Anxiety is defined as a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome. I am pretty sure I was born with it. I remember being only six months old and worried about my binky and whether or not my brother would give me my blanket back. Totally kidding, I don’t remember the year 1976. I do remember being worried about walking home from school in the second grade because there were bullies along the way. I always stood my ground but never the less, it sucked. Interesting side note, said bullies are not on Facebook because one of them passed away doing something stupid and drunk and the others are possibly too illiterate to handle social media. But I digress…
I didn’t start addressing my anxiety issues until 2010 (age 34). It was then I learned I could swallow a little pill and ease my nerves. In fact, it also eased my capacity to think, exercise and more or less “give a shit” about anything, for lack of a better phrase. There were also sexual side effects I won’t get into but let’s just say the storm didn’t make it to port. I went through several regimens of medication starting with Imipramine (Tofranil). It’s actually a tricyclic antidepressant and it did work for quite a while. I stopped worrying so much about everything but over time, I had to increase the dosage and eventually I was in such a fog, I drove one car into another in the driveway and realized enough was enough. I quit cold turkey and of course the anxiety came back with the worry, full force.
Welcome to Citalopram (Celexa). This was an interesting time in my life that resulted in divorce coupled with a mid-life crisis. It’s not a cliche, folks. It happens to the best of us. I don’t regret anything. In life, we make decisions the best way we know how and often we look back and think, “maybe I could have done that differently” but in reality, it doesn’t matter much how you handle some things, they just need to be handled. The interesting thing about divorce is that much like a career and a resume, the way you end things goes on your record and the people you meet thereafter seem to be concerned as to how it was handled. I probably didn’t handle it very well but then again, nearly seven years later I am still gainfully employed and very much in love. I have a roof over my head and plenty of friends and family who care about me. Hindsight doesn’t always mean something of significance. We live and learn and hopefully we grow. Back to citalopram…
Citalopram made me not care about anything. In fact, I didn’t even care if I slept, had sex, went to work or ate. I seriously did not “give a shit”. This wasn’t good and I at least had my wits about me enough to realize it. I quit cold turkey and more or less “lost my shit”. By that I mean my brain went on sort of a frenzy, haywire, so to speak. I ended up seeing a psychiatrist at Mercy and he prescribed me with two drugs. I don’t remember the names of them because I only took them one evening where I ended up with flu like symptoms in the bath tub for a couple hours. It was a horrible night. I stayed off prescription drugs for three years after that episode.
In the past three years I have taken several other anti-anxiety medications. One of them worked but my appetite was out of control. I gained twenty pounds and craved carbs to no end. I think it was Prozac. Another drug actually made my anxiety worse. I believe it was Fluoxetine. I quit this one cold turkey and had these wicked brain zaps for a month following. I can only imagine the faces I made with these zaps and people witnessing them, wondering if I was a nut job. By the way, I am a nut job but the zaps are gone and for those reading who ever witnessed them, thank you for never saying anything.
And now we get to the good stuff, cancer and anxiety. (it’s actually bad and good, mostly good).
When I was diagnosed with stage 4 esophageal cancer I immediately knew I needed something for anxiety. The doctor prescribed me with lorazepam (Ativan). Anyone who really knows me, has lived with me or worked with me, been in any kind of relationship with me, they have witnessed my anxiety attacks. Angie likely lost count in 2016. She is a saint, I really mean that. I tend to spiral and implode and often it is over the most insignificant stuff. Yes, the things seem important to me at the time but I always reflect and realize it wasn’t that important. But I still cannot help the attacks. This is how it works and I know so many of you are familiar with this. So when I was told I have cancer, one might imagine the thoughts that went through my head after hearing the diagnosis. Now try and imagine what I thought when the doctor said I might live three years? Imagine what I thought when I read stage 4 esophageal cancer patients “rarely” make it five years (19%). The statistics are skewed, there is that but still, it was crippling news.
So does the Ativan work? Hell yes, it works. I can honestly say I am happier than I have been in years. There are several reasons for this and I will explain. Aside from the side effects of chemo making me feel like complete shit most of the time, I no longer have anywhere near the anxiety I have been used to for most of my life. Let’s not forget I am no longer working 40 hours a week or even 20, for that matter. Does this play a role? Of course it does. I no longer have the pressure of tight deadlines and meetings and status updates. I am “broke” but not in the emotional sense, I mean I am strapped. I have no money and for the first time since I was 19 years old, I don’t really “give a shit”. The reason I don’t care is because the only thing I really do care about is surviving. When “survival” takes precedence in one’s life, nothing else matters. I used to obsessively look at my financial forecast wondering if I was ever going to get ahead. Now I check the mail for a paycheck and hope I can get a nap in before dinner. My life has completely changed and I honestly never would have predicted being in a better place with cancer but I am.
I am not wishing cancer on anyone, of course. I am not saying I am glad I have cancer. I am saying that with my diagnosis I have been gifted the opportunity to relax and reflect and survive. And for the first time in 20 years I no longer have sinus problems (seriously, I am not taking allergy meds). I no longer have the anxiety and irritability in the morning. I no longer worry about getting ahead, financially. It’s as if I am at peace with my station in life and the cancer came at a time when I was most likely to go over the edge and have my final implosion. I don’t know if it is the Ativan and I am not sure it matters. All I know is my cancer has allowed me time to reflect on what is important and at 42 years old, I now realize many of the things I’ve worried about for so many years are not as important as I once believed. The relief from this anxious burden is insurmountable. For the first time in many years I feel like I can breathe again, literally and figuratively. I am going to survive and with this my life is going to be different moving forward. I am going to be happier and have less worry. The change has already started and I hope you get to see it in my smile and hear it in my voice.
Thanks for reading.