Xanax & Chill

Al’s retirement, sweet as it has been thus far, often triggers anxiety. I woke up from a nightmare in complete panic mode last night. Al said this morning that he heard a prolonged squeak from me, which I remembered was me trying to scream when a hand grabbed me in a dark room. The usual sleep paralysis didn’t allow me to move or scream out loud, but luckily I woke up. Not so lucky, I found myself in a full blown panic attack. This is not unusual, and I was able to control the panic with deep breathing instead of jumping out of bed and popping a Xanax. I fell back asleep without nightmares within minutes.

When I’m triggered by Al in the light of day, it’s different. I cope with his darker moods by taking .5 mg of Xanax. Before Al retired, my doctor and I talked about a likely increase in triggers. I would be traveling, and that’s a trigger. As much as I love travel, being a passenger makes me anxious. Then there was the unknown factor of how Al would behave in retirement. My doc suspected I’d have some bumps, because I’ve been in a smooth routine for so long.

I love my routines. What has not been a part of my routine for a long time is Al showing even a glimpse of annoyance or anger or talking for too long about taxes or insurance or the budget. He’s only human, and he does love finance. I promised I’d talk more about money with him when he retired. And I have been. I just need to pop a tiny dose of Xanax first.

For a few years now, I’ve been very gradually decreasing my Xanax dose from 4 mg a day to a current .5 mg with the goal of using Xanax only when necessary for panic attacks. So, in a way, Al’s retirement has been a bit of a setback. My doctor doesn’t want me to worry about it. She wrote a stronger script, knowing I’d need more like 1 mg a day, at least for awhile.

Anxiety is so stupid. But it’s real and I have to deal with it, because for me, anxiety is a precursor to panic. Anxiety almost always leads to panic if I don’t medicate. Or, have a martini.

I’d feel better about increasing my meds if there wasn’t a nasty side effect. Cognitive decline. Since increasing my medication I have noticed that oh boy do I forget things. My friends say stuff like “you mentioned that yesterday” and I can’t remember ever bringing “it” up. Al will say “we already talked about this” and I can’t remember. So, naturally, now I’m anxious about the cognitive decline. Which has been brought about by a really effective anxiety medication.

And so it goes. I hope to get a better handle on my mental health in the near future, but today I need to take a pill. We’re driving over a bridge across Tampa Bay to see friends. And bridges, especially over water, are always trouble for me. I feel sorry for Al, I really do. Neither one of us knew what he was taking on when we married. Which may be what’s making me anxious about his retirement. He will see a lot more of me, panic and all.

Losing the Benzos

A couple of weeks ago, the battery in my bathroom scale died. I weigh myself almost every day, and record my weight in my morning pages, so this was a problem. If I don’t weigh myself I can gain a couple of pounds a day without noticing until my jeans and rings don’t fit. I knew things were a bit grim, but hey, it’s winter in Michigan, so I wasn’t too worried. (I’m not worrying about my weight anymore. I’m a granny.)

But then I got a new battery for the scale. Turns out I gained 7 pounds this month. And you know, we’re only 3 weeks in. I know it’s the carbs. And chinese food. And possibly chardonnay, although I haven’t been drinking very much because of my little benzo problem. Which is now over. With benzos gone, I can once again let go of the carbs.

Couple of tricks you have to learn to successfully eat very low carb. One is that winter without carbs can be rough. Our cavewoman genes really want to bulk up for hibernation and food shortages. And it’s hard to fight a cavewoman. But it can be done. Example: me in January. So the other thing that can mess up the low carb life is drug withdrawal. As mentioned, I recently got off the benzos.

It took me six months to taper off Xanax, and to do that without a ton of anxiety and insomnia, and also some flu-like symptoms, and I mean a bad flu, like the worst flu ever, my doctor put me on Prozac and sleeping pills that had a little benzo in them. Just to help me taper. So yes, to get off one drug, I had to take three, in ever-diminishing doses, for what seemed like a really long time.

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At first I balked at the Prozac, because I thought only depressives or bipolar people needed Prozac. Also because I heard Prozac will pack on the pounds faster than estrogen cream. But at first, Prozac did not put weight on me. Not until I was completely off Xanax. Even then, it wasn’t so bad, because I was still taking the benzo sleeping pill. So my body was getting a little bit of benzo. And it was happy.

Then I tapered off the sleeping pill. I never wanted to take sleeping pills to begin with, so I was very happy to finally go down from those. Plus the low dose of the sleeping pill cost $600 so instead I halved the capsules. You have to very carefully twist the capsule apart and make sure only half the powder goes in each side of the capsule. Then you mix a half capsule with  a teaspoon of applesauce, eat it and put a piece of tape over the other half capsule for the next night. After two weeks, you take a half cap every other night. It’s tedious. So yes, I was thrilled to be off the benzos.

Meanwhile, with every micro-milligram I went down, I got some withdrawal symptoms. Not the bad ones like I had before my doctor stepped in, but a bit of anxiety and iffy stomach. I decided to ease those withdrawals by allowing sugar and carbs in, just for a while. And really, they do help. Then my scale broke. Then I tapered off Prozac, which wasn’t as difficult as the benzos because I had only been on it for maybe 2 or 3 months. I was on 4 mg Xanax for about 5 years, and used it casually (not that there is anything casual about panic attacks, I just didn’t have one every day) for maybe 20 years.

I didn’t know this until my new doctor told me (as opposed to the old doctor who prescribed the benzos and said they were perfectly harmless to take for the rest of my life) but 25 years is a really long time to take Xanax.

Now I only take one pill a day, one that has no noticeable effect other than eliminating acid reflux. You won’t hear of anyone on Nurse Jackie rocking the Prilosec. But people (who knew?) love benzos. I honestly didn’t know people used them recreationally. I used them to control panic attacks. And insomnia. And migraines. But then I did a past life regression that cured my panic attacks and the Xanax stopped working for insomnia. I also started using hormone therapy which stopped the migraine almost totally. So I thought, wow, I should just give these up. Ha! Way easier said than done. But eventually I did.

And I have the 7 extra pounds to prove it!

You know what? I’m so happy to be off all those pills (My energy is back! I thought it was gone forever!) that I don’t even mind having gained this weight. And now that I am not experiencing any withdrawal symptoms I can drop the carb crutch. Because really, I’d like to wear rings on my fingers and zip up my jeans.