Sometimes when you have been anxious for a long period of time it can almost feel more comfortable to be uptight than to be relaxed.
As if being relaxed were almost wrong or dangerous somehow.
Maybe this comes from the superstition “If I worry about it, it won’t happen.” Or maybe it stems from our idea that we are so powerful we have to make sure that nothing bad happens and that everyone around us is safe, as if we were superheros in disguise. Or maybe worry just gets to be a habit that is hard to break.
My psychiatrist talked to me about this recently. She explained that by being anxious over and over and over again I am teaching my brain to continue to be anxious. When those certain pathways in our brain are used once, it is easier for them to get used again and again, until that is the normal flow of things. (BTW, this is true with many things, not just anxiety).
She went on to talk about having to re-teach my brain not to be anxious. That’s where the drugs come in. They help me change my brain’s habits.
I’ll confess, the first time I took the Klonopin she prescribed me, it freaked me out a little. Even though I only took half a pill, it relaxed me so much that it made me nervous.
I know, I am just that good at anxiety. Impressive, right?
I was so unused to being relaxed that I panicked. What if something bad happened? I needed to be on edge so I could respond at a moment’s notice.
Talk about an overactive need for control (on the plus side this nature kept me from hitting the bottle or doing drugs in my youth, so there is that).
I found I almost had to ease myself into relaxation. I cut the Klonopin down to a quarter which basically took the edge off my anxiety enough so that I could function fully. Over time the SSRI and my healing progressed enough that a quarter of a pill made me feel even more relaxed.
My first temptation at that point was to cut back to an eighth of a pill.
When I told this to my psychiatrist she just kind of smiled at me. At first we sort of joked about how her anxious patients are experts at cutting up their pills into bits until they basically just take a whiff of their tranquilizers and call it a day. Then she did two things.
She reassured me I was not getting addicted to these pills nor was I likely to with my habits and personality.
Then she asked me if I was actually letting myself get calm and relaxed or if I was just reducing the anxiety enough to be manageable. She cautioned that if I was doing the latter, then I was still teaching my brain and body to be anxious instead of retraining it to relax.
I really thought about her words and decided she was right. I went back to taking a quarter of a Klonopin (what you didn’t think I was going to get all wild and crazy and take a whole one did you?). Then something amazing happened.
I actually felt calm and relaxed for maybe the first time in a year. It was unbelievable. It felt so good I almost couldn’t believe it.
This time I didn’t panic when the calm set in, I actually embraced it and let myself just feel happy and relieved.
Because I’m telling myself a new story now.
It is okay to feel calm. It is okay to relax. It is okay to be happy.
The couple of times when I felt guilt creeping in for feeling so good or wondering if I was going to become a drug addict, I just let those thoughts go.
I don’t have to make myself suffer needlessly out of some sense of guilt or martyrdom or an overdeveloped need for control.
I too can let go.
So I’ve been embracing this new non-anxious state. My brain and the rest of me are learning to enjoy it. It will take some time I’m sure.
But that’s okay. When you use your pill cutter to cut up your Klonopin like I do, a bottle of those jokers last forever 🙂