Maybe I’ve always been a nervous person. I’m not sure, as my memory is shockingly, weirdly bad. However, anxiety has been a problem for me for some time now, only getting worse as the years go on and on. Burying my brain in books, movies, TV, and and getting my drink on have historically been my ways of dealing with this. Distraction, basically.
On what I initially thought was an unrelated note, I went to my doctor about a year ago due to a weird kind of problem with my stomach and chest. Discomfort stuff that had nothing to do with food as far as I could tell. After a bunch of tests (three hour breathing into bags thing, ultrasound, pap smear, etc.) revealing nothing, my doctor asked when it was the worst, and, upon reflection, I realized it was when I was driving, an activity I’ve never been a fan of – especially in this gridlocked mess that is LA.
She took this to mean that perhaps my anxiety and stomach/chest mystery pains were indeed related. It had to do with nervous breathing, gulping air. Since there seemed to be no other reasons, it made sense. She prescribed me some Xanax, a kind of happy pill that helps with anxiety and panic attacks.
“It’s like drinking but without getting drunk.”
“What’s the point of that?” I wondered.
Still, I took the prescription and decided to use it sparingly, only when I was silly anxious, as she suggested. I even only took half a pill instead of the full one.
That went on for a while, but I started digging the calm and collected feeling the Xanax gave me. So I popped more frequently. Then even started taking whole pills.
At first there was a mild tug of war in me. Was I falling back on these pills too much? Would I get addicted? Was I already? It strikes me as kind of funny now that these anti-anxiety pills were causing me anxiety.
Of course, to take the edge off of my anti-anxiety anxiety (and other issues), I was also prescribed the anti-depressant Zoloft. This was upon my request and seemed like a handy, quick fix to whatever frowny issues a human might have. I hoped the one-two punch of a daily Zoloft for the regular stuff and the occasional Xanax for the big jobs would be a good combo for getting me back on track and happily calm again.
It might’ve been, too. Some people pop these happy pills to great success, and bully for them. There are many possible side effects to these drugs, though, especially with one no-no in particular that I chose to ignore: one should not booze it up while popping either of these pills – let alone both.
Now, I’m a big ol’ fella of Scotch-Irish descent. That means I, like my ancestors before me, like me booze. It’s hardwired into my DNA. Some drinking at a pub or with friends is fine, so long as it’s all in fun – social good times. I started to run into perhaps a problem by drinking to relax myself or calm down instead of just happy social times. This started before I got the Xanax and Zoloft, and, in hindsight, if I’d recognized that and took the pills as a maybe a less spinney and liver damagingly and can’t drivingly substitute, all might have been well.
Instead, though, despite the pills, I kept drinking like nothing had changed in my medical diet.
This was no good, and I knew it deep down, but managed to ignore it. I like drinking and thought I needed the pills. There were no crazy, law breaking or truly dangerous moments during all of this, but it was clearly no good. The main problem was that I wasn’t relaxing; I wasn’t any less anxious; I wasn’t any happier – if anything, I was becoming more anxious and depressed. Which, yeah, is a possible side effect of mixing these medications with booze.
At some point, convincing myself that I got nervous in social or party situations, I’d take a Xanax before one to keep me calm. This might’ve been okay, but after the pill set in, and I felt good, I’d decide a drink or two with the other drinkers would be fine. It’s just more fun to be loosey goosey at a party.
This would be swell at first, but I’d go from happy drunk to depressed/mean drunk, something I’d never experienced in my eleven years as a drinking man. Then I’d be told of things I did at the party later that I couldn’t remember. Things I said that didn’t sound like me but some jerk I wouldn’t want to be around.
All of this continued for too long as I pushed away some friends and loved ones by becoming an anxious, worrying, paranoid asshole way too often to shrug off or ignore. It definitely took its toll, and when it came to a head, costing me dearly, I finally decided enough was enough. I stopped the Xanax cold turkey and weaned myself off the Zoloft with advice from my doctor. Oh, and I’ve been cutting back on my drinking (could use some more cutbacks, though, I’m sure).
And lo and behold, I’m a lot less anxious now. I took a four-hour road trip with my mom in Ohio, driving the whole way, and was fine. I’ve been driving around LA lately and don’t feel panicky. I’ve hung out with groups of people I don’t know that well and not gotten nervous or surly.
It’s been a good lesson for me, I have to admit. Do I wish I’d not let/caused this happen at all or at least truly figured it out before I took some major losses? Definitely. But, the truth is, without those losses, I’d probably still be mixing and matching my meds and drinking, still be acting like an asshole. I mean, yeah, maybe I’m still an asshole sometimes, but at least it’s me and not some combo of chemicals I ingest messing with my brain. That’s a bit of a win right there, isn’t it?
I’ve also finally started confronting my anxiety, trying to defeat it myself through emotional discipline and exercise and other old fashioned ways that don’t come in pill form or at the bottom of a bottle. Everything from jogging to yoga (two activities I used to tell myself I hated or thought were silly) has been a big help. Just remembering to breath, too. It’s been that simple in a way.
It’s not the same for everyone, and anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications definitely help some folks, I know. They just didn’t help me – quite the opposite, at least not when mixed with my occasionally boozy life, which was my fault. Still, I feel like I’m managing it all much better on my own, and, while it isn’t always easy, it’s worth it.
Though I took a few major hits and have had to go through some rough times, I think, in the end, I’ll come up the victor over this anxiety enemy. It’s not easy, but what worth having in life is easy?