Weaning Off Anxiety Medication Then Having to Resume It
I've been on antianxiety medication since 2001 when I was first diagnosed with anxiety and depression. Out of some odd compulsion or perhaps, shame from having to take drugs to manage my mental illness, I weaned off my anxiety medications three times since I began. The first two times, it ended badly. The last time, it ended in disaster.
I Weaned Myself from Anxiety Medication Because of Stigma
I openly advocate for medication as an adjunct to healthy living to help cure what ails you. If you have diabetes and diet and exercise aren't enough to help manage your blood sugar, take the prescribed insulin-management medication. If you're diagnosed with cancer, follow whatever treatments are required to conquer it, including radiation and chemotherapy. If you have a mental illness, work with your healthcare providers to determine what medications and therapies are best to help you live your best life.
I definitely follow my own advice on those first two examples, along with other illnesses, injuries, and conditions. But, when it comes to mental illness, there's something about being on medication to help me balance my brain chemistry that often doesn't sit right. I feel ashamed for some reason. I settle into a routine of taking medication and forget about it for the most part. But then, seemingly out of the blue, it starts to gnaw at me. A voice says:
"You're weak. Why can't you do this on your own? It's all in your head. I bet if you tried harder, you could manage your anxiety on your own."
Most times—and with the help of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)—I successfully redirect my thoughts to where rationality resides. But, during those three times since beginning medication in 2001, I listened to the taunting inner voice of my anxiety and took matters into my own hands.
How Stopping Anxiety Medication Can Backfire
I went off my medication cold turkey 18 short months after I began them in 2001. While society is getting better when it comes to respecting mental illness and treatments now, 21 years ago, this wasn't the case. I kept my anxiety and depression a secret from everyone, parents, siblings, and friends included. I never mentioned a word to my work colleagues and faked my way through the turmoil. In this secrecy, I convinced myself that what I had been suffering was fleeting, something that would pass with time. Like when you have an infection, you take an antibiotic for a period of time, and then the infection is gone.
Treatment for mental illness doesn't work this way. Within a few months, I crashed. Once again, I resumed the medication and worked to lift myself out of the mess. I settled into the routine of managing my anxiety with medication, redirecting my wayward anti-medication thoughts once again.
Several years later, my anxiety's pernicious voice taunted me again. I allowed myself a couple of weeks of weaning off the anxiety medications before stopping them altogether. I experienced brain zaps, mood swings, heightened generalized anxiety, and depression. After many months during which my home and work life suffered greatly, I crashed again. I had to dig myself out again. And this time, my doctor told me I would have to resolve myself to the fact that I would be on medication for anxiety and depression for the rest of my life. It was very disheartening, but I agreed.
I Weaned Off My Anxiety Medications Again
Fast forward a decade, past retirement and over the initial hump of menopause when hormone fluctuations bring new meaning to the word chaos. I delved into many aspects of spirituality and mysticism, fell in love with meditation and nature, and spent time with my grandbabies. Life couldn't be better, and I felt great. So great that I thought maybe—just maybe—I could try going off my medication again, for good.
I would be very careful this time. I weaned myself off my antianxiety medication over a five-month period. I stopped drinking alcohol and taking medical cannabis, which I had added to my anxiety-management regimen before my retirement. I meditated daily for 30 minutes, exercised, and ate right.
I was high on life. I had never been as happy as I was then. I was energized and motivated. I wrote a children's book and was getting ready to publish it. COVID-19 protocols notwithstanding, I was out-and-about, socializing, sharing my new outlook on life, proud of myself, and confident that I had made the right decision.
When I look back now, I realize that I ignored the signs of what was to come. I had a few bouts of mild panic and anxiety, which I worked through. Some things, my doctors would later tell me, were symptoms of recurrence, such as heart palpitations, tingling skin, and increased tinnitus. I didn't ignore these things, per se. I just wasn't concerned by them.
Within six months of stopping my medications, I suffered a severe, debilitating relapse. The collapse was so sudden that it was like a switch got flipped. One day I was flying high, getting ready to work on publishing my children's book, and the next, I was on the bathroom floor, crying and vomiting, wholly disassociated from myself and my husband. I thought I was going insane. I suffered weeks of severe panic and anxiety, in a persistent state of panic-induced fear, desperate for relief. One night, I had intrusive thoughts urging me toward suicide (which I wrote about here).
Sadly, I can now add panic disorder to my list of mental illnesses.
Anxiety Recovery Is Hard
I can't believe it's been eight months since this happened. I am still in recovery, and it's hard. I am back on my medication, plus another on top of that. I have not resumed medical cannabis at this point. The answers as to why this unfolded the way it did elude me. This time, I have no choice. I must reconcile myself to being on medication and be genuinely okay with it.
Still, that little voice in my head ridicules me for relying on medicine for wellbeing. I continue to work on this in therapy, to understand that I am not weak and that there is no shame. Mental illness is like any other illness. Sometimes, medication is required to help cure what ails you.
Scott, L. (2022, April 6). Weaning Off Anxiety Medication Then Having to Resume It, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2022, June 25 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/anxiety-schmanxiety/2022/4/weaning-off-anxiety-medication-then-having-to-resume-it
Author: Liana M. Scott