Tag Archives: Xanax

Anxiety

The way I discovered what an anxiety attack was is a little embarrassing.  I know, a person who writes a blog informing the world that she has trouble with anxiety probably doesn’t get embarrassed by much, but this one causes me to blush a little…  Toward the end of my engagement to the man who decided it would be better to date indefinitely (after we had a house, a ring, a dress, and a wedding date), I did what I always do:  I bought a book to research the problem called Men Who Can’t Love: How to Recognize a Commitment Phobic Man before He Breaks Your Heart by Steven Carter.  Embarrassed to even pick the book up, I was just desperate enough to understand what was happening in my carefully crafted world that I tried it. 

I only read a few pages of this book before I found something that stopped me cold.  It described the way commitment-phobic men feel when expected to commit.  It was a graphic description of an anxiety attack.   If I still owned that book, I’d directly quote it here, but it’s one of the few books I didn’t exactly want lining my bookshelf.  Two days before I read this description, I’d experienced those exact symptoms myself and had considered the possibility that I had a terrible disease or food allergy.  I didn’t feel anxious during that episode; I felt sick.  I felt very, very, horribly sick. 

I had worked for several hours to prepare for a business trip the next day.  It was after 5:00 and I had a pre-marriage counseling session scheduled for 7:00 that night.  I still had a lot of work to do and was in a hurry to finish.  Suddenly I felt an urgent need to go to the bathroom.  Before I made it there (50 feet away), I started to sweat and felt light-headed.  I had diarrhea, profuse sweating, shaking, a rushing sound in my ears (high blood pressure), and a feeling of not being present in my body (derealization).  I was hyperventilating and my stomach cramps were so severe that I thought labor pains probably couldn’t be any worse.  I had endured episodes similar to this countless times before, but this time it got worse.  In a thankfully narrow bathroom stall at work, I passed out.  When I came to, I was still seated, but leaning against the side of the stall.  I didn’t know where I was for several moments.  My vision distorted and the walls of the stall appeared 30 feet high.  I had a terrible metallic taste in my mouth and I was freezing.  I felt weak and so cold that I couldn’t stop shaking. 

What happened to me was not only frightening, it was embarrassing.  These are not symptoms people typically broadcast.  Forgive me for over-sharing.  I only share the details because I would’ve never picked up a book on anxiety disorders, never known that’s what I was dealing with, and I’m willing to embarrass myself if it helps someone else figure out what’s happening to them.

I called these episodes “upset stomach.”  I had looked for a common cause to connect them since I was thirteen years old and never found one.  My mother was the only person I really discussed them with and she didn’t know what they were either.  They weren’t life-threatening and they didn’t happen every day, every week, or even every month, so we didn’t think to ask the doctor.  Not that we had a doctor.  We went to a chiropractor who attended our church.  (He probably could’ve diagnosed me accurately without horrible tests if I had told him.) 

The book also told me that irrational fears accompanied these attacks.  That is where I got confused.  The only concerns I really had during an attack surrounded thoughts like – How bad is this one going to be?  How long is this going to take and will it make me late for my next appointment?  Is something terribly wrong with me?  How will I survive this horrible pain?  Is anyone around to help me if I need medical attention? 

At my counseling appointment the next day, I told my counselor about it.  She expressed shock that it had gone on so long and I had never mentioned it.  But why would I mention a medical problem to the person I was going to for counseling?  I still wasn’t convinced it wasn’t a physical illness only.  She told me to call my doctor and tell him that she suggested I try Xanax, an anti-anxiety medication.  She warned me that it was highly addictive and I should use it sparingly.  She said if my problem was anxiety, when I started to feel the symptoms come on I should take ½ a pill and feel better within 15 minutes.  They make a pill for this problem?!?!  Amazed, I called my doctor, was given 10 pills, and found that it worked. 

I was still struggling to understand how what I experienced was anxiety.  The idea of being labeled with an anxiety disorder was unacceptable.  I didn’t know anyone else who had the same problem and I never planned to tell anyone (especially since it wasn’t something I even believed was really wrong with me.)  I felt mortified.

Since then I have discovered the reason I didn’t think I felt anxiety or fear during the attacks.  During my long history with them, I taught myself some coping mechanisms to help me through.  I noticed when I focused on the fear, my condition worsened and lasted longer.  I learned to empty my mind of disturbing thoughts/fears, focus on breathing normally, and relax during the attacks.  It became an automatic response when an attack started; I immediately cleared my mind of fears.  So when I thought about the attack later, I didn’t remember having any fear.  I had to go back and remember what I was thinking about before the attack started to identify the fear that caused it. 

In the years since then, I’ve learned some valuable things.  I went through two or three prescriptions for Xanax (10 pills of the lowest dose) in as many years, but then I lost my health insurance and couldn’t afford the medication.  I researched natural remedies and found some things that work for me. 

The first and oddest thing I found that works really, really well came from an infomercial for a treatment plan.  It explained that a big reason anxiety attacks get the best of us is because they are so horrible that on top of whatever is causing the anxiety, after the first attack we fear the attack itself, which adds fear to fear and makes it worse.  The truth is the anxiety attack is NOT going to kill me.  I’ve lived through them plenty of times before and I will live through this one.  The guy said I should talk to my anxiety like it was a person and tell it I wasn’t afraid of it.  Say something like, “Bring it on!  I can handle you!  I won’t die from this pain and in an hour I’ll be back to whatever I need to do next.  You might slow me down, but you won’t stop me.”  I felt a little dumb, but I tried it and it worked. 

The second thing I found that works is to avoid stimulants of any kind – caffeine, diet pills, too much sugar, herbal energy supplements, etc.  If I am anxious, my adrenaline is already pumping and I don’t need anything to kick it up a notch.  Caffeinated sodas are the absolute worst with the combination of caffeine and high sugar.  When I was looking for a connection before, I noticed that sometimes an attack came quickly on the heels of drinking a Coke, but I could sometimes drink a Coke and not have an attack, and at other times I had attacks without drinking Coke.  Stimulants exacerbate anxiety:  no anxiety, no problem with Coke; high anxiety, big problem with Coke.  Diet pills have the same effect:  they are typically stimulants.  Mix diet pills with caffeine and a person with an anxiety disorder is headed for disaster. 

The third thing I found that works is to deal with stressful situations immediately.  One day I came home from work in a good mood, checked my mail, chatted with my roommate, changed my clothes, started cleaning up around the house, and suddenly got hit with an attack.  I hadn’t had one in a while, hadn’t had any caffeine, and was unsure what it was about.  After the attack, I mentally reviewed what had happened in the hour before the attack.  I realized that as I went through the mail, I saw a letter from my student loan company.  My student loans were in forbearance.  I expected to receive a notice at any time that my forbearance had run out and I needed to start paying, but I had no money to pay them back.  I didn’t open the letter when I saw it because I didn’t want to think about my financial difficulties right then.  Rather than relaxing, my anxiety built because of what I perceived the letter might say.  How much longer did I have?  How much was it going to be?  Should I get a third job?  Should I look for a new full-time job?  Where would I have to move to make more money?  And so forth…  If I had opened the letter immediately, I would have seen that they were sending me a friendly reminder that interest was accumulating on my loan and they were happy to allow that to happen for quite a bit longer before they demanded payment.  I might have still felt some fear, but it would have been contained to the future and my naturally hopeful personality would have kicked in and the whole attack probably could have been avoided.  The point is, unknown fears tend to loom larger than reality.  When I deal in reality, I might still be afraid but the fear is typically manageable. 

If all that fails and I begin to have one anyway, they often stop within a couple minutes if I call a good friend and tell her what’s happening.  I have only tried this method with one very dear, very close friend.  Most people don’t want to hear from you when you’re hyperventilating in the bathroom!  I find it’s worth the embarrassment to make the attack stop. 

I wish I could tell you that anxiety attacks are a thing of the past for me.  I haven’t had one like that day in the office in years.  I haven’t had one in months.  I can even allow myself a little caffeine these days, but am careful about it.  One anxiety attack and I’m off it again completely for a while.  I haven’t taken Xanax in over three years.  Sometimes I miss the ease of popping a pill to avoid the attack, but not having it has forced me to find the underlying issue and deal with it.  It’s been a good thing, but as many good things go it has also been challenging. 

Learning the connection between my body and mind has been life-changing.  I went to a holistic doctor and discovered that my chronic back pain was largely due to stress.  I ignored what was bothering me because I didn’t think it should bother me or I didn’t have time to deal with it.  I was in constant pain.  I have been free from chronic back pain for over a year now. 

I’m so thankful for the resources I have had access to as I’ve learned to manage anxiety in a way that allows me to stay off prescription medication.  I’m also thankful I haven’t suffered things like physical attack or abuse, death of a parent, extreme poverty leading to starvation and homelessness, or anything worse.  If I had, I might still need the medication, and I’d gladly take it.  I’m so thankful I had it to get through the roughest times. 

In closing, I want to acknowledge the position many in church take on anxiety.  If a Christian can truly learn to trust God with his or her life, then all fear will leave and perfect peace will remain.  I believe that is possible.  I have found that as my ability to trust God increases, so does my peace.  I also want to acknowledge that many of us have been let down so often by those in authority over us, it is extremely difficult to trust anyone in a position of authority.  God, the ultimate authority-figure, gets tangled up in our minds with humans and we don’t know how to trust Him either.  It requires a major shift to our thinking to see God as totally separate, totally “other”, from human beings.  We are made in His likeness, but He is not like us.  He can be trusted, He can be relied up, but we allow the disappointment and hurt we feel from other human beings to cloud our ability to interact with Him.  We blame Him for things other human beings do, rather than looking to Him to help us through the difficult times.  These are natural reactions and typically very difficult to move beyond. 

In these situations, when those in authority over us condemn us for feeling afraid, it only increases our fear.  If you know someone struggling with anxiety, please pray for them.  Pray that they will be able to see God for who He is.  Pray that they will receive healing from the wounds they have suffered at the hands of those who were supposed to protect them.  Pray they will find peace. 

P.S. In case you’re wondering, I have a lot of respect for my ex-fiance today.  He was right to call off the wedding and although I’m sure we’d both do things differently if we had it to do over again, I honor him for speaking up.  It takes courage to say the hard things, and I’m grateful that he did.

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Little Lessons over Coffee

When I was 24 years old, I got a wonderful job that included traveling all over the country hosting training seminars for pastors and church leaders. I loved that job. I loved flying, planning seminars, and negotiating contracts. I loved meeting church leaders. I loved being in charge of an event.

One thing I did not love about the job was the hours. I’m not a morning person. I don’t understand people who just roll out of bed with a big smile. Weirdos. I’ve tried all kinds of things to make myself more of a morning person but nothing works. When the alarm goes off, I always think there should be more time to sleep. Always.

So you can imagine my feelings when I discovered part of my wonderful job included being the first person at work in the morning. We fed the participant’s breakfast and it was my job to make sure the breakfast was ready to be served in the most time-efficient way to feed 200 people in 30 minutes.

I had to find a coping mechanism, so I decided to give coffee a try.

The only way I could drink the industrial strength hotel coffee was to lace it with lots of sugar and cream. I could be coherent after my first cup and effective after my second cup. I realized this coffee solution might work at home too. I bought a coffee pot and some fancy, flavored coffee. I was delighted to find that lacing fancy, flavored coffee with sugar and milk made it delicious. I quickly developed a habit.

Once it became a habit, I felt a little guilty about it. I don’t like to be addicted to anything, so it always kind of niggled at me every morning as I made it. I should stop this. It can’t be good for me. But I enjoyed the taste and the alertness it gave me. I didn’t stop drinking it, but my guilty feelings over it increased. I felt like it wasn’t good for me and I even felt like God wanted me to stop drinking it, but I didn’t listen. I have an over-active imagination at times and surely God didn’t actually care if I drank coffee. I told myself to stop being ridiculous.

I’ve always had a battle with something I shall here call “upset stomach.” I’ll spare you the details of “upset stomach,” but it was my constant companion from the age of 13. I could never pinpoint what caused this problem and decided it was just my cross to bear.

“Upset stomach” got worse in my late 20s. It caused me to pass out in the public restroom at work one afternoon. Then I read a book that had a description of my version of “upset stomach.” This book called my strange malady an anxiety attack. Anxiety? Me? I wasn’t trembling or fearful. I was strong and brave. But the symptoms were listed right there. I told my therapist about it the next day. She had me call my doctor and ask for a prescription for Xanax. She said to take half a pill when my stomach started getting upset and within 15 minutes it would be calm. Xanax, the wonder drug, put an end to “upset stomach” running my life. I used it sparingly and made 10 pills last for two years.

At the end of those two years I found myself in the middle of one of the most stressful times in my life. Things came to a head when I had a convergence of stressful situations in one afternoon.  I found myself hyperventilating in the back of someone’s car and it got worse from there. The next day I asked for a refill on my prescription. This time the 10 pills lasted one year. I began to have anxiety over the anxiety pills.

When those pills ran out, I didn’t get my prescription refilled. I went the “library” (Barnes and Noble) and picked up every book I could find on anxiety disorders. I scanned the books, looking for natural ways to relieve anxiety. I read that people with anxiety should not consume stimulants. It makes the symptoms worse. NO MORE COFFEE? Hmmm… That can’t be right. I don’t really have anxiety anyway: just the symptoms. (I can be slightly hard-headed at times.)

I learned some valuable things about how to deal with anxiety from my research, notably that my insistence that I wasn’t afraid or anxious was causing anxiety to come out in very aggressive ways. As I learned to deal with anxiety in a healthier way, my stomach got better for a while. I was still drinking coffee though, and eventually it got worse again, then better, then worse, and eventually much worse. During another very stressful time in my life, I found myself sick constantly. I couldn’t keep anything down. While I thought this might be a great weight loss plan, it was interfering with my life so much that I finally gave in. I stopped drinking coffee. Amazingly, my stomach issues stopped completely. I couldn’t believe how good I felt.

After a few months, I missed my hot delicious morning drink, so I decided to try decaf. I was pleasantly surprised to find it tasted just as good. I thoroughly enjoy a morning cup of cinnamon vanilla nut decaf with 2 teaspoons of sugar and a splash of half-n-half. Pure heaven… Guilt free!

During this Lenten season, I’m fasting from desserts. Not sugar, just desserts. The first morning of my fast when I made my coffee, I felt that little niggling feeling as I reached for the sugar that I was not to use it. Ridiculous! This is the good stuff and I’m not using much! But the feeling was still there, so I decided to only use one teaspoon – a little compromise to appease The Voice… I’ve heard that same voice every time I’ve made coffee since then. I reach for the sugar and argue with The Voice that there’s no way I can enjoy coffee, DECAF coffee, without a little sweetener. Surely one teaspoon won’t hurt anything.

My fast was extremely successful the first week. I didn’t cheated one time. The second week it was mostly successful. The third week it was mostly, technically successful, but the old food challenges suddenly raised their ugly heads again. (So I’m fasting from cheese, but not hamburgers and fries!) I thought the food challenges were over for me, but apparently they’re not. Sigh…

This morning as I went to make my coffee and reached for the sugar, The Voice came into my hearing very insistently. “This little rebellion is why your problem with food is back. Do not put sugar in your coffee this morning. Trust Me. You will enjoy it without the sugar.”

Fine! I thought as I slammed the sugar container back on the shelf. I won’t put sugar in my coffee and I’ll hate it and stop drinking even decaf! Is that what You want?

“You will like it,” The Voice said.

I poured my plain, decaf coffee into the travel mug and walked out the door sullenly. I started driving to work and took my first sip of the coffee I was sure would curl my toes. It tasted very nondescript, almost like hot water. I took another sip. The same. By the time I got to work, the coffee I was drinking had come alive in my mouth. I tasted aspects of the flavor I’d never noticed before. It was delicious.

I tell this little story on myself not to freak you out that God wants you to stop drinking coffee or eating sugar. I have issues with anxiety that make it difficult to function properly with caffeine in my system. I have issues with food that make it necessary for me to fully submit to God in that area. We all have issues in some area of our lives. I tell this story to address the issue of obedience.

How often do we continue walking headlong into misery because something God wants us to do doesn’t make sense to us? My own pride has kept me in chains for too long. Even if it hadn’t been God’s voice asking me to stop drinking regular coffee, what would it have hurt for me to stop drinking it? Even if it hadn’t been God’s voice telling me to stop putting sugar in my coffee, what harm would it have done for me to taste something I didn’t like? Instead of just trusting it was God’s voice I was hearing, I stubbornly clung to my own “common sense”.

I believe my issues with food are gone now. I believe that after today I will no longer struggle to comfort myself with food, I will no longer feel like I deserve an indulgent snack because of stress in my life, I will no longer avoid feeling lonely or hurt or rejected because I’m stuffing it down with pizza and cheeseburgers and whatever else I can find. I will no longer have a split personality toward food – enjoying healthy, organic food one moment and running through the fast food drive thru for food made of grease and sugar with no dietary value the next.

It is a new day – not because I stopped putting sugar in my coffee today, but because I started being obedient in the smallest thing.

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