Those next few days after Christmas were the worst. I had no idea that an anxiety attack would wreak such havoc on my physical body. It was like every cell in my being had been revved up to its highest ability and now every cell in my body was completely and totally exhausted and needed who knows how long to recover. How could something in my brain be so debilitating to me physically?
Because I had “made it” through Christmas and put my hostess hat on I had a pretty good idea why I had taken my one step forward and ten steps backward. I had been on the Lexapro and Ativan for almost a week now. During this time I had more than one person warn me about the addictive nature of Ativan (which neither doctor who saw me said anything about) so I began to wean off the drug. I knew that it was only masking my symptoms. Although I really, really liked how I felt after taking it (the suffocating feeling was gone), I knew that I could not continue if I were truly to get better. I went down to half doses every eight hours and then half doses twice a day. I could still see I was improving with the weaning so on day eight I took my last dose around lunchtime and I completely stopped the Ativan. I was nervous that was for sure. I had barely made it through “The Croods” that morning (I was due for my last dose in the middle of the movie) and had to breathe through the last 40 minutes while lying on the couch with a kid flanked on either side. If a Disney movie could stress me out (all that action and father/daughter stuff) and put me back in bed for the afternoon then I may be in big trouble the next few days. However, it just didn’t matter. I was going to stop and I was going to make it through it.
That night I went to bed conscious that I was done with the Ativan. I woke up around three o’clock in the morning like usual (one of the side effects of Lexapro can be insomnia). But, I had hope that as my body adjusted my sleep would adjust too. An hour or two later I fell back to sleep but when I woke up again I felt terrible. I had a sick feeling in my stomach like I hadn’t slept in days. My jaw was clenched so tight my head hurt and my teeth chattered for a few minutes after my initial waking. I leaned over to grab my phone to check my text messages and e-mails and there sitting in my inbox was my daily Bible verse. It was Psalm 103:2-4. I began to just glance through it. It isn’t the easiest thing to concentrate when your head is pounding, your jaw is aching and your teeth have a mind of their own. The verse said, “Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits—who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion…”
Forget not His benefits. It hit me hard and the truth of the verse fell all over me. That verse was meant for me right at that moment for my situation. I knew then and there that I had everything I needed to make it through the next days of darkness. I had to take some action and forget not His benefits. His benefits for me are forgiveness, healing and pulling me out of the pit. I had already been forgiven but I needed healing and I needed out of my pit. I was going to forget not His benefits and I was going to praise Him for His perfect timing. Out of all the days in the year my Bible verse on the day I was coming off of the Ativan was this one. What a great, mighty and faithful God I serve.
This verse became my anchor in my hurricane. I was out deep, very deep in my ocean pit. But it didn’t matter how deep I was or how far out I was. I had an anchor I had been given that morning and I had thrown it overboard. The chain was as long as it needed to be. I was positive and absolutely sure that after I threw it out, it went down, down deep into my oceanic abyss and connected with the bottom where it hung firm. I was not going anywhere as the storm raged on because my benefit in Christ was healing. My benefit in Christ was removal from my pit.
I pulled myself out of bed so sick and so weak but I knew I had to eat or I would not have the strength I needed to get through the day. I made my way to the kitchen where I made myself a shake with extra peanut butter and protein powder and a few berries to taste and managed to consume it sprawled on the living room couch. After that I made my way back to my room, lay on my side, breathed through my nose and said over and over that I would forget not His benefits. The tightness was terrifying and my shallow breathing was alarming but I knew that I knew that I knew that my God was not a liar even though I did not feel one bit better.
I made it through the day and watched as each time passed for me to take an Ativan and I stood firm on my decision to not take one more pill. My Lexapro needed weeks to work and I was going to count the days and trust for improvement. I had read a helpful article that anxiety was an emotion. Although it was terrible it wasn’t intolerable. I recognized that what I was experiencing was anxiety. No need to be anxious that it was something else. I had already been checked out at the hospital. My lungs were clear, my heart was fine and my blood work was perfect. I was not going to die. I was going to make it. I was going to forget not His benefits. My mind was on high alert and full of irrational thoughts but the truth of the Word of God kept cutting through again and again and again. I was being tested but I hung on. This test would not last forever.
That night our youngest boy had a small cold and a cough and as I lay in bed awake most of the night my mind terrorized me with anxious thoughts. Was he still alive in his bed? Was it a deadly cold? Was it some mysterious illness and in the morning I would find him dead and I hadn’t checked on him? What kind of mother was I? My anxiety spiked high but I chose to lie in bed. I lay there breathing through my nose and waiting for morning. I would not get up and check on him. He just had a cold. He was fine. I would not bow down to my irrational thoughts. God was bringing my healing. Had he not told me the day before my anxiety attack that my healing was coming? Forget not His benefits. He pulls you out of the pit. My pit was deep but he was pulling me up.
The next morning my darling little boy wandered in with his stuffy nose looking for breakfast and I was relieved, and felt empowered. Victory for me. I know there is a difference between a mother’s instinct and anxiety and I knew the night before wasn’t a check in my heart to go rescue my boy. It was anxiety’s ugly crippling head tormenting me and I didn’t let it beat me. I was not going to forget His benefits. I began talking to my husband about my irrational thinking and he recognized how exhausting it was to talk yourself out of an anxious irrational thought in your head. For someone who doesn’t struggle with anxiety it was eye-opening for him as I explained how the night went with my thinking. I found that voicing my whole thought process was releasing and helpful. I was going to talk more about my fears and not be alone in my prison.
That is how I entered day two of coming off the Ativan. I woke up pretty much the same way with teeth chattering and the sickness you feel when you are so tired and have not slept nearly enough. However, this time my teeth ached too. My mouth was so sensitive and the thought of eating any food made my stomach roll but eat I must. I got myself out of bed and did my routine of getting a shake again. It was so much work to walk down the stairs, get everything out and make that shake but I needed to do it so I did. Then back to bed to make it through day two. The ironic thing about coming off Ativan is you have anxiety. So, as I went off medication that helped with my anxiety I felt more anxious. This was a wicked, vicious cycle that made me more and more grateful that I had an anchor in my storm.
Day three I woke up (after very little sleep) and felt a tiny bit better. It was tiny, but it was better. My stomach still lurched and my teeth still chattered but they didn’t chatter as long. I noticed the little change and that little change helped me hang on. I continued to practice breathing through my nose and taking deep breaths into my belly and holding them to relax my body. The next day was the same with a tiny bit of improvement and the next day was even better. I still couldn’t wait to take my Lexapro at eight o’clock at night. Some of my worst times were in the morning when I woke up and the hour or two before my next medication dose at night but I recognized those times and did things to cope. I rested in my bed, I prayed, I breathed and I listened to a lot of worship music. It calmed me and helped me remember all the promises I have in Christ. By day six I felt like I was over the worse of the withdrawal. I had been sleeping better and the teeth chattering was mostly gone. Every day I got about 1% better, and that was 1% better than the day before, which meant I was heading in the right direction. Sometimes in the storm that is all that really matters, that you are moving in the right direction. The direction that takes you out of the storm. But after this storm would I ever be the same? I didn’t know so I hung on to my anchor, closed my eyes and waited for my rescue.