and now it’s March…

Time still feels strange to me, passing fast and slow all at once. I’ll think about posting something here, and then…more time passes.

Anxiety is still a problem for me, in a big way. It’s been a bit over 18 months since my taper off xanax ended and I still have times of flare-ups of various symptoms, and my central nervous system is still super-sensitive. I continue to try to take things day by day, even moment by moment, and get through as best as I can. As to be expected (since this is the way life is) some days are better than others.

Here are some of what’s currently helping me through what continues to be a difficult time…

Painting.

Even though I can’t really explain the why behind it, holding a brush and moving paint (on a page or a canvas) helps me calm. I don’t worry about how it looks. I’m not doing anything fancy. I even call what I do “paint play” because I’m just playing, simply moving the paint wherever.

It’s okay if I don’t know the why of it working – what matters is that I know painting helps me, and I’ve been spending time doing it. It’s grounding, and relaxing, and calming. It’s one of my joy connections – and whenever we can connect with joy, it helps.

Writing and research.

I’m putting these two together because, for now, they’re overlapping for me a bit.

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been working again on genealogy research.

I’ve also been doing research for my current fiction project.

But. I’ve been having trouble getting back to a regular, consistent, routine with writing. To try to shift this for myself, I decided to try having a writing schedule even though, historically, writing schedules haven’t worked out too well for me. I’m willing to try it again, though, so…I’m giving it a go.

What I know is that my life is better, in general, when I’m writing consistently (especially, when I’m writing fiction). Even when life is difficult, it’s better when I’m writing.

That’s a big reason I’m giving the writing schedule a try again. I really-really-really want to get back to writing consistently again.

Walking.

Because of various physical things, I’m not always able to take nice long walks. But taking walks is something else that really helps me. It helps the anxiety, it lifts my mood, it just makes me feel better.

My husband and I have been walking in the neighborhood, as well as taking walks some days near his workplace on his lunch hour.

Getting out in the fresh air is something else that really helps me.

Reading. And watching shows.

Reading fiction takes me to another place, putting me in the lives of imaginary characters far away from whatever is happening in my own world.

Spending time reading on the front porch has become a grounding routine of the past months, and it helps calm me. I also generally read for a while in the evenings.

Watching shows does a similar thing for me, putting me into another place and time. I have a variety of what I call “comfort shows” and I’ll often watch complete series multiple times.

Prayer and Bible study.

Time with Jesus just helps me in so many ways. It brings comfort and clarity.

It helps me remember that I’m not alone.

It helps me deal with life.

Connection with loved ones.

Hanging out with my husband… taking walks with him, watching “our shows” together, sharing meals, cooking our usual breakfast-for-supper on Sunday evenings… I’m so grateful for him, and for our time together.

And there are the phone calls and texts and messages and voxes with friends and family.

And also…

Our girl.

And this sweet kitty continues to bring joy and love to our household. We love her to bits.

These are some of the things helping me through.

Simple things, but oh so helpful and valuable.

Find what helps you get through, what helps you cope and deal… and what helps you connect with joy.

I’d love to hear what helps you (if you’d like to share your thoughts) – just get in touch with me anytime.

life lately in photos…

As I continue to make my way through this difficult time – and deal with super-high anxiety – I’m continuing to sort of cobble together various things that help me (what those things are can change, so it’s an ongoing process). And I continue to do my best to focus on what I call joy connections, proactively and deliberately looking for moments of joy.

Of course, the hubs and this girl are a huge part of my joy.

In my attempts to fill my time with things that distract me from the anxiety and worrisome thoughts/imaginations, I’ve picked up my genealogy research again. Genealogy is something I’ve been involved with off and on since my teens, going in cycles with it and taking (often long) breaks between dives back into exploring the family tree.

I’m writing some, working on my fiction, but things with that are moving along slowly at the moment.

However – I’m reading more fiction again, finally! For several months of this year, I wasn’t able to focus and concentrate enough to read novels. I’m back to reading again, though, and it’s a wonderful way to distract myself from all that’s going on, and escape for a while.

An injury to my toe in late summer meant walking even less than the small amount of walking I was doing. Weeks went by and eventually I was sent for x-rays which showed arthritis but no breaks or fractures. Finally, I was able to venture out on short walks with my husband, and it’s felt so good to be out ‘n about in that way again, even in brief bits of time.

And, as has been the case for the past several years, painting calms me. I still do some paintplay with acrylics on canvas, but my main daily painting lately has been with watercolors – page after page after page of blibs and blobs with watercolors. Just the holding and the moving of the brush, and the paints and the water playing on the page together.

These are some – not all – of the things helping me get through the days right now.

 

it’s been 100 days…

It’s been 100 days since I took my last teensy-tiny dose of xanax, the prescription anti-anxiety medication I was prescribed for many years.

But my journey with getting off xanax – a journey that has been (and still continues to be) unlike anything I’ve ever experienced, and something I wouldn’t wish on anyone – started long before that August day.

By the time I took that last dose, I had been slowly and gradually tapering for 17 months.

By the time I took that last dose, I was down to crumbs of the lowest-dose pill, taking approximately .015 mg. When I started my taper, I was on a daily dose of 1 mg (and my prescription allowed for me to take up to an extra .5 mg daily for “breakthrough anxiety”).

Xanax is one medication in a class of medications known as benzos, short for benzodiazepines. Generically (I always took the generic) xanax is alprazolam. Other commonly-prescribed (in the US at least) benzos include ativan (lorazepam), klonopin (clonazepam), and valium  (diazepam).

There are millions of people in the US who are prescribed a benzodiazepine medication. If you’re not taking one, chances are you know someone who is… although they might not tell you about it. There’s still a lot of stigma about medications that are usually prescribed for mental/emotional health (although many prescriptions for benzos are for other things, such as insomnia or pain).

Stopping one of these medications must be done slowly and gradually, because it can be life-threatening to stop too quickly.

And stopping one of these medications, even in a gradual and slow way, can bring about a whole host of physical, emotional, and mental symptoms. This doesn’t happen for everyone, and especially if the person is withdrawing from one of these medications for the first time.

But it’s what has been happening for me.

Actually, my neurologist believes (and I agree, especially after coming to learn so much more than I ever did before about benzodiazepines and their impact on every system of the body) xanax was probably contributing to my physical problems for years before I ever started tapering off the medication. But I didn’t realize it, and neither did any of the doctors I saw in my quest to figure out what was happening to my health. Ironically, the one medication I was willing to take turned out to be incredibly costly to my life.

This journey has been completely nonlinear in terms of symptoms and healing, and it can change (from mostly-okay to terrible, or from excruciating to tolerable) within a single hour, and multiple times within a day or week.

And although xanax once helped calm my anxiety enough for me to feel “normal” – not zoned or zonked out, not numbed or sedated, not stoned or sleepy, simply like me but without such severe anxiety that I couldn’t function – tapering and withdrawing from xanax has resulted in chemical anxiety that’s worse than the bouts of debilitating anxiety I had before being prescribed the medication in the first place.

My journey to discontinue xanax has been physically difficult, with many physical symptoms, some of them quite scary, and there have been times I’ve seriously wondered if I would make it through – and this really is one of those things where the only way out is through.

So…

For today to mark 100 days completely free from xanax feels like a milestone and a victory and an accomplishment.

And yet…

The journey definitely is not over.

I’ve been told the average time to heal from this is 6 to 18 months. In that context, 100 days seems like a short time.

I still have physical symptoms that come and go, and wax and wane. And although overall I think things are getting slowly better, physical symptoms are still with me daily and still impacting my life in ways big and small.

But…

I believe I am healing.

And even though the journey is still difficult most every day, and even though I still struggle with physical symptoms, and even though I still deal with chemical anxiety that can sometimes feel through the proverbial roof, and even though I sometimes get scared this is my “new normal” and it won’t get better than this –

Again and again, I bring myself back to believing I am healing, and I bring myself back to choosing to focus on joy, and I bring myself back to doing what I need to do to get through.

Also…

All of this – my lifelong struggle with anxiety that has impacted my life in so many ways, and the horror show of benzo tolerance and tapering and withdrawal, and the high anxiety I continue to have – all of this is why I talk here so much about joy, and calming, and soul nourishment.

Because those things are life necessities for me, and I know I’m not alone in that. And one reason I share my stories, and share what helps me, is in case someone comes across my words and recognizes something about their own journey… and maybe they’ll feel less alone.

There are many things I’ve done to help me get through my taper and discontinuation. Things I still turn to, especially as many of them help me with anxiety in general, and anxiety is still such a problem for me. I’ve written about some of them before, and I’ll probably be sharing about others.

But in case you’ve found this post and you’re tapering from (or are dealing with the discontinuation of) a benzo, I’d like to mention some of the things that have been helpful for me. I’m sure I’ll leave some out, and these are in no particular order:

distraction
laughing (at anything, whatever you can find that makes you laugh)
brain retraining
calming techniques
things that help the vagus nerve
very gentle exercise
energy medicine
distraction
prayer and spiritual connection
meditation
laughter yoga
painting
avoiding foods/drinks that result in feeling worse physically
being careful with supplements
breathing techniques
and did I say distraction?? (in case it’s not obvious, that’s a huge one)

Getting off a benzo can be done, but it’s important to do it safely.

And if you’re on the journey to withdrawing from one, or have discontinued one and are dealing with symptoms, please don’t give up hope, please keep going, and please know you’re not alone – even though this can feel like an incredibly lonely and isolating time.

The journey to healing isn’t linear, it’s a road that twists and turns, with ups and downs.

But we just keep following that winding road – and we keep heading for the light ahead. And if we can find moments of joy and calm and delight along the way, we grab hold of them whenever we can.