Wednesday, 1 February 2012

My 100th post: my red toolbox, and coming off the wonderdrug

It is fitting that my 100th post (this post) is about my red toolbox, and coming off the wonderdrug, Effexor. I originally started writing on this blog to somehow get out some of the tangled mess in my head - and, as it turns out, writing has really worked wonders on me. Writing has become an outlet that I miss now if I don't do it for a while, much like yoga or ice cream.

When I look over some of my earlier posts I recall (with a sense of gratefulness, being somewhat detached from it now) the lost feeling I felt so acutely for a time, and this intense fear that I would be in a horribly dark and lonely place forever...and never quite be 'me' again, or that I'd never be the same. Well...I'm not the same, but in a good way, somehow stronger now. More accepting of myself. More content. Happier. It was a dark time there for a while.

A couple of years back I was diagnosed with generalised anxiety disorder (a technical way of labelling having loads and loads of panic attacks). At first therapy was enough to treat it but eventually it came to a point, I like to refer to it as my 'spiritual crisis/emergency', where I needed a little something extra to get me over that 'Everest'. So I went on Effexor. At first, going on drugs frightened me, beyond any words I could ever write here to express just how terrified me.

But, here I am, just over 1 year on after starting it, and I took my last Effexor (hopefully ever) 2 days ago. No more. It's finished. I'm moving on. (Just to be super clear I weaned myself carefully off of it with my docs direction.)

It's a horrible drug in many ways. It kills things that shouldn't be killed, and it makes you get fat fat fat. Horrible. I don't want to say it saved my life, but I feel I do need to acknowledge it's wonder somehow. I went on it 2 Christmases ago, and took it for the shortest possible time recommended for the long term benefits (12 months).

All I needed was a little a shaft of light to open up for me so I could exit my cave of horrible anxious darkness, and Effexor did that for me. It let me rejoin the world so I could rebuild my life. It didn't fix me. It allowed me the energy and the inclination to do everything necessary to fix myself. And that's just what I've done. I feel quite proud of how far I've come, the journey (sorry, such a vomitous word) I've been on, and the things I've learnt along the way. It makes me tear up a bit.

For a time I was unable to eat, sleep, or even manage a smile, for days at a time (and at it's worse, even longer than that). On a bad day books, magazines, even television were all out of the question. It was just empty emotional pain coupled with acute fear that it would somehow get worse.

I would "wake up" after not sleeping or sleeping restlessly at some point during the night and my body felt as though it weighed 3 tonns. So heavy I could barely move. At first I thought that's was because I actually couldn't manage moving my body, but after listening to a podcast by someone who'd been through something similar (and I'm sorry but I can't remember who, there were so many podcasts at one point), learnt that in fact despite feeling horrible I had to remind myself that I did in fact have control of my arms and legs and I could command that they move. So that's what I did.

It sounds incredible now, but even deciding what to wear in the mornings was too much. Usually the acuteness of whatever it was I was feeling would abate somewhat during the afternoon, at least enough that I could distract myself with television and download podcasts to listen to. So each evening, once I was feeling okay, I would lay out my clothes in preparation for the morning, and prepare for the next wave of acute anxiety. I tried not to expect it in case it was self-sabotague, but prepare the basics just in case.

As soon as it was light enough in the morning I would command my arms and legs to move, get up, put on the clothes I had put out for myself, grab my iPhone and headphones and walk. I would walk and walk and walk and walk. Every cell in my body would scream "noooooooo you can't do it", but I walked anyway. I would walk to the beach, and sit and watch the water for a while, and then walk some more. There's nothing like watching the ocean when you need perspective.

I would try and smile back at the strangers running with their dogs who would wave and say "good morning". Sometimes I could manage it without wanting to yell at them, desparing of my own jealousy at their normality. It seems almost funny now.

I listened to this amazing audiobook by Paul Vincent, "50 Things You Can Do Today To Beat Depression" (listen to it here on YouTube). The first thing I remember him saying was, "there is no one thing will cure your depression". I was so angry, until I realised what he meant. You have to do lots of things to feel better. His theory is to spread the load a bit...that there are 50 things will each make you feel 2% better. So combined, you'll feel 100% better if you find and manage to do those 50 things.

It gave me an idea. See, I'm such a visual person. I need to see things to understand them. I started think about what made me feel better about life in general. Family. Friendship. Love. Doing things. Anythings. I started small (*laughs*). But then a wave of anxiety would come and wipe everything away like water wiping away words in the sand. I needed some really bright paint on some sturdy rocks, so that the words would appear again once the water had subsided. I needed constant reminders of the 50 things that made me feel better. If I even had 50 things.

If only there was some way I could store visual representations without having to read so that at the height of my anxiety I could literally hold physical reminders of the happier version of myself, to just hold them, my tools to happiness, and wait for the anxiety/fear/terror to abate.

I needed a toolbox. Specifically a red one, as red is my favourite colour. I needed to fill it with my 50 50 tools. My therapist was so excited about the idea, that he (literally then and there as soon as I furtively mentioned the idea) got up, went to the next room, got his own red toolbox (which happened to be vintage, another favourite of mine) and emptied it out right there on the floor - and insisted I take the toolbox and start putting my idea into motion that very day.

So that's what I did.

It was actually a lot of fun thinking of how to physically represent all the things that needed to go in there.

My drugs went in there, obviously. Effexor and Alprax (like Xanax). Okay. 2 things, 48 to go. My headphones went in there. 3. A book that my Mum would read to me that was also very helpful (Ross Greenwood's, "In the unlikely event of an emergency"). Massages were a huge help. Massage oil! 4, 5. My family, friends and boyfriend all needed to go in there...that's a tricky one, aside from photos (too easy) in went some string! 6. Writing, too easy, a pencil and a writing book. 7. Bev Aisbett's, "Living with 'IT'" (a brilliant, brilliant, brilliant book). My doctor's business card. My therapist's business card. 8, 9, 10. A mini shoe, to represent my walking. 11. A sea shell, from the ocean. 12. Quickly, the toolbox started to fill with everything that I found helpful, and I found myself looking for new things to add to it.

My red toolbox always sat open, in a place that was easily accessible. So that any time the anxiety came on, I could rummage around my toolbox to find something helpful. I had so, so many massages during the worst of it. Massages are so great, for me it is impossible to feel anything but relaxed in one, and they often calmed me to the point of happy.

And love. Love was the real clincher. All types of love too, I'm not only talking about my darling sweetheart man (whose love is undoubtedly incredible), my friends, and my family (I'm lucky to have such wonderful people around me). I'm also talking about kindness from strangers, and courage from people who have shared their own stories, self love, and love for particular hobbies, places, or activities. Just love, generally.

And so now I feel like I'm nearing the finish line. My last Effexor capsule 2 days ago and I've been anxiety free for almost a year now. I have a few reminders, that keep me humble, but nothing unhandleable. I feel sturdy now. Ready for the next chapter. Grateful, and content.

Most importantly, I still have my toolbox, literally brimming with tools that help me in life. It sits (still in a prominant position in my room) closed for now. At times I open it and have a rummage, but I no longer need to go to it very often.

What a fantastic way to celebrate my 100th post.


  1. I agree, what a fantastic and brave way to celebrate your 100th post.

  2. I love this post. The toolbox idea is absolutely fabulous. Your brave writing is very inspirational. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    1. Hi Anon, thank you for the lovely feedback - I'm glad you've found this inspirational! xx