyone who got in my way. My husband’s attempts to temper my temper and have grownup, rational conversations about housing or anything else only fueled my bubbling fury.
I was one hell of a hot mess and at risk of full implosion. Then, I did what we all need to do more of. I took a step back and took care of myself.
When my daughter went to spend three days with my parents, I suppressed the urge to use the time "wisely" to get my work assignments done, run errands, clean the house or tackle my to-do list.
Instead that first day she was gone, I slept until 8. I went for a run, had a leisurely lunch with a friend and then spent two hours sitting on my balcony enjoying the sunshine and a long-overdue phone chat with another friend 1,000 miles away.
Was it luxurious and selfish? You bet your asses it was. And it was exactly what I needed to slow the anxious, angry lava flowing through my veins. I awoke the next day with renewed calm and clarity about what I needed to do.
What I learned from that first week is that anxiety is a bit like any other addiction. My anxiety is fueled by stress and I was addicted to cortisol and adrenaline for a very long time. Any recovering addict knows that you must take one day a time. Some days will be great and others will be awful. The goal is to get through the bad ones with the knowledge that you can make the next day better.
I will likely always be an anxiety junkie, but I don’t want to take medication that completely douses the fiery embers that light me up from the inside. So it's up to me to vigilantly adhere to the preventive measures that will keep me from erupting in ways that burn and destroy everything around me.