4.05.2005

Anxiety Affliction

Warning: This is an unpleasant and not-fun post. I recommend skipping this post if you are reading for entertainment purposes.

A good friend invited me to have dinner with her on Sunday. As we talked about how we were doing, Barbara asked me a question. My answer told me something very important. I should have noticed before but didn't. It explains what is wrong with me. It explains how and why I have been living the way I have for the past year. Why I don't seem able to have fun. I have no appetite and most of time cannot even taste my food. I don't even enjoy sleeping or taking a nice warm shower. Everything has just become a chore.

She asked me what happens to me when I let myself relax. I paused to think about it. Then I answered that I never relax. I am in a constant state of anxiety. This is true. For the past year, with the exception of my Ireland trip, I have lived each day in a constant state of tension and fear. I wake up with tight shoulders, often having to pull myself out of some anxiety-producing dream. I wake up and think about the day ahead. I think of all the things I have to do that day and my stomach clinches. Remember how you felt the last time you went for a job interview? Or right before you had to do some public speaking? That's how I feel all day long, every single day and have for a year.

This explains why I am so tired at the end of the day. Why I dislike eating. I go out with my friends and don't have any fun. The whole time I'm waiting until I can go home. Smiling is difficult. Laughing is rare. My confidence is shot. My students see this in my demeanor and body language. They see me as weak and pounce. I don't enjoy my work anymore. I remember when teaching was fun. Now it is a terror inducing chore. Writing papers used to give me great pleasure. I loved wrestling with reason and ideas and feeling like I conquered something. Now, these papers mock me as tangible proof of my failure. I began grinding my teeth a few years ago, splitting some teeth and giving myself TMJ.

My home is another source of anxiety. There are 3 and sometimes 4 people here that I don't know well and don't feel comfortable with. I feel the need to withdraw and hide from them to avoid having to talk. I'm afraid of these people for no reason. Sometimes I don't eat because there are other people in the kitchen and I don't want to deal with them. Going outside makes me nervous, I've developed a pretty bad case of agoraphobia in the last year. The neighborhood didn't scare me at first. But the longer I live here, the more uncomfortable it makes me.

There are always 2-5 drug dealers standing on the corner outside my house whom I have to pass whenever going or coming. I know they have weapons and I know they don't like me. Recently, a man followed me home. I didn't notice until I was half-way up the stairs to my stoop. The man stood outside the flimsy little gate and said, "Take me with you." I told him no and proceeded to unlock the 4 locks on the door as quickly as possible. Then he said, "So I'm going to be punished for my good taste?" I said "Yes" and went inside. A few weeks ago, on Purim, some Hassidic boys were skipping and singing down the sidewalk. One wore a costume, he had on a large afro wig. Walking behind them, I could hear all the people cussing them. They made everyone on the street angry. Then one man said, "I'm going to f*****g shoot him" and started following the boys. He had his right hand in his jacket pocket, obviously holding something. I was on my way to the laundromat.

Riding the train is a 45 minute exercise in torture. I can't read on the train so I have to sit there alone with my sick thoughts. Usually worried because I am late.

In response to all of this I have withdrawn from the world, from my work, from my friends, from church. I can't handle 3 hours of socializing or the strain of finding nice clothes to wear. (I don't have any skirts or dresses that fit me.) I am always late to church and usually get confused about which train to take and get lost wandering around the neighborhood looking for the church building. . . . this withdrawal has only made life worse.

Some of the anxiety probably comes from withdrawal from the benzodiazapene I was on for 6 years. People aren't supposed to take those drugs that long. I have been addicted to my alprazolam both physically and emotionally for at least 5 years. I weaned myself off of it in January/February but started reducing the dose in the fall(after several failed attempts over the years). Yesterday I researched the long term effects of taking these drugs. I learned that withdrawal symptoms can last up to a year and benzos are more difficult to withdraw from then heroin. Here is a partial list of withdrawal symptoms: (I removed the ones I don't suffer from.)
  • increased anxiety and depression
  • nightmares -- ( I have them almost every night)
  • restlessness and inability to concentrate
  • panic attacks and agoraphobia
  • loss of interest in sex--- ( my dating stories bore me now?)
  • loss of appetite and of body weight --(I've gone down 3 dress sizes and now am smaller than I was as a teenager.)
  • muscle tension --( Chronic tension and pain in my shoulders)
  • tight chest
  • trembling or shaking
  • nausea
  • increased sensitivity to light, noise, touch and smell
  • obsessive negative thoughts
  • phobias (especially agoraphobia and fear of insanity)
  • dysphoria (loss of capacity to enjoy life; possibly a combination of depression, anxiety, and derealisation/depersonalisation)
  • impairment of cognitive functioning
  • severe depression
  • paranoia and delusions (baseless fears and beliefs)
  • confusion
  • memory loss
  • depersonalisation (feeling strange in familiar surroundings)
  • derealisation (feeling out of touch with reality).
Yucky yuck yuck. The withdrawal symptoms can start while one is still on it, after developing a tolerance for the dose. I stopped increasing the dose a couple years ago.
So what do I do now? I've begun doing Yoga in the mornings for 15-30 minutes. I absolutely must start swimming laps regularly. I should get my hands on some cognitive therapy books and work on improving my thoughts. Eating healthy food is supposed to help. I may move out of the city next month into my very own apartment in Jersey, but I haven't commited to that yet. Sorry for the unpleasant post but I needed to see these things in writing to fully understand this problem. Even now, writing this has increased my body tension, my hands are shaking and my stomach is in knots. Time to go to class and sit through a two hour lecture and spend an hour and a half on the train. Whee.

Update: I made myself too sick to go to class so I have stayed home and researched benzodiazapine addiction and withdrawal syndrome. Crap, if I had known what this could and would do to me I never would have started on it. Many if not most of my emotional problems from the last two years can be explained as long term effects of benzo use. And, because I took a sedative from age 24-29, I have failed to learn healthy and normal stress coping techniques. Which now leaves me vulnerable and ill-equipped to live my life.These drugs cause cognitive impairment with effects similar to long-term alcoholism. I have felt my intellectual abilities decrease, when attempting to concentrate my head would go fuzzy, this has seriously damaged my confidence. They damage the pleasure/pain receptors in the brain . . . the agoraphobia, the nightmares....stupid stupid stupid drugs!!!!

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

Volatire said, "It is an infantile superstition of the human spirit that virginity would be thought a virtue and not the barrier that separates ignorance from knowledge". I have to say that I agree. I mean, what is it about not having sex that makes someone "holy" or "worthy"? What is it about sex that makes one "unworthy"?

Look at priests. Tell me, honestly, that you think it is healthy for men to go their whole lives without having sex. So why is it ok for a woman like you to pass her sexual prime masturbating but never enjoying the real deal. It makes no sense to me. Will someone please explain?!?  

Left by Smart Monkey

Anonymous said...

It's funny how one can feel great empathy for someone they don't even know. At the risk of sounding trite, I feel the horror you sound like your experiencing right now JL. As impotent as it sounds, you will be in my thoughts and prayers  

Left by Russel in Retrograde

Anonymous said...

As I watch all the hotties walking their dogs outside my residence, I am reminded of the experiences of the day that has passed. I was freaked out at work because I am very concerned about my boss' opinion of me. However, I should really primarily be concerned how I am measured by God, and look at myself in a godly way. And I need to try and see others based on God's purposes in others' lives. I should hope others measure me kindly but that's as far as it should go I am thinking. When I freak out about others opinions of me, its not fun thinking about what I might have to do to get people to accept me. I believe that God's first purpose is creative, however there is the mercy aspect when I hinder the developmental purposes of His. He wants us to develop and grow and that's a good thing. 

Left by Anonymous

Anonymous said...

JL

This makes a lot of sense, especially since you have a long history of being so functional, that it really seemed strange to me that you were suddenly having the kinds of problems you are having.

The good news is that once you get over it (and my brother went through a similar pain medication addiction induced by a doctor who felt that his condition wasn't cureable -- he's been cured over 20 years now), you regain everything and are functional again.

It is just such a hard trip to the destination.

Bless your heart. We will pray for you. 

Left by Stephen M (Ethesis)

Anonymous said...

Hi, I want to recommend something, but let me just first say that I'm not offering it as a panacea or fix-all. It won't change the neighbourhood you live in or the necessary steps for coming off your medication, but it WILL help to relieve anxiety/tension and that much I can say with certainty.

I recommend comedy. When I first moved to the city I now live in, I was very unhappy. I had had to leave Japan suddenly (job fell through), I was struggling with a new job, had no car (and you need one here) and setting up in a new place set me back financially. I also hardly knew anyone. I was very stressed and lonely for months, because things never seemed to get better, only worse.

Then someone lent me a whole batch of Eddie Izzard CDs. He's not for everyone (swears a lot, thinks Mormons are from Mars ^_^...though he's not at all vulgar which is nice). Anyway I find him very funny. And for the first time in ages I just really laughed. Because I had five CDs of the stuff, I pretty much laughed all week. And it lifted that constant sense of tension and hurt from me. Though my circumstances remained, this was a really valuable release. It made it all easier to deal with. I guess it falls under the category of laugh therapy, except that they seem to just laugh - for me, I have to laugh AT SOMETHING.

So whatever your own taste in comedy is, I really recommend getting a whole bunch of it and listening/watching a LOT for a week or so. Even if you have other stuff to do, some can be done while listening (eg cooking, dishes, laundry, travelling.)

Before this experience I would have recommended music, but music also has the power to make us feel lonely or melancholy, which obviously isn't helpful. So I'm going with comedy. I really hope you can find ways to improve your situation in those things you have control over, and that fortune smiles on you for the rest of it. We'll be thinking of you. 

Left by chosha

Anonymous said...

Wow-
I am so amazed by how much you put yourself out there on your blog. I feel some of the same things, but I don't know how to express them and don't usually blog about them.
I do know that my stuff isn't nearly as severe- partially in that it isn’t as all encompassing or constant. Some of your situation now is what has made me fearful of getting help- I don't want to get medication and then be worse off than I am now. But not doing anything basically means that I am going to keep repeating the stupid decisions that reinforce how I feel at my craziest and prevent me from doing basically anything.

As strange as it sounds- and as sad as your words are- they give me encouragement. I know that other people feel what I feel- worse than I do- and when I look at them I know that they can get through it. And if they can- than I can too, even if I don't see how or believe that I can.

Thanks for your strength. Thanks for your frailty. Thanks for your honesty. We love you for it. You really are in so many of our prayers.
 

Left by Mike

Anonymous said...

Hey Mike,
Thank you for the words of encouragement. It means a lot to me to know that my blog gives other people strength. I was a little hesistant about this post for the very reason you mentioned, so many people are so anti-medication. But my case is extreme. Only 10% of the people on Benzos suffer long-term. And I blame my medical providers for prescribing something I didn't need at the time and then keeping me on it unnecessarily because of their own ignorance. I ABSOLUTEY AM NOT worse off than I was 9 years ago when I began my current medication regiment. I am worse off than I was 3 years ago. 9 years ago I could barely dress myself I was so depressed and I dropped out of college and had to live with my mother. I was hospitalized twice that year. It wasn't pretty.

Medication is not for everyone. But, it helps millions of people. You just have to be careful what you take and pay close attention to the effects. But from what I have read, people with mild depression or anxiety can find relief just as successfully with some lifestyle changes instead of drugs. Things like regular exercise, regular sleep schedule and cognitive therapy. But if you are in a state where you can't even do those things for yourself then you might want to consider seeing someone. Talk therapy is supposed to be as effective as anti-depressants also. So, you could just find someone for counseling and see how that goes. Sorry for the lecture. I don't know if I could have gotten this far in my life with the help of my medication, I just wish I hadn't been prescribed this one.  

Left by JL

JL said...

Smart Monkey,
For the record, I don't masturbate. And you ask some good questions. I think I'll write a post in the future explaining why I choose to be celibate

Everyone,
Thank you for the thoughts and prayers, I really think they help. I woke up feeling better today than I have in awhile. Force-feeding some comedy on myself is an excellent idea. you're right that the physical act of laughter relaxes the body.

Stephen,
I'm glad to know there is relief for this. And you're right, emotionally falling apart the year after I moved to the city didn't make any sense. This is my dream come true. I had a lot of fun my first year here. That's when most of the dating adventures happened. And understanding what is happening to me helps me feel a lot better about myself too. :-)

Thank you for the encouragement everyone.

Anonymous said...

I am glad that you feel better this morning. Do you have any good female friends in the city or truly platonic male friends? Having some one (or a few some ones) to share in the forced laughter occasionally seems to help.
Thanks for the advice and encouragement. I have been exercising and it seems to be helping, but I need to change my diet- and the sleep schedule is a BIG change that needs to happen. It is way to irregular- but I think part of that is state of mind related. I don't really know how to make myself sleep on a regular schedule.

I don’t think I need medication, though maybe a mild anti-depressant or sleeping pill would help. The talk therapy probably would help a lot- but I am also somewhat hesitant to actually do it. I don’t know what in the world I would talk about- though I suppose that is why I need to go see someone who does  know what I could talk about.
I was supposed to go a long time ago and it never happened. One of the reasons is my health care provider not giving any info at all even though they are supposed to pay for part of it- they certainly don’t make finding a therapist easy. I suppose they are in the business of making money and maybe they just realize that this is one area where people will give up if they have to look too hard. I could just go to the LDS social services therapist- but I think I am going to try to go to a therapist a friend of mine has been seeing.
We’ll see how it goes.


yeah- so that was a longer comment than I intended. Enough about me, are you seeing a therapist in relation to everything going on? I know your financial situation sucks in regards to health care and I don't know what options are available.
Also, in a more selfish vein- is there anything that us fellow bloggers can do other than keep praying for you? 

Left by Mike

Anonymous said...

Mike,
DO NOT GO ON SLEEPING PILLS, or be very careful about it if you do!!!! The benzodiazapims are called 'minor tranquilizers' and are prescribed for sleep problems or anxiety. The other tranquilizers aren't as bad.

Why aren't you sleeping regularly? Is it your schedule or is it stress induced insomnia? That can be a hard thing to get control of. I've read that establishing a bedtrime routine helps get your mind ready to sleep. Turn everything off an hour before going to bed (like the computer and tv) maybe turn all the lights down, put on relaxing music. Reading the scriptures before bed always makes me sleepy :)

What can bloggers do for me? Just keep reading and commenting.  

Left by JL

Anonymous said...

JL, I'm sorry things are so difficult right now. I hope the apartment thing works out and that you are able to deal with the after effects of these drugs.

I totally support you starting to swim laps again. The pool is my zen place lately. 

Left by Kelly

Anonymous said...

You are scratching the surface of honesty and now is your moment of truth.

Either you will take this opportunity to break free.

Or you will continue what you are doing. And you will coninue . . . dead.

One definition of insanity is doing the same things the same way all the time and expecting difference results.

I would invite you to consider beauty and truth, by accepting it. All you have to do is give up. 

Left by Importantless

Anonymous said...

huh? 

Left by JL

Anonymous said...

Mike:

I would NOT Recommend seing an LDS social services therapist. I have tried that too many times with no success. I think they're weird and I've never been able to really realte to them...but that's me. Maybe it'll work for you? 

Left by Jill

Anonymous said...

Brigham Young reputedly worked only 8 hours, slept 8 hours, and spent the rest of the day not working.

He also said: If we all ate less, worried less, and worked less, we would be a lot healthier, happier, and wealthier than we are now. 

Left by Brigham's Son

Anonymous said...

You may not choose have sex, but you can't survive without touch. To feel someone's hands on your body, in love, is one of the most glorious gift's of God--and not limited to married people.

Do what you can to get yourself some "touch therapy". Hold hands with friends. Hug often. Get massages. Take care of your body. It is the ultimate pathway to the Spirit.

People that try to make people into simple machines through drugs can't. 

Left by Anonymous

Anonymous said...

Anon,
Touche'! Good point and pun intended. ha ha ha ha. You are right and I'm trying to get all the non-sexual loving I can.  

Left by JL

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