I get asked quite often whether I take, or have taken, medication for anxiety. Though I don’t have much experience with medication for anxiety, I thought I would share my personal experience for anyone who may be interested.
Before my panic disorder kicked in, I was one of those all-natural know-it-alls who shunned psychiatric medication. I thought medication meant you were copping out or that you were weak or that you just weren’t trying hard enough. Little did I know how very ignorant and wrong I was.
In the months when my panic disorder started, I tried everything I could to get through my own personal hell without medication. I tried every natural supplement you could think of. I tried all different kinds of diet changes.
But as my life became increasingly non-functional, I knew I needed another way. I couldn’t drive anywhere. I dropped out of grad school. I could barely teach three yoga classes a week. I couldn’t get through the day without crying or without several panic attacks. In truth, I had stopped wanting to be alive because I was in a constant state of pure terror.
I saw a medical doctor who prescribed a short-term anxiety medication to be taken as needed (benzodiazepine), as well as a longer-term medication to be taken daily (SSRI).
I wasn’t yet ready to commit to a long-term medication, as I was still fighting the idea of medication for anxiety at all, so I decided to take really low doses of the benzo. I took this a few times a day for about two months.
I wasn’t taking enough of it to stop my symptoms all together, just to allow my body to step out of the constant fight-or-flight response long enough for me to remember that it’s possible to not be so terrified all the time. I had forgotten what it felt like for life to not be so scary.
But my anxiety definitely continued. At one point, I remember searching for psychiatrists under my health insurance because I felt like it was time for a more long-term option.
Yet something in me wanted to wait just a little longer. I kept fighting every day even though I just wanted to quit.
I knew that benzos come with a very high risk of addiction so I was very conscious and concerned about that. I didn’t want to be on it any longer than I absolutely had to in order to stay alive. I began weaning myself off after about a month and a half, a task that was not easy.
It helped for me to remember that fear could not hurt me. The less I was afraid of fear, the more I realized I could handle feeling it. I could sit with it and not have to run away from it.
About eight months after my diagnosis, I found a wonderful holistic doctor who ran some tests and found that my adrenal glands (the ones that manage the fight-flight response) were way out of whack. My norepinephrine levels were the lowest she’s seen, and my cortisol levels spiked and dipped at the opposite times of the day as they were supposed to. With this information, she started me on natural supplements, which she muscle tested me for, and which seemed to help a lot. I still take some of these regularly today.
But I refuse to attribute my recovery just to supplements. During this time, I was also in therapy every week. I researched and read as much positive information as I could. I fought my agoraphobia by venturing out more and more each day. I did psychological workbooks and worksheets. I repeated affirmations to myself every day. I found coping skills that worked for me. I journaled, and so much more.
Now, I haven’t had a full-blown panic attack (aside from noctural ones every now and then) in two years. I still get the initial sensations of panic and I still struggled with Generalized Anxiety Disorder but I feel my anxiety is manageable right now. How THANKFUL I am for that.
To be honest, I keep my benzo in my purse at all times just in case I ever need it. It actually gives me a sense of relief to know that if I ever panic so badly that my coping skills don’t work, I can fall back on medication.
Even though I fortunately didn’t have to take medication long-term, I wouldn’t hesitate to consider long-term medication if I ever got non-functional again, or if I felt like I couldn’t handle the intensity of my anxiety.
There’s NO shame in that. It doesn’t make you weak. It doesn’t mean you’ve given up or you’re copping out. It means you CARE enough about yourself- you LOVE yourself enough- to know when you need help.
With that said, I never considered medication as the end-all be-all. I never considered it as a savior for my anxiety. I knew that it was just masking my symptoms and that I needed to continue to do the work of recovering and of changing my thought processes and beliefs in order to get better. In this way, medication is helpful, but it’s not the cure.
As always, sending you so much love on WHATEVER your journey entails, with whatever decisions work best for you and your health.