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My Story of Hope - Anxiety, Depression, and Addiction, and Positive Lifestyle Changes

Dec 29, 2008 - 1 comments

         Anxiety, depression and addiction are terrible condtions. They are very real and can be very debilitating. I would like to share my story of in hopes that it may inspire or offer hope to those who feel hopeless in their fight against mental illness or substance abuse. I hope it helps someone out there. Please respond with questions or comments. Feel free to PM as well if you are more comfortable with that. Thanks.

         I have struggled on and off with anxiety and depression for most of my life. Up until I was about 19 I was able to hide my anxiety and at that point my depression was not too bad. During my sophmore year of college the anxiety developed into panic attacks. My first panic attack landed me in the ER...I thought I was having a heart attack or stroke. (I know many have been there...and even though the Dr. says you are physically healthy...being left with the knowledge that your mind can make you panic so severly only compounds things...at least it did for me.) I consider myself lucky to have happened upon an ER doctor with a very kind heart who went above and beyond. I didn't say it, but he could tell there was an anxiety problem present and directed me to visit my college's mental health center. He also prescribed me Ativan, my first medication for anxiety. At the time it was a Godsend.

         Begining with my school's mental health doctors I began trying various anti-anxiety and anti-depressant medications. I spent about 3 years jumping from medication to medication with very little help. During this time I tried 3 different doctors for second opinions. The following is a list of the medications I tried and my personal reactions:

[NOTE - Everyone reacts differently to medications. I know many of these work wonders for a lot people. I am in no way against the use of these medications. They save lives. Unfortunately, I don't react to well to them]

Ativan - Worked well, but could not tolerate memory issues with school and work.

Lexapro - Disorientation, out of body zombie-like feeling, sexual side effects

Buspar - Increased anxiety, tremors, extreme headache

Paxil - Increased anxiety, aggression, sexual side effects

Celexa - Disorientation, zombie-like feeling, sexual side effects

Prozac - Severe panic, shaking, disorientation

Zoloft - Severe aggression, tremors, increased anxiety

Wellbutrin - Severe disorientation, increased depression and suicidal thoughts (completely out of character for me)

Xanax - Worked well for anxiety, but caused clumsiness and memory issues in school.

Depakote ER - Slight help with anxiety, but needed a very high dose of brand name Depakote ER...even with insurance the cost was not worth the minimal benifit.

Seroquel - (misdiagnosed as Bipolar by an Internist) Felt uncomfortably sedated, confused, disoriented, scary for me.

Lamictal - (from same Internist for Bipolar) Headache and nausea, dizziness

Zyprexa - (from same Internist for Bipolar, no clue why he gave me this) Only taken once, incredibly frightening experience, disorientation, blurred vision, hallucinations, loss of motor functions

Adderall XR - Eliminated anxiety by helping me focus, however anxiety increased as medication wore off which I could not tolerate. Also horrible insomnia and complete loss of appetite. (Disappointing because the help with school and work it provided was very benificial)

Strettera - Increased anxiety, aggression, aggitation, suicidal thoughts

Clonazepam - Effective for anxiety, but also caused memory problems...too much of a hinderance on work and school for consistent use.

       Ultimately, I ended up using Clonazepam as needed for serious bouts of anxiety or full-blown panic attacks. However, due to its disorienting effects I typically just decided to deal with the discomfort without medication. 6 months after I landed on Klonopin I was in a fairly severe car accident. (Not due to the medication in any way)

      As a result, I was prescribed Vicodin and Oxycodone for pain. In the past I had always refused pain medications. I felt tough and manly if I didn't need them, but this wasn't getting your wisdom teeth pulled. I needed to take them. Having very little knowledge of opiate painkillers at the time I began taking them as the doctor prescribed. When I took the first dose I felt amazing. The opiates completely eliminated all my anxiety and depression. I felt like I was invincible. This lead me to take more medication than prescribed, more often than it was prescribed. On some level I knew it was foolish, but I justified it by telling myself I had tried everything else and that they were legal prescription medications. It wasn't like I was shooting heroin I thought, when in reality I was pretty much popped synthetic heroin pills.

        Slowly what I came to know as opiate dependence and withdrawl creeped up on me. The positive effect it had on my anxiety was gone and I was more depressed than ever. I could not believe how horrible I felt if I did not take the pain meds. I would never have imagined how physically and mentally painful withdrawal is. When I had to call in sick from work one day I knew I was in trouble. I called my doctor and that afternoon I was beginning an outpatient opiate detoxification program. I was prescribed Suboxone (I was completely unfirmilar with the drug at the time, but am know quite knowledgable) and weaned off it over 1 and a half months. And even when I stopped taking the Suboxone I felt pretty sick and out of it for a couple weeks. In hindsight, part of me wishes I would have just dealt with the original withdrawl. In the end I sort of looked at Suboxone as just another pain medication, although it is somewhat different. Ultimately, I just felt like I replaced the Oxycodone with Suboxone for 45 days. Regardless, I got off everything without any issues and am very happy about that. Still...withdrawl...WOW...unreal...unimaginable unless you've been there.

         So, I was niave and stupid when I decided to self-medicate. Even though I had little success with the anti-anxiety drugs available, there was still no justification for my actions...as much as I tried to rationalize one in my mind. It was by far the worst experience of my life. And not because of the physical pain, but rather the shame and guilt. It has been over a year since I have ingested any kind of opiate and I still feel guilty and foolish for putting myself in that position. I never in a million years would have guessed that I could become addicted to drugs. However, as bad as I feel about my behavior, I did take a lesson from experience which changed my life for the better.

          First, the experience opened my eyes to how hard dealing with addiction can be. Before my addiction and recovery, I looked down on drug addicts. I saw no reason why a person could be addicted to a drug unless they wanted to be. I now realize that drug addiction can get its claws into anyone. I now see how tough it can be for addicted individuals to get sober. Not just because of the physical and mental control these substances can have, but also because, unless you are decently wealthy or have very good health insurance...getting good substance abuse treatment is nearly impossible. I thought that the condition of mental health services was poor in the United States.  When I did my research on substance abuse treatment I was astounded.

           Beyond the stigma that is placed on addicts, namely opiate addicts, it seems as though many of the programs set up patients for failure and are only interested in making money. I was very lucky to be refered to a Suboxone doctor by my primary physician. The day I started my treatment I started doing research about Suboxone. Finding that many doctors only accepted cash, that they charged upwards of $200 per visit just to write a prescription, and that no plan for tapering the drug was created...that the docs would just keep taking money instead of encouraging progress. It felt as though addicts were viewed as less than human and could be taken advantage of by these "treatment centers."

         I realized that every addict's situation is different. I was very lucky to have a supportive and honest team of doctors. Ultimately, I really feel for anyone who is putting forth an effort to quick using drugs only to be abused or taken advantage of by their doctor. If an addict is going to stand up, admit their mistakes, and ask for help they deserve to be treated with respect. I would love to have the opportunity to help our country restructure its approach to substance abuse treatment. It needs to happen. I am not an expert by any means, but I would be willing to bet that we are losing some very incredible human beings because of a system that has so many flaws. Our rehabilitation systems need some rehabilitation of their own. AMEN.

        I wish anyone who is struggling addiction the best of luck. You deserve to be treated like anyone else with a harmful health condition. I pray for your strength and success. You can do it.

        I am incredibly grateful for my success in quitting opiates. As I said I am thankful for the doctors I had, for the support of my family, and an amazing girlfriend who has stuck by me through everything. However, when I got off the medication I still did have mental health issues to deal with. I had spent 3 years trying all those different anxiety drugs, dealing with all the nasty side-effects, and not once did a doctor suggest anything besides drugs. The counseling that I recieved during my Suboxone treatment turned me on to congnitive therapy. My Suboxone doctor (a psychiatrist) was actually pretty saddened when I told him that none of the previous doctors ever suggested therapy for my anxiety and depression. After I finished my Suboxone taper and my drug abuse counseling I continued therapy with anxiety specialist.

        In the beginning I saw my therapist every week, but with the tools I was given I was quickly able to take hold of my anxiety without medication. Now I see my therapist maybe everything 3 weeks to a month. If you are dealing with anxiety and depression and medication just isn't working, or maybe it is and you need something a little extra...talk therapy is amazing. Even for people that don't have any issues it would be great. If you reseach patient reviews of various anti-anxiety and anti-depressant medications they are typically rated between 5-6.5/10, while talk therapy consistently recieves reviews around 9/10 by patients. (these numbers are from revolutionhealth.com)

         Beyond my now occassional talk therapy, I have daily routines that have strengthened my body, mind, and spirit...in turn providing even more relief to my anxiety and depression.

My holistic approach consists of the following DAILY regimines and activities:

1. A very healthy diet based around my personal needs.

2. Daily morning stretching / brief in-home workout (push ups/crunches)

3. Hot shower ending with a cool rinse while music playing on IHome to start the day

4. Glass of Citrucel Fiber mix and Life Force Multi-Vitamin with healthy breakfast. (must have breakfast)

5. Practicing organization at work; always have a seperate legal pad for notes - post-its get lost! (constantly taking notes while researching clients, or on calls, even things I know I will remember...because I do forget...and that causes anxiety for me)

6. Always bringing a healthy packed lunch from home to avoid vending machines or ordering out. (it is the healthy option...and it also saves money, which is another source of stress for me)

7. Daily weight-lifting (45mins) and cardio (45mins) (after work is a great time, clears the mind)

8. Post work-out Whey Protien Shake (maximizes effect of workout)

9. Healthy dinner eaten at least 2-3 hours before going to sleep,

10. Pre-sleep meditation, or brief in-home yoga routine.

11. While laying in bed before going to sleep, practicing controlled breathing techniques. (many are explained online, or guides can be bought on Itunes)

12. No TV in the bedroom...no reading lamp either...bedroom should be for sleeping only and as dark as possible...will provide the best sleep.

(I know it seems like a lot, but when I add it all up these 12 things probably only take 3 hours of my day divided up)

Other non-daily practices:

1. Massage Therapy (I go once maybe twice a month...anxiety is physical as much as it is mental)
2. Accupuncture (Was skeptical, but very impressed...not a permenant solution, but very helpful)
3. Peppermint Tea for upset stomaches associated with anxiety
4. Music Therapy...rock out to your favorite songs
5. Comedy...funny movies, laughing makes your feel calmer and happier
6. Hobbies...anxiety keeps me from trying new things, don't push too hard, but try to get yourself to try new things...the feeling of accomplishment builds selfesteem which combats anxiety.

So thats my story. Again I hope it helps someone. I am definitely not a doctor, this is just my expierence and the things that have worked for me. If anyone out there lives a similar lifestyle and has some other tricks that I missed please post them...I am always looking for new things to try out.

Thanks all.