I am fast approaching the 16 month mark! It's amazing to think I used to believe I'd need medication to lead a happy and anxious-free life. I now know I can do this and don't ever feel the "urge" to turn back to meds. Of course I still get anxious - most people do to some degree...however now I feel much more in control of my anxiety. And yes that means that some times I still have to rely on an emergency phone call to my husband at work, my parents, or a dear friend...but all and all I manage on my own. So how do I combat the anxiety naturally?
1) Breathing - something everyone says to do and many who suffer from anxiety just want to roll their eyes at it...but it works. Focus on your breath. Feel the cool air travel through your body. Be aware you are alive and breathing, and that all is well with you. Your body is in fight or flight mode and even though it is pumping enough adrenaline through you to allow you to run a marathon, you are NOT running a marathon...so just allow the adrenaline to flow and breath along with it.
2) Pacing - something I was taught NOT to do as it is seen as "fighting" the anxiety...but you know what? It helps, and it helps A LOT. So I pace, and pace, and pace some more. I have paced to the point my legs ache...and it doesn't matter because eventually my anxiety subsides.
3) Fluids - I lose a lot of fluids when in anxiety mode. My bladder works over time and I will easily urinate up to 5 or 6 times while anxious. So I try to take small sips of water along the mini journey.
4) Talking - Although I can hide my anxiety VERY well (I like to think of myself as a pro of sorts), sometimes I can't conceal it...and trying to hide it only makes things worse. So instead feeling alone and completely frightened, I make a point of sharing my anxiety with the person I'm with. If I'm out with a friend, instead of worrying I'll ruin the mood by being anxious, I just allow myself to be ME...and I confide in my friend. "I just need to say this, but right now I'm really not feeling my best...really anxious...so just bear with me...you don't have to do anything different...it just makes me feel better to share". And it takes a load off! I have been very fortunate to have amazing friends in my life who "get it" as much as they can. Many of them suffer from anxiety at some level as well and know the feeling themselves...others never experience it but are just kind and loving people who LISTEN and BELIEVE. Thank you for amazing friends with kind hearts.
5) Crying - When all else fails. Cry. Crying is incredibly therapeutic and releases emotions. And sometimes a good crying session while in an anxious state can be just what you need. Crying only shows we are human. I think it's quite a beautiful thing to be able to show that side openly. I believe it's a sign of confidence and truthfulness.
6) Acceptance - The level of anxiety I experience nowadays is less than a year ago, and I presume that a year from now it will be even less as I heal more and more...but "med-induced anxiety" or "normal anxiety" - it doesn't matter - the more you fight it the worst it becomes. It is something I don't know if I'll ever "master", but I try. My husband and I were comparing "anxiety notes" recently after he became anxious one night. For my husband, the fear that hits him is the fear of death. He believes fully that he will die. His heart pounds and his mind races and he believes a heart attack is on its way. For myself, I fear going insane and literally exploding. My body is filled with adrenaline and fear and the only way to get through it is pace and move and talk and cry. If I try to stay still and "accept", this crazy surge of adrenaline only hits me harder and that is when they "Oh my gosh, here we go, I am officially going to lose it" fear comes in to play. Accepting is something that I think most struggle with...and that's okay. All we can do is try.
These are the tools that have helped me. It's not easy. I loathe anxiety, but I'm learning how to live with it. I'm not sure what level of anxiety I'll have to live with in the future. I know I'm not healed from the damage the Benzodiazepines did, so only time will tell. But I am confident now that anxiety can be dealt with on a more natural level. If I could get through the shear terror those meds instilled in me for 2+ years...I can handle "normal" anxiety. Without a doubt.
So what is lingering at (almost) 16 months med free? Mainly physical withdrawal effects. Nausea being the worst still...I'm hit with it right now as I type this and about 1 hour ago I had a mini-cry on my husband's shoulder. "Why do I still get so sick? I am ready for the nausea to be over with". I'm not nauseous every day, but most days lately I seem to get hit with bouts of it - some last minutes, others last hours...today is an "hours" day.
The other physical withdrawal effects that linger are: achy legs, rib pain (feels like my ribs shift and at times crack), shooting bone pain in arms and upper back, teeth pain (my teeth will ache for hours at a time, then it literally just stops and goes away for days) and some GI discomfort (though less and less each month). Also, my physical problems worsen with my period and ovulation - BIG TIME. Women who come off of Benzos often find that the most stubborn withdrawal effect is the horrible PMS and ovulation. And my horrible I mean "normal bad PMS" times a hundred. Possibly a thousand.
Mentally, I am feeling fairly good. My mind isn't as clear as I'd like it...I find I get easily distracted and although my motivation level can be amazing some days, other days it is close to zero. On the "zero" days I feel mildly depressed, but I can still smile, laugh and enjoy life. It's a VERY mild depression...more of a "blah". Anxiety is still quite present but some days there is very little. I'd say months 12-14 were very difficult with the anxiety. It came back with a vengeance and I was feeling pretty discouraged some days. But it has settled again and it is much more manageable. I still have some OCD thinking. I am not a fan of "germs" but hope to work through it over the years. I never used to be fearful of germs - at all. The fear mainly came on while on Benzos. So my hope is that it will naturally pass on its own over the years. Until then I will wash my hands and do the things that make me feel more at ease. When I was tapering off of the meds I had to wash my hands 3 times in a row - that has gone. Sure I still do it occasionally but it's not a "need" so much now.
I do find the smallest of stress will bring on crazy symptoms. What would be an "Oh man...really?!" reaction for most, becomes a horrible waves of nausea, shaking and overall unsettled feeling for me, and it can last hours. So I've had to learn to talk myself through those moments. A year or so ago I was seeing a therapist who had once been an addictions counsellor. She was well aware of the long-term effects of Benzos and was great support for me when I initially came off of them. She explained the significance of "PAWS" (Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome). It can hit people for up to several years post drugs (or in my case, prescribed meds). She told me that for quite awhile, I was going to have to be "kind" to myself. I now know what she meant by that. Even though it's impossible to hide and shield myself from stress of all kinds, I do need to be good to myself...keep people out of my daily life who only bring on stress or drama...learn to say "no"...not be Superwoman. I've always had a hard time saying no but I'm getting better at it. I will always be a giver - it would be unnatural for me to NOT be this way...but I have to learn to also put myself first once in awhile - even if it's in subtle ways.
To sum it up, I can say with 100% confidence that after each bad wave, I can see progress. I will get hit with a week or two - sometimes a month or two - of really intense symptoms. But when they finally let up, I can slowly see the healing that is taking place. It's always discouraging when I get hit with a day of major nausea (like today), but I also see my reaction to it. Tonight I managed to bake a cake for my family and even crack a joke or two...all while feeling the need to stretch my head over the mixing bowl and dry heave into the kitchen sink. And you KNOW it's Benzo-induced nausea when homemade garlic bread smells delicious...even though you feel completely ill. Benzo-nausea is a one-of-a-kind nausea.
Whew! What a post! I hope to continue this blog for quite some time...and as I heal even more I hope to expand my topics to include more of my family's new "healthy lifestyle". It's not something we try to "preach", but we are excited with our new lifestyle as we have seen so many benefits from it...and who wouldn't want to share something so positive?!
Until then, I will continue to blog my journey as I fully heal. It may take a few more weeks, months or even another year or so, but things are looking up.