It’s been awhile since I last posted. I needed a break to clear my head…taking some “me time” and family/friend time.
I am now 2 years, 4 months and several days free of medication. I am at a point in my recovery where I don’t think about the “anniversaries” anymore. I used to count the months in my head, hoping that by month 10 I would be healed. But then month 10 became month 14…which became month 18…then the 2 year mark. And now at the 2+ year mark, am I healed? No. Am I doing well? Yes.
The biggest changes came after the 20 month mark. I really began to see some solid progress. The fear of falling asleep dissipated. I was FINALLY able to sleep in my OWN bed with my husband, and not feel scared. I slept solidly. And for the first in about 3+ years, I was EXCITED to go to bed. It's a feeling I wondered would ever return. I remember sitting on the couch with my husband one night, watching a movie when this sudden “butterfly” feeling hit me. It wasn’t a bad sensation though. Instead it was a happy, content feeling that in an hour or so I’d crawl into my comfy bed, close my eyes and drift off to sleep. After years of fearing bed (and not fully understanding why), I was welcoming bed time. (On a side note: Benzodiazepine Withdrawal, can cause irrational fears - one of the common ones being a fear of going to bed/sleep, and it's not the bed itself but the act of falling asleep).
The nausea also began to decrease. That has led to some HEALTHY weight gain. For close to 2 years, I was unable to enjoy food. I ate because I had to. I ate to keep some energy so I could keep up with my daughter and make meals for my family. Dinner after dinner, I’d watch my family eat and scoop up their meals into their mouths. And inside I’d cry. I wanted so badly to eat and enjoy the nutritious meals, but I was unable to. I had to breathe through my meals so not to throw them up. I never once did throw up – dry heaved, yes…many times. I also lost a lot of muscle mass during that time, so it’s nice to have my thigh muscles back. And with the higher daily calorie intake, I am also able to workout without feeling faint. I am taking it easy though. I started working out daily and that was too much, so now I workout every other day for only ½ hour, and then stretch for at least 20 minutes a day and do some yoga poses that I find relaxing. Getting my flexibility and some strength back are my main priorities right now.
So, after YEARS of taking medication for anxiety (and anxiety-induced depression), how am I coping med-free? Diet. Diet is #1,and I truly believe that is the case with many health (physical or emotional) issues. I have changed my diet drastically, and I love it. Gone are the fried foods, sugary pop and processed foods. Now I eat a lot of fruit, grains and vegetables. I’ve also eliminated meat and poultry and most dairy (only eating plain Greek yogurt). I do eat fish at least two times a week. Cooking is exciting now – not that I ALWAYS feel like doing, but the outcome is worth it. I am more adventurous with my cooking. And a BIGGIE? The condiments. If you read the ingredients of your favourites dressings and bbq sauces, you’ll find they are loaded with sugar and often MSG. Now I made my own dressing and bbq sauces. They taste better and are FAR better for you. It adds an extra 5-10 minutes of cooking time, but it’s well worth it.
What other things that have helped me? Being open and honest about my journey. Whether people “get it” or not, I think it’s important not to shy away from telling the truth. It doesn’t mean you have to stand on top of the roof and scream out, “I am suffering!!! I feel horrible right now!!!” It just means that sharing your story is OKAY. People can choose not to understand or support you, but you’ll be pleasantly suprised by how many people DO stand by your side. An incredible amount of people have reached out to me since I started this blog. The best thing about being open is that when you share your story and others relate to it, THEIR story also helps YOU grow and heal in return. It’s a win/win situation. I recently met a woman at a party who began to tell me about her journey with SSRI medication (anti-depressants) and how it made her feel so sick. It took her a good 2 years to feel better once OFF the medication. As she continued to tell her story, my body felt like firecrackers were going off (good firecrackers). A person, who barely knew me, was telling me HER story, that was SO similar to mine…and she didn’t apologize for her honesty. It was refreshing. I could totally relate to her. I was EXCITED to tell her about my journey. We shared our stories…we related to each other…and it was awesome. The best part, was that the focus wasn’t on our “woes”…we shared our tastes in music, movies and television…we talked about our hobbies and relationships…but we had this one connection that neither of us needed to apologize for – we were just being ourselves. No hiding needed. Honesty, and even vulnerability, can be a wonderful and beautiful thing.
Having the most supportive family and friends has been incredibly AWESOME, and not everyone is blessed with that unfortunately. Friends I’ve had since childhood have been constant cheerleaders. Friends I’ve made through my daughter’s schoolmates (and others around town), have been there to pick me up and offer a hand whenever needed...or have just been ears that listen...or shoulders to cry on...and especially friends who have offered a "congrats" or a BIG hug to celebrate. My parents have been there 100% - thank you SO much. My husband – instead of seeing me as a hindrance – has praised me for taking this journey on. He has LITERALLY picked me up off the floor as I cried out in pain or dry heaved over the toilet. He reassured me EVERY single day that I was going to heal…that this was not my fault…and that what I was doing was giving myself, my daughter and himself a better future. We were going to shine through this as a family – and boy did we ever. I am SO incredibly grateful for his love and support and if I think about it too long I will cry. He made me feel like his hero - and he is mine. And I can't forget our daughter, who is now 10 years old. Has this experience weakened her? Or has it hindered her in some way? Absolutely not. She never really talks about "those days" but when she does she speaks of it as though I did something important for US. She is proud of me as I am of her. She is as happy as happy can be, and one insanely empathetic girl. I still have her notes and pictures of encouragement she made for me when I was sick. She makes me extremely proud and I do believe that what my old counsellor said is 100% true: "Sarah, you are teaching your daughter more life lessons (by being open and honest) than she'll EVER learn from a text book. You are teaching her empathy. She will be the kid in the class that picks up on others emotions and can help them. She is going to be full of love". And she was right. My daughter is everything I hoped she'd be, and more.
So, 2+ years later. Not healed yet, but getting there! After feeling 95% better for a few months, I have to be honest and say I’ve had a setback since the end of September. Every few days, another old symptom returns. One week it’s nausea, then the rib pain, maybe headaches, followed by the shingles-feeling…and I’d say that for 2 months, I’ve had approximately 2-3 nights a week of solid sleep…the other nights I am up unable to sleep well. However, despite the setback, I am HAPPY. I am more confident that this will one day fully pass. Even on my worst days now, I am living life happily. I will go help out at my daughter’s school…maybe minutes before leaving bent over the sink with the feeling of having to vomit…but I get there, and the distraction works amazing miracles. I have solid friendships in my life as well that keep me from dwelling on things. I am in a good place with good people – I am lucky. I also know that these setbacks can happen for upwards of 3 years…even up to 5 for some people. As my husband drills in my head, “don’t feel scared or discouraged…see these symptoms as your body healing...you ARE going to fully heal”. Thank you, Husband.
I will continue to update my blog from time to time. I don’t know what direction I want to go with it, but my thought is to focus on the healthier choices we’ve made as a family to help not only with my anxiety, but also my husband’s journey with healthy lifestyle changes to regulate his blood pressure and lower his cholesterol. He has lost 22 pounds over the past couple of years from his already fit body, and feels great. He LOVES the new sugar-free baked goods and nutritious meals – as does our daughter. They have both made the healthier transition SO easy.
Thank you to all of you who have left supportive comments on the blog, and to those who know me personally: thank you for the personal messages of love and light – it means so much. And finally, a big “Hooray” to 2+ years free of medication and knowing I’ve got this one beat! No more meds for this girl. It can be done.