Finally, more than three weeks after I first tried to write this post, I’m giving up all pretension to eloquence. Let me just type as I want to type, without making it literary or clever.
For the last decade I’ve been struggling with anxiety. It’s getting to the point where I can’t pretend things are improving. If I’m making progress, it’s emotional progress: I feel better about my anxiety, in that I’m not longer angry at myself for feeling it so often and at such an elevated level.
In my book about my mother I also talk at some length about myself: in particular, the psychological bullshit I went through as a teenager. I won’t dwell on it now, because it’s unbelievably boring to do it after having written about it in a memoir. In brief, I had a few psychotic episodes in my mid-teens that left me hospitalized in various places, and it took a block of years of medical treatment and psychiatric support before I was much better. I’ve been on antidepressants and antipsychotics for the last ten years. I am much better, more stable, less prone to long stretches of feeling like shit. Overall, it’s been a story of success.
But the anxiety never leaves. I wake up anxious and spend the day anxious before going to bed anxious. It never stops. My body is always tense. My shoulders take a few minutes of serious stretching before they even consider loosening up. Even when I’m feeling okay, or quite well, or great, I’m still anxious. I’m still sweating, tapping my fingers on the table, drumming on the floor with my foot.
I’ve been prescribed different pharmacological “fixes” for the anxiety. So far, the only one that’s worked for me has been lorazepam: sadly, beta blockers don’t seem to be particularly effective for me, and Xanax made me forget everything as soon as it happened.
Lorazepam has been my addiction, I suppose. Everyone seems to have one. I don’t drink very much at all. I used to smoke but I quit cold-turkey one day: the result was a few weeks of pacing, sweating, craving it, but then it just stopped. I was fine.
Not so with lorazepam. It’s a wonderful thing, when you take it once in a while. I’ve been taking it twice a day every day for months. I had stopped a while back, because I knew it was addictive. Every year I take lorazepam for five or six months, and then I try to quit. This has been happening since high school.
After my mother’s death I started taking lorazepam very, very regularly. It’s been three and a half years now — I’d estimate there’s only been about 8 full months during those three years in which I didn’t take the stuff.
Lorazepam creates a feeling of calm. It lets me focus. WIthout it, I can’t sit still, I can’t be alone, I can’t be with people, I can’t control my eating, I can’t do any writing, I can’t make music. This is because when I am at my most anxious, I am incapable of doing much more than pacing around very quickly and talking to the walls: to myself.
Sometimes I go for a professional massage. That usually helps a lot — for about three hours. After that, it’s back to the routine of JESUS CHRIST HELP ME CHILL THE FUCK OUT.
I’m not unhappy. I was unhappy when I was a kid, a teenager acne and very long bouts of depression that made me feel totally isolated from everyone. That kind of thing happens to a lot of people, and I’m glad it happened to me — it was back then that I started writing and listening instead of talking at all my classmates like everyone else. I’m quite convinced having gone through that early in life made me more sensitive to suffering in others. I’m an easily impatient guy, and irritable, and grumpy, but I believe it when people say I offer good advice.
What advice do I give myself, now, at this point in my life? The obvious answer would be: STOP RELYING ON LORAZEPAM. Go back to therapy, and try to deal with it. I took my own advice a couple of weeks ago, in Brooklyn. I was stayed at a friend’s house for ten days and tried to reduce my intake of lorazepam. Cold turkey was a very, very bad idea. I felt feverish, hopeless, terrified. My head was in a daze from morning till night. I couldn’t leave the apartment. I wish God would just show up and prove he existed, so I could mention to him that the friend I was with was extremely patient with me and supportive and wonderful. She made everything much less horrible. Still, it was horrible.
I went back to taking some lorazepam, about half what I was taking before. Thought I’d taper off instead of plunging into sobriety (the water’s much colder than you think). Now I’m still trying to reduce the amount I take further. With an upcoming trip to Hong Kong, where I’ll be surrounded for three weeks by new people taking the same course as me, I don’t want to stop completely now only to start again when the stress gets too strong to ignore.
I’ve decided to write about my little anxiety problem here so that it’s out in the open. Lots of people are following my posts by now. Usually I write about books or psychoanalysis or music or my writing. I’m adding a new type of post now: the kind where I just vent and use this blog the way so many others use their blogs. To feel less alone.