Oh, Neely O'Hara...

In an effort to kick my co-dependency to meds, I have decided to give up one of my anti-depressants and Xanax.

I have been on anti-depressants since senior year of high school. For the longest time I was on only one, but a second was added to my daily “treatment” two years ago. Since I’ve been feeling good and my psychiatrist has agreed with me that perhaps giving up one of them might be OK, I’ve been slowly cutting down my dosage so I can eventually be completely rid of it. He warned me that there would be withdrawals symptoms, but if I stuck to his plan of “slowly, but surely” we could keep those symptoms to a minimum.

A few days after I started to wean myself off my anti-depressant, I decided to give up Xanax, too. I did not run this by my psychiatrist, because that would mean admitting to him that my reason for wanting to give it the boot is because I’d been taking more than I should in the last couple months, instead of the intended “as needed basis.”

As one who rarely sees shades of grey and is very black and white in my thoughts in behavior, I decided to give up Xanax cold turkey. Bad idea. Actually, to be more direct: worst fucking idea I’ve had yet.

I have not slept in days; almost two weeks worth of sleepless nights to be exact. Last night I was up until 5am tossing and turning because without the relaxation of Xanax in my system, I just can’t sleep. It is physically impossible for me to sleep. The few hours I do get are riddled with nightmares and waking up over and over again feeling fearful that I’ve forgotten something, missed a deadline or even did or said something I shouldn’t have. The paranoia I’m experiencing, also a side effect of giving up Xanax, runs deep.

Then there are the headaches. I’m talking migraine quality headaches that, up until the other day, I didn’t even realize had anything to do with kicking the Xanax. I actually Googled if cigarette smoke could cause these headaches, because I was paranoid that my apartment smelled like smoke. I don’t smoke; I don’t allow people to smoke in my apartment, so, in reality, that was ridiculous. I’m trying to keep my Advil consumption to a minimum, because that shit destroys your liver. Fun times, yes? Don’t worry; I’m not done yet.

Also on the menu of Xanax withdrawal is dizziness, the feeling of vertigo and sweating. Do you know how confusing it is to sweat in 50-degree weather? Or to have vertigo when you’re just sitting on the couch? I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve pushed my head into the closest pillow and just screamed, because obviously, screaming at the top of your lungs is going to do wonders for raging headaches. The headaches that, mind you, are so intense on some days that I sit with my head hanging over the toilet hoping that I won’t throw up, but feeling that I absolutely will.

vertigo xanax withdrawl

Not like being hugged by James Stewart, actually

The side effect that has become the bane of my existence in the past several days is the heart palpitations. Between those and feeling as though I’ve just run a marathon at the rate my heart is racing, I have truly believed on many occasions that I’m dying of a heartache. Yes, dramatic, but as my doctor told me yesterday (I finally relented and called him) abrupt stopping of Xanax consumption can, in some cases, lead to death. The hypochondriac in me did not need to hear that.

The palpitations are so strong and feel as though my heart is residing right behind my larynx, that this has led me to cough unnecessarily. It’s this bizarre way of coping or trying to drown out the feeling that my heart just might explode out of my mouth at any given moment. I fully expect to throw up and see my heart floating in the toilet any day now.

These are not pretty things; these are not glamorous and they’re sure as hell not doing anything for my already wonky social skills. The problem with Xanax withdrawal is that you’re experiencing what the drug was prescribed to alleviate in the first place. You are living an ongoing anxiety attack, but if you want to get it out of your system, you need to be strong, accept that you technically did this to yourself and push through it like a champ. It’s hard to be a champ sometimes.

So here I am on an extremely low dosage of Xanax so I can get through these final days of withdrawal with as little discomfort as possible. It’s still not easy, but at least it softens the intensity of the symptoms so I can get through the day without screaming into pillows and admiring my reflection in the toilet bowl water.

The point is, my dear readers, is just say no to drugs. Seriously. Something that’s prescribed to you, a fact we should all know by now since we live in a pill-popping society, can be intensely harmful when overused, and even deadly should you decide to give it up without regard to just how badly your body needs it. I can’t stress this enough. It might not be heroin, but it’s still a drug that has taken hold of your nervous system and will not let you go without a fight.

While we can all agree that some of us need certain pills to keep our heads in check and from feeling sad or even hurting ourselves, we need to tread lightly. We need to be aware that sometimes a tiny pill is stronger than us. Xanax is the most misused benzodiazepine in the U.S. market of prescription drugs because it does work so effectively and immediately in the beginning, but at what cost?

What it comes down to is that Xanax is a horrible drug. Its intentions are good, but the aftermath is hell. I wouldn’t give Xanax to my worst enemy. No one deserves to feel like they’re mid-anxiety attack 24-hours a day – not even the evilest of evil. Although, you’ll agree with me if you’ve been there, the evilest of evil is Xanax itself.


Photo: Valley of the Dolls/20th Century Fox