There are millions of Americans taking benzodiazepines to change their reaction to stress, and I happen to be one of them. People love to discuss the implications of taking meds to control anxiety, and the (healthier) alternatives that could be tried. “Have you tried yoga? Eating gluten-free? Meditating? Calling your parents more?” I’m sure there are some well-intentioned sheep in that flock, but I feel like the majority just want to make you feel weak for needing chemical intervention to control your crazy. I’m here for everyone taking meds to live healthier, more productive lives. It’s not a meth addiction. It’s responsible.
Explaining severe anxiety to someone who hasn’t experienced it is interesting. I imagine it’s similar to a woman explaining to a man what it’s like to have a vagina: Something they have no actual way of comprehending, try as they might. I can only speak from my own experience, and I’ll try to do it the best I can. Mild anxiety is tolerable: You feel a little uneasy in a social setting, are vaguely worrying about whether or not your job is a good match, that sort of thing. Severe anxiety is that rope-attack spell from Harry Potter that binds you until you can’t move. It doesn’t matter if things are going relatively well in your life. Anxiety makes you think about all the opportunities you’ve wasted. Are you really happy with your friends? Anxiety will tear those relationships apart. Feeling somewhat financially stable? Anxiety will ask you why you aren’t flying private with the Kardashians or living in a million-dollar beach house (All those Silicon Valley startup guys are, why aren’t you?).
Your view of normalcy goes out the window. There’s an inherent role that social media and pop culture plays in all of this, but that’s not going anywhere. At this point, you’re probably unable to move, think, or even begin to think about your next move. You need pharmacological intervention. And that’s where the benzo’s come in.
I’ve been prescribed Xanax, Ativan, and Klonopin in my short 22 years. I’ve also been prescribed a lot of other not-as-fun meds, but that’s a post for a different time. Each one is different: Xanax kicks in 15 minutes after you take it and lasts a couple hours, Klonopin can take a full hour to kick in but then lasts the entire day. Ativan falls squarely in the middle. Klonopin gets a bad rap for being habit-forming, and its well-deserved. After being on it for 4 months, I tried to stop cold turkey. Benzodiazepine withdrawal is not what anybody would call a “fun” or “freeing” experience. I was paranoid, shaking, sweating and generally back to my old anxiety-riddled self. I went back to my doctor, lowered my dose, and gradually got off it entirely. I’m now taking Ativan, 1 mg, as needed for severe anxiety. Sometimes I take two.
Benzodiazepines allow you to take a step outside yourself and realize that although things are not perfect, they are generally going to turn out ok. Half an hour after taking an Ativan, a sense of general relief comes over my entire body in the best kind of way. It’s the state I do my most productive work in, and it’s been incalculably helpful with academics and my personal life. I used to resent any type of medication: “I should be fine with some avocado toast, some green tea, meditation, and the occasional 45-minute appointment with my shrink” I told myself. And I still engage in all of those activities, but meds give me that extra edge that I need to get by in this insane world. I doubt I would have passed all 5 of my classes last semester, and I doubt even more that I’d be on track to graduate by the end of next year (Which, given all that’s happened in the past two years, is a fucking miracle). It’s all about the benefits vs. the drawbacks. I’d rather be a little airheaded and forgetful. The alternative isn’t for me anymore.