Friday, November 11, 2011

saying no to drugs

(actually, it's saying no to meds, but that wasn't as catchy a title)

It's been just about a month since I swallowed my last dose of Lexapro, after a year and a half of taking it religiously every single morning. And stopping was almost as terrifying as starting. But, much to my surprise, I'm finding myself stronger, more cohesive, more integrated, more capable than I've been in longer than I can remember.

Medication always terrified me. It was about losing control in any way. Having a chemical alter how I felt, what I thought, how I acted was a far worse thought than the benefits that might be achieved. Even nighttime cold medicine made me nervous—drifting off into a Benadryl haze I'd consciously try to fight the effects so that I wouldn't fall asleep to never wake up, an irrational but real fear. Whenever prescribed something for pain, after childbirth, after an exposed nerve in a tooth, after kidney surgery, I'd never take a full dose. The hurt was almost easier to handle than the fears that went along with meds.

But a year and a half ago I started cracking. Both my brother and sister were spiraling downward, not nearly to the rock bottoms they'd both hit over the summer and into that fall, but things for both of them were getting out of control. Both were struggling with issues beyond my help, one physical, one psychological, and for long stretches of time I wasn't sure either would survive. It was getting hard for me to get out of bed, to accomplish anything beyond the bare minimum, to be in my normally glass half full mindset. I started to panic. I was afraid to pick Jack up at school, that I'd fall apart in the yard and not be able to get it together. Sitting in my car during alternate side parking mornings, I'd feel so trapped I couldn't breathe. Anxiety is my kryptonite. More terrifying and destructive than anything else out there.

I couldn't talk to anyone about what I was feeling. As if putting it into the world I'd crack faster.

Finally, I opened up to a friend and started sobbing. At a table in the window of a busy restaurant on 6th Avenue. Just saying it out loud, once, made me realize how fragile I'd become. I knew I couldn't live like that anymore. I knew I needed help.

The idea of help though was as scary as the panic that was now a constant companion.

I started taking Lexapro, in spite of scanning every single rant about how life destroying it could be posted on message boards and in online forums. I could quote side effects of strangers. I intimately knew how people reacted, gained weight, felt more anxious than less, lost interest in sex. I couldn't stop reading, for hours on end, even though it did nothing but make me feel worse.

In the end, the meds worked. It wasn't as if all bad feelings were washed away but I wasn't panicking all the time. Life got brighter. I started taking subways again. Talking to people. Being social. Eventually I realized the constant fear of a breakdown had quietly slipped away. And I was able to cope with all the life threatening illness surrounding me.

As I was settling into this new, medicated mindset, my kidney donor journey began. I know that without meds I never would've been able to handle the stress, the fears, the pressure, the unknowns. It's not that I wasn't freaking out on a regular basis, but that leveling off of emotions kept me from completely losing my mind.

I was vaguely aware, as I was going through tests and exams and the endless waiting that the meds also shut down my creativity, my drive, my energy that sometimes borders on frenetic. That was my fuel but that wasn't the person I needed to be then.

Turns out I couldn't maintain that forever. After surgery, after healing, after settling back into myself, I knew more and more I wasn't myself. That a vital part of me was being kept in check. But, I was terrified, petrified, to let go of this medical crutch. What if I stopped taking drugs and I was worse than before. Anxiety ramped up. I started panicking again and that was a new rock bottom. If I was freaking on meds, what would happen when, if, I went off? But, at the same time, I was subconsciously weaning myself, often forgetting to take them when I first woke up.

I made the decision at the end of the summer to cut down. So slowly it must have been almost imperceptible to my body.

I survived.

The less I took the more drive I had. Ideas started popping into my head. I'd forgotten that's how I used to be all the time. I started crying more. It was almost impossible to cry on meds, but as they left my system, I'd tear up more quickly than I ever had.

I started putting ideas together for a kidney book. And sobbed as I read through the blog I'd written almost daily through the experience.

All the while still unnerved about the breakdown I'd thought was imminent.

Turns out I'm stronger on the other side of this tunnel. Anxiety will always be a part of me, but I have tools to handle it better. I don't want to be that person anymore, crippled by the thoughts in my head that are nothing but that, made up mindsets that have the power to paralyze but aren't real.

Life without Lexapro is a different kind of living, feeling, experiencing. And I'm finally ready to jump back in.

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