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Anxiety December 2, 2011

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Uncategorized.

The primary purpose of hospitalization is to administer powerful drugs in a controlled environment.  As the drugs begin to take effect, anxiety builds.  Most of the drugs, including antipsychotics and mood stabilizers, have anxiety as a side effect.   The resulting synergy from each medication’s anxiety side effect produces an incredible surge of anxiety, unlike anything most of us have every known. So the secondary reason for hospitalization is to learn to control the anxiety.

Learning to control that anxiety, as it builds up higher and higher with each passing day as the medications take effect, is how patients spend their time. At the mental hospital, we take classes on it, we do exercises on it, we learn various coping methods for it.  And in the end, we even take medication for it.  But the medication is never enough, and we are limited in the amount that we can take. So we have to learn how to handle the anxiety ourselves, to the best of our ability.

Although some people live with anxiety their whole lives, in general anxiety is not on most people’s radar. They have absolutely no concept about what anxiety is and how debilitating it can be. It’s difficult to put into words what anxiety feels like, but I’ll try:  Stand up straight, legs slightly apart. Now, tighten every muscle in your body. Ball up your fists. Clench your jaw. Next, try sitting down. Can you do it? Probably not for long. Imagine feeling like this all of the time, 24/7. You can’t relax, no matter how hard you try.

If you sit down, the muscles in your legs are still tight. The muscles in your entire body remain tight.  You can bend your limbs  in the right direction, but those muscles don’t relax- ever. Your whole body, though not rigid, can’t relax. You clench your teeth. It’s exhausting.  When the anxiety gets unbearable, you feel like you’re crawling right out of your skin.

One of the most common outlets for handling anxiety in a mental hospital is to pace the halls.  Those of us with severe cases would walk up and down the halls, over and over again, trying to work out some of that anxiety.  We couldn’t stop walking for very long, because the anxiety would come back in full force if we stopped walking.  And so we continued to walk the hallways, over and over again.  We walked miles every day, one foot in front of the other, up and down those carpeted hallways.

Everything that we did there was structured to teach us how to cope with that anxiety. Group therapy sessions discussed and sometimes actually showed us how to handle stress and anxiety. There were physical steps we could take with our bodies- everything from squeezing the flap of skin between our thumb and index finger to massaging our finger of choice to controlled breathing. Then there were steps we could take that weren’t direct acts upon our bodies. We could blow bubbles, color in coloring books or on blank white sheets of paper, watercolor, or do jigsaw puzzles. There was also aromatherapy. Lavendar was the favorite. But walking the halls was the single most valuable outlet for handling anxiety.

Unfortunately, the building’s psych ward wasn’t built with our anxiety side effect in mind.  The hallways were about 10 feet wide and about 50 feet long. So only a few of us could fit comfortably at a time.  Sometimes it got a little crowded with all the people pacing.  But when you’re that anxiety-riddled, pacing is your only option and crowded hallways are the least of your worries.

I seriously considered taking up smoking at the hospital because I heard from some of the other patients that it would help me with my anxiety. My mental hospital was the only one in the State to allow smoking, even going so far as to supply the tobacco and rolling paper for the homeless people who had no money to buy cigarettes.

Anyway, once I became convinced that smoking would help my anxiety, I actively tried to take up smoking, but my nurse/guard did everything she could to discourage me.  In the end, because she made it almost impossible for me to start smoking, I didn’t take it up.  I’m eternally grateful to her.

Before my breakdown, I went to sleep the minute my head hit the pillow. But with all the medication I was taking, sleep just wouldn’t come. The anxiety was just too powerful. Sleeping pills were discouraged long-term because they’re so addictive. So access to them was very restricted.

When I was released from the hospital in the care of my psychiatrist, he started right in trying to treat my anxiety so that I could sleep.  He pointed out that lack of sleep would put me back in a manic stage and I would have to return to the hospital.  Understandably, I became extremely anxious about trying to get enough sleep. So anxious that it affected my ability to sleep. I would lay awake until 2 am, knowing that if I didn’t get to sleep I would get manic. The anxiety was so bad that I would lay in bed trying to get to sleep, my teeth clenched so tightly that my jaws hurt. So we (my psychiatrist and I) worked on finding a way to get me to sleep and keep me asleep.

Over a period spanning many months, “we” went through many different drugs looking for one that worked.  I would buy one (expensive) drug, take it for a few weeks and abandon it when it didn’t work. Then I would buy another (expensive) drug and take it for a few weeks, abandoning it because it didn’t work. On and on it went, racking up hundreds of dollars for drugs that didn’t work. Finally, we found Seroquel. It’s an anti-psychotic that also acts as an anti-anxiety drug for me, and I can take up to 400 mg of it if I have to.  Although I take just 200 mg of it at night, just knowing that I can take up to 400 mg makes getting to sleep much easier.

Fortunately for me, I didn’t become addicted to sleeping pills or start smoking.  I’m learning other ways to handle my anxiety.



1. LunaSunshine - December 5, 2011

They have absolutely no concept about what anxiety is and how debilitating it can be.

No one can perceive it unless they’ve been there. People will say, “Oh, I’ve experienced anxiety. Test anxiety, relationship anxiety, social anxiety” – always situational anxiety. But, it’s not the same. It’s not that intense. And there is always some kind of resolution and release. Anxiety that comes for seemingly no reason is impairing sometimes. Personally, I don’t get the pacing. I get the deer-in-the-headlights response. And then there’s the panic. I am frozen in time, watching everything pass me by in a blur at high speeds. Every muscle tightens and my jaw clentches. I am overwhelmed by all of it. It is too much.

And even people who have experienced it often surpress it. The empathy no longer exists. “if I can get over it, you can too.” What a crock. And then later, those demons fly out of the closet to haunt them worse than ever before. Eat those words, friends. I’ll be there by your side anyway.

2. bri - December 10, 2011

I hope the effects of the Seroquel don’t wear off like they did for me. I take 300mg at night and it has no effect whatsoever in helping me sleep (no I lie, it makes me sleep heavily when I do sleep but it doesn’t help me go to sleep).

LunaSunshine - December 12, 2011

Couldn’t they combine that with a benzo? I’m taking two different benzos for sleep problems.

bri - December 12, 2011

Doctors here (Australia), or at least any doctor I have seen, are incredibly reluctant (if not downright opposed) to prescribing benzos.I haven’t come across a dr since 2005 who was willing to give me even a short term script for them. It is all ‘they are so addictive, the effect wears off, yada yada yada’.

LunaSunshine - December 20, 2011

Many doctors here are reluctant to prescribe benzos too. I’ve had doctors tell me the same thing about benzos. Do you know what? I take xanax three times a day. Okay, well I’m supposed to, but I usually skip the morning dose because I’ll end up in bed before my kid. I’m not ever wanting more, actually, I find myself cutting my doses on good days.

My current doctor believes that if you have a small, but constant flow of benzos, it is fine at treating long-term anxiety. He combined the two benzos for sleeping. And I’ve never slept better in my life!

Yes, it is true that many people find themselves addicted. And getting off of the benzos, once you’ve engaged in high dose, long-term use is a horrible ordeal. I don’t have a problem. Admittedly, I used benzos illegally in my younger years, and I told my doctor. I didn’t have a problem with them. And he told me that was a strong indication of self-medicating behavior. My body and mind knew what it needed.

I’m so sorry that so many people are denied these medications because of some misconceptions. I think under the supervision of a qualified doctor, it is quite effective and safe.

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