So, it's time to do some weaning.
I've been on anti-anxieties for almost half my life, and I've decided that this month, I'm going to stop taking them. I am on a really low dose, and although they once really helped with my anxiety, I recognize that my dependence is mostly physical. The meds help me sleep, and sleep is one of the most important things for me to get to keep me from spiraling into a deep depression. They do very little - if anything - for my actual anxiety and mood.
Anti-anxiety medication is supposed to be prescribed for short-term use. Full stop. [The University of British Columbia published a media release on an interesting study about long-term use]. But when you're institutionalized as a teenager, with no real hope of getting out, I think doctors do whatever they can to treat you in the moment. And my moments were awful. I don't blame my docs; it's not like the anger and resentment I hold from receiving electro-convulsive (shock) therapy and losing 15 years of memory... this was something that was a quick-fix. I get it. I was dying. Or wanted to.
And now I'm not dying, nor do I want to. I'm doing this for me, but I'm also thinking long-term with medication and pregnancy. Out of the meds I'm on, this one is the one that I don't need for it's purpose, and it's one of the most harmful to a fetus. It's probably the best one to come off first. My plan is to come off the benzos completely, and cut down on the others (see my Happy Mommy, Happy Baby post for the logistics of what needs to happen / my ethical stand-point on medication and pregnancy). If I happen to be able to come off any other medication - all the better. But I also need to stay healthy.
I have some low-stress time coming up. I'm off work the week between Christmas and New Years, back at work for just over a week, and then off for a stay-cation for two weeks in January. This means that if I'm up in the middle of the night staring at the ceiling because I can't sleep, dealing with night sweats and little panic attacks, and god knows what else, it won't be as detrimental as it would be if I had to get up at 5:30 am every day to go to work.
I'm scared. There has been two other occasions in my relatively recent past where I've attempted to come off some meds. One was pretty successful, despite the extremely low energy and the added 20 pounds. The other time was horrific. I was on disability assistance and in part-time school at the time; I locked myself in my apartment, letting only my then-roommate (who actually ended up being my partner for a year) come near me. I puked every day. I couldn't eat. I sweat through all of my clothes, but couldn't stop shivering. I didn't sleep for four weeks. I hallucinated. I punched through walls in frustration and broke my hand. And the sad part was, I totally shouldn't have come off that medication at that time of my life, but I told myself that being on it was a weakness. I fell into the stigma trap, knowing full well (theoretically) that I needed those meds as much as a diabetic needs insulin. But there's the age old debate...
When I was 20, I was on ten psychiatric medications at a time. I'm not exaggerating. I've always had treatment-resistant depression, but ironically, I was being over-treated. I don't remember life before Monday to Sunday pill boxes, taken morning and night. That's been my life. And still, even though I go out and do public speaking gigs where I talk to people about the stigma of mental illness, I still feel a sense of shame that I can't "just come off" my meds.
It's more complicated than that.
So I'm taking it one step at a time, extremely strategically, and under the guidance of my awesome shrink. It will work, and I will be okay. It will be hard, but it's one step... and one step of many that I'm committed to take throughout this process.
With any luck, by Valentine's Day (or maybe sooner), I will be anti-anxiety free. And hopefully anxiety free.
Now that's a heart-racing, loving thought.