Ativan Quest: How My Search for Meds Just Made Me More Anxious

I discovered my anxiety by looking at a therapy bill years ago. Under “Treatment For” it said in bold letters: GENERALIZED ANXIETY DISORDER.

Disorder? I thought. Well, ok then I guess it’s official! I asked my therapist at the time about my new fancy title and she explained that I needed a diagnosis for insurance purposes. I had always considered my anxiety indescribable, unnamable, something that lived with me, lived inside of me, for so long that my anxiety was really just ME. The constant feeling in-between my shoulder-blades and up my neck, of tight muscles clenched, the hard, shallow breaths, lungs on fire, suffocation. My anxiety’s name was simply Carly. But apparently, it is also Generalized Anxiety Disorder.

Therapy helped me cope, but after a crippling breakup I went on medication, specifically Lexapro. My therapist couldn’t prescribe so I went to a doctor. I was a mess of tears and could barely talk. While dumping me my boyfriend told that he had first kissed me “out of optimism” but he had never really liked me all that much. Cool. I tell the doctor I have been throwing up every morning since the break-up. She instantly gives me a cup to pee in for a pregnancy test. It comes back negative, but while waiting for the results I cry so much that the doctor decides I’m the special kind of fucked up that deserves the special kind of anxiety meds. And thus, I get a prescription for Ativan.

Oh Ativan, how do I love thee, let me count the ways. For all of you non-heavy anxiety drug users (bless your hearts) Ativan is a fast-acting anxiety pill. In the middle of a panic attack or feel one coming on? Ativan is here to save you. It works quick and it works magic. Like nothing else in this world, moments after taking an Ativan my muscles relax, my heart slows, and my brain is like “Yo dude, no big deal. That guy was a jerk anyway.” I. Love. Ativan.

But here’s the problem. Ativan is also kind of addictive. Because of its addictive nature, when I am first prescribed I am given one single bottle full of 25 beautiful pills. No refills. I know this bottle has to last. I cut the pills in half, but they are small and I end up with tiny useless pill slivers. So before I pop a pill I ask myself “really, is it really worth taking this precious pill now, or are you going to get more anxious later? Are you sure you need this pill? Really sure? How sure? What if you regret taking it? Maybe you should wait ten minutes. Maybe you should wait ten more minutes.”

I tell myself that I can’t take all of the pills. I need to save one for when something truly terrible happens, like when my parents die, or my cat dies. Certainly then I’ll be allowed to take a pill without interrogating myself beforehand. Eventually I take the last pill. Now I have no Ativan in case of those Terrible Events. For a while I truck along on my Lexapro and do pretty well. Then I start getting anxious that Lexapro is making me fat, so I stop taking it. It turned out it wasn’t, or if it was it was irreversible because to this day I haven’t been able to lose the 20lbs I gained when on that fucker.

I eventually go off all of my meds and am happy and healthy, and then boom. Another break-up. This time I’m in a better place but hey, my anxiety doesn’t know that. My anxiety doesn’t give a shit. The panic attacks start and I end up back at the doctor’s office. No, I don’t want to go back on Lexapro, I tell her. I just need something to take the edge off. I need Ativan. She looks at me hesitantly. “Well…ok….I’ll give you a prescription, but it’s not refillable.” I know this, I’m already well-practiced in squirreling away my Ativan and parsing them out like rare candies. I go to the pharmacy to pick up my meds, excited for the sweet relief that awaits me. I pick up the bottle. It feels light. I look at the label. My doctor has prescribed me five Ativan. Five! What the fuck good is this?! My doctor must not trust me. But thanks to my anxiety over getting addicted to the meds, I take them sparingly anyway. I leave one in the bottle for a rainy shitty day. I keep that pill around for a long time. Things get good again. I have a great new boyfriend, a decent job, and am overall healthy and happy.

And then I switch jobs. And my job is a flaming fiery piece of shit. My manager is something out of Devil Wears Prada. I come home crying every day. I take the last Ativan. I tell my therapist that I’m afraid to go back to my doctor for more Ativan. She refers me to a shall-remain-nameless holistic health school for naturopaths. Even though they’re naturopaths, they can prescribe, and have prescribed Ativan to her other clients.

I walk into the light and airy waiting room of the Unnamed Naturopath School and take a deep breath as I wait for my appointment. It is a normal enough looking office, but there is a hint of patchouli or something woo-woo in the air. A young man in a white lab coat appears and calls my name. Shit he looks familiar. He shakes my hand and introduces himself. As we walk to the exam room I give him a once over. How was someone my age a doctor? When did I get so old? No, I tell myself, this is a teaching school, and he is a doctor in training, still learning how to pronounce “downward dog” and “kale.” But he is my age and learning to be a doctor, and I am having panic attacks about my career. Couldn’t they have given me an older doctor, so that I felt like I still had time to earn my lab coat? Why did he look so familiar? Oh shit. Did I go on an OkCupid date with him? Had I really gone on so many OkCupid dates back in the day that I couldn’t keep track?

When we finally get to the doctor’s office he introduces me to his colleague, a young woman, again close to my age. They stand in front of me and ask deeply personal questions. My brain continues: I wonder if they’re sleeping together. Oh my god they’re going have sex and then joke about me while they’re lying in bed afterwards.

They ask me what’s causing my current anxiety and I explain that my job is stealing my soul, and that I take breaks during work to go cry in the bathroom, and I’m afraid I’ll get fired for crying so much. I tell them I have a therapist and we’re managing my anxiety but I really just need some Ativan, because that is much more effective than crying in the bathroom.

They ask me if I’m suicidal. They ask me if I’ve talked to my manager. I answer their questions, frustrated because I came here for drugs, not for therapy. They look at my hands and feel my throat.

They leave and I sit wondering if they’re laughing over the loser girl who is their age and is clearly bad at her job. A psychiatrist comes in and again asks me if I’m suicidal. Nope. Still not. But glad you guys are covering your asses.

Finally the Doctor Twins come back in with a sheet of prescriptions. Here it is, my moment of truth!

“I have a list of herbs and supplements for you to take,” the doctor I did not go on a date with says. “And! We’re going to make you a specialized tincture!” He’s very excited about this.

“Oh that’s great! Thanks!” I say, but I think where the fuck is my Ativan? I’m too anxious to ask, afraid they’ll send in the psychiatrist again, or shame me for being a druggy. Shit. Shit. Shit. I must have seemed too needy. I can’t believe I’m too anxious to get the good meds.

I take my prescription slip down to the pharmacist and wait while she creates my tincture. I have to say, I’ve never had my own personalized tinctured. I feel kind of special.

I pay for the bottle and run to my car. This entire time I’ve been texting my awful manager and telling her I swear I’ll be at work soon and I’m so sorry this appointment is taking so long.

Before I start the car I take the tincture out of my purse. I open the bottle and bring it to my nose. It STINKS. It smells like sweaty gym shorts soaked in rum and left out in the sun. I fill the syringe bottle top with the dark brown liquid. I choke it down and take a deep breath. I don’t know if it’s because it’s working or simply because of the placebo affect but I calm down. Those people wanted to help me. They didn’t give me Ativan, but they wanted to help. Maybe they’re not sleeping together. Maybe they cry in the bathroom during work too.

I miss my Ativan. I struggle through work and take my tincture with me to the bathroom to cry. I use up the entire bottle. I get fired.

I am now job free and drug free. I would love to have a bottle of Ativan, simply for the idea of having it there, like a cheerleader in my corner. “I’m there if you need me!” But I find some joy in feeling like I’m winging it, taking a deep breath and diving into life chemical free. And besides, there’s always beer.