A couple of weeks ago I added a post in regards to “self-medication”. In response to that post, I received a lot of inquiries into my views on prescription medication for the treatment of anxiety disorders. I also received requests to elaborate on my own experiences with prescription medication.
First I will try to describe my own experiences with prescription medication.
This spring will be 28 years already since I was given prescription medication for my anxiety disorders. At the time, my panic disorder was running unchecked. My agoraphobia had caused me to become housebound. I lost my job. I lost my apartment. Things were bad, and I was at my worst.
I knew I needed help and didn’t really know what to do. So I looked through the yellow pages of the phone book to find a doctor to help me. I called several psychiatrists and made an appointment with the first one that was available.
This particular doctor was older, my guess would be in his 70’s at that point. I do not remember his name, but I remember most of our sessions quite clearly. I saw him weekly for approximately two months. From our first appointment, he prescribed me three different types of prescription medication. I do not remember what types they were. But I do remember that one pill I took daily, one was (possibly) twice per day, and the third prescription medication was to be taken “as needed”.
The “as needed” prescription medication was my safety net. I never let these pills out of arms reach for me. I was instructed to take a pill whenever I had a panic attack. And since my panic disorder was so unpredictable at the time, I always had to be ready. Much of the time I would literally hold a pill in my hand waiting for the next panic attack. These pills were not often ingested; rather they would dissolve in my hand and I would end up washing it off and getting a new pill to hold.
The weekly sessions I had with my doctor started by talking about my childhood and some of the things in my life which could be a factor in my anxiety disorders. In just a few weeks he made a comment questioning why I wasn’t feeling better. That struck me as odd at the time, but I continued seeing him. After that comment, the following weeks almost seemed to be experimental in some way. One week we tried hypnosis. One week we discussed the possibility of past lives. As strange as it all was to me, and despite my panic and agoraphobia increasingly getting worse, I willingly participated in these sessions. I was desperate for help and I didn’t know what else to do.
The last visit I had with this doctor was a result of me realizing that he had absolutely no idea what an anxiety disorder was, never mind knowing how to help me. I came to this realization at the last visit when I asked him for a refill for the third prescription medication that I took “as needed”. He asked me why I was taking so many pills, and I explained I wasn’t ingesting them, but rather they would dissolve in my hand instead. He looked at me with an extremely puzzled looked on his face and asked me, “why are you holding them in your hand?”.
I will tell you that I have never felt so lonely in my entire life. The one person that I had poured my heart out to and admitted every fear that crossed my mind, had no clue who I was. This doctor that I had hoped to save me from the living hell I was trapped in, had no idea the extent of fear I was living in.
I left his office, never to return. This was the last time I sought any help, guidance or support from any medical professional for my anxiety disorders.
Now in all fairness, I tried medication many years ago before they were fully understood. Medications today are more advanced, and more choices are available. Also, my doctor was older, and probably never had adequate training in the medications he was trying to treat me with. Doctors today are better trained and prescription medication, in general, is better understood.
What I tell my clients in regards to prescription medication is; if it helps, use it. Bottom line is we all have to get through the day. And if prescription medication helps with that, then embrace it.
However, it is also to be understood that prescription medication does not create recovery. Even if the medication works perfectly and minimizes all your anxiety symptoms, it is not creating long-term recovery.
The only way to create long-term recovery is through behavior modification. We need to change our response systems to our specific triggers.
So for that reason, I strongly suggest to use the medication if it helps, but also create the change in your behavior to create long-term, sustained recovery.
Anxiety disorders leave us feeling helpless and hopeless. They also leave us physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted. Trying to implement change can be a daunting undertaking simply because we have no energy. So if prescription medication is allowing you to feel less exhausted, then use this opportunity to work on yourself. Use your improved mood and increased energy in positive and productive ways to create recovery.
What happens often is that if a person does see some improvement on medications, then they typically do not engage in the process of recovery. The problem is that when they want to get off the medication, they realize they still have the anxiety disorder.
So if you do take prescription medication and you are feeling better to some degree, take advantage of this time to engage in recovery. Practice the tools. Expose yourself to your trigger situation(s) and learn to manage your fear.
Regardless what you do, time will pass. Do not allow the time to pass without using it to your advantage.
As always; practice tools, implement self-care and keep your emotional health a priority in your life.
Never give up! Persistence!
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