Thursday, April 5, 2012

Attacking Panic: First, Out with the Klonopin!

This week I've been conducting a little experiment. It's something I stumbled upon partly by accident, partly by design.

It began last week when my friend Lori posted the link to a New York magazine article titled "Listening to Xanax" on my Facebook wall. The piece was an essay about how we over-medicate ourselves to ward off that old devil called anxiety. It reminded me of a post I wrote here in February, "High Anxiety: This Panic Disorder Is Killing Me!", about my own 15-year-long battle with panic disorder.

Last Saturday afternoon, when the jitters started moving in, I kept repeating that old cliche: "Mind over matter, mind over matter, mind over matter..." Eventually, mind lost, and I popped a half-dose of Klonopin (1 mg). Just as peace and tranquility returned to my mind, body and soul, I received a message from my friend Alexandra in Argentina. She had read my blog post, which I'd re-posted on my Facebook timeline after reading the New York article, and was touched by it. "Thank you for your testimony," she wrote. She was relieved to know that someone understood exactly what she goes through and that she wasn't the only one carrying this "lurching burden." (It's feedback like this that makes blogging -- writing, in general -- truly rewarding.)

I pondered her words, reread my post, and looked at my half-full box of Klonopin. It's my greatest ally in my war against anxiety, but it's an enemy, too. It's not so much the Klonopin that frightens me. It's highly addictive, but I take such a low dose and so infrequently that becoming hooked on the pill itself isn't my biggest fear. It's the numbness, that feeling of near-euphoria that it produces (not so much joy as not really feeling at all, which might be happiness at its most extreme), that worries me.

As I stared down my ally/enemy, I considered the possibilities. What if I began taking it more as a means to produce that feeling than as an antidote to my anxiety? Drinking booze to release inhibitions in social settings is one thing. But I didn't want to start wanting to not feel anything when I'm sitting on my couch alone watching TV.

What kind of life would that be? I thrive on natural highs and lows. It's how you know you are living because life is messy. Aren't good times so much better when you've got bad times to balance them out?

Then there's the issue of control. I've always been independent to a fault, and that's one fault I wanted to keep. The Klonopin would have to go -- but not too far! I put the box away in a semi-hiding place for safe keeping. Out of sight, out of mind, right?

For two days, it almost slipped my mind. Then on Monday evening, when a slight wave a anxiety began to roll in, I looked for the box. Where was it? Where had I put it? I couldn't find it anywhere. I opened drawers, cupboards and bags. It could be anywhere, but it was nowhere. I guess I hid it a lot better than I thought I had!

I felt like Jack Lemmon's pathetic alcoholic character in Days of Wine and Roses' most memorable scene, frantically searching for my fix, only making less of a mess and with no Oscar nomination at stake. "Calm down!" I told myself. Eventually, Monday night's wave of anxiety passed without pharmaceutical assistance. So did last night's, when I woke up at 2am in a complete state of panic. I fell back asleep the old-fashioned, natural way, the way I used to every night of my life before that nurse at St. Vincent's Medical Center in New York City introduced me to Klonopin nearly six years ago.

I know I could easily get a new stash at BNH Hospital, the one in Bangkok that is run like a five-star hotel. (The patient rooms there, by the way, are solidly four-star, as I found out last night when I went to visit a friend who had to be admitted for a torn ligament in his shoulder -- a mea culpa that's a story for another post! They're equipped with refrigerator, microwave and flat-screen TV, and nicer than the accommodations in many of the hotels where I've stayed in Thailand). But maybe I won't need to. I left BNH without feeling tempted to get a refill, and I've already survived two panic attacks without the benefit of Klonopin. Perhaps now that I know I can do it, there won't be a third one.

But just in case, I'm trying not to be over-confident. Panic has a way of arriving when you least expect it to. Knowing that you have no ally against it, can be a major a source of panic (an idea that hasn't been lost on me during my two most recent episodes, which were closer together than usual), but so can knowing that you do. It's sort of like the alcoholic who might not crave booze until he or she is in the vicinity of a fully-stocked bar. Perhaps having a readily available cure for the symptom perpetuates the symptom.

Though I wouldn't mind remembering where I put that stash of Klonopin (for the sake of my own sanity), I'm secretly hoping that the missing box won't magically reappear and lead me into temptation -- and panic mode -- yet again.
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