How I Overcame Anxiety Without Medication
My anxiety journey went from heavily medicated to heavily meditated and here is the story about how I stepped away from meds, went the holistic route and overcame.
At 17, I was taking the diet pills Hydroxycut. I was shopping with my mom at Macy’s in the purse department, and suddenly everything went black. I came to and wasn’t able to catch my breath, my heart beating in uneven rhythms. I legitimately thought I was having a heart attack. My mom rushed me to the ER, and after shaking uncontrollably for an hour in the waiting room, I was examined. The doctor told me I had had a panic attack, and that the Hydroxycut was eating away at my organs because I didn’t have enough fat on my body. After this incident, I threw out the Hydroxycut and was a bit disoriented for a couple weeks, but things seemed to level out. Until a year later.
At 18 the panic attacks come back with a vengeance. They appear randomly; at Six Flags on our senior trip, at dinner with friends, on the football field during our graduation rehearsal. The feelings are unbearable and I end up at the doctor again, seeking a solution because my graduation trip to Hawaii was weeks away. He prescribes me Xanax, telling me “even if the plane is on fire these will keep you worry free.” Xanax gave me around 5 hour windows of temporary relief, but once it wore off the anxiety was still present. Hawaii was spent in an anxiety ridden Xanax haze.
When I’m back home, the anxiety gets even worse. I go to a new doctor, am diagnosed with Panic Disorder and prescribed Zoloft. I try it, nothing happens. We up the dose to 100mg, I feel like a zombie. I quit cold turkey, I can’t even leave the house. I drive down the street to Target and end up in the hospital thinking I am dying again. Then I try Lexapro. I find myself immobile lying on the couch, staring at a blank TV screen for hours (this really happened). I feel even more numb than ever, and go back on Zoloft. I stay on .50mg for a year, quit cold turkey again and relapse harder than ever. The panic attacks are extreme and come randomly; out of the blue while watching TV, in class at FIDM, driving between LA and OC. As a side effect of the constant anxiety and meds rollercoaster, I start to feel completely out of touch with reality, and wildly irrational thoughts surface. One late night in my apartment in LA, I thought someone was planning an attack on our building and I started to theorize how I could scale the walls and escape. Sometimes I was afraid to fall asleep because I thought I would wake up and be in a psychotic state I wouldn’t be able to come back from. I was certain that I was insane and constantly asked my mother to check me into a mental hospital. At this point I was taking 3 Xanax a day, Zoloft, and drinking and smoking weed to further take the edge off, struggling to get by. With the anxiety, comes depression, and I often found myself curled up in a ball in my room, tired and exhausted, feeling buried in a deep black hole I couldn’t find my way out of. My therapist helped me realize that Xanax has a rebound anxiety effect; the more I take, the quicker it wares off, the more intense the anxiety becomes, the need for more increases. I quit cold turkey and experience a week of withdrawal symptoms; fever, intense sweating, the shakes. I deem Xanax an “in case of an emergency drug,” from then on.
I spend 3 traumatic years experiencing daily panic attacks, shrinking and withdrawing from reality, and luckily by 21 I start to level out. I remain on .25mg of Zoloft for the next 4 years, and use Xanax sparingly. The panic attacks rarely happen, and I think I am coping with the anxiety. At 25, I decide to wean off of the Zoloft. I experience intense brain zapping. As Psychology Today describes it “(… sometimes called brain shivers, brain shocks, head shocks, and electrical shocks). They tend to be apparently uncaused sensations of electricity briefly passing through the brain.” I’m constantly dizzy, nauseous and tired. This lasts for 3 months and it appears that I am finally drug free!
As the years pass, work life gets more exciting yet intense, and the anxiety slowly starts creeping back into my life, along with the Xanax. My work as a fashion stylist demands early call times, late wrap times, long hours, constant stimulation and running all around town (and the country). Life is moving fast and the anxiety starts to rear it’s ugly head at random. Unconsciously I decide I don’t have time to deal with it, and I begin taking Xanax to manage. My “in case of emergency” drug becomes my “I’m tired and feeling anxious, I can’t go to set like this drug,” the “my grandpa just died and it hurts too much drug.” And my favorite, “I’m going to hot yoga and afraid I’ll pass out drug.”
There was always a reason that it was more important to not feel my feelings and I certainly “didn’t have the time” to deal with them because of the fast paced life I was living.
This went on until I finally hit rock bottom at 28. I was overworked, exhausted, unhappy and fell into a deep depression. When I expressed that I was having suicidal thoughts, my boyfriend left me. Already treading water, this situation drowned me. The anxiety hit me like a ton of bricks and the panic attacks came back. Xanax was my nightly ritual to help me sleep. A couple months later, I had a huge wake up call: the Xanax stopped working, my body was no longer responding to it no matter how many I took. This was a turning point, and I felt like I was standing at a crossroads. I could find stronger medications as a quick fix, but at this point I knew meds were a bandaid and my gut told me this was a very dark path. Or I could go towards the unknown. The other option was a big question mark, no real idea of a starting point, direction or destination. In my mind this looked like a blank space.
I went towards the unknown.
November 14, 2015, when I was about to head out to an important meeting, I had my Xanny in my hands, literally shaking with fear, nauseous from anxiety and panic. I declared in that moment to break the habit, and to allow myself to feel the fear and do my best to move through it regardless of the outcome. I quit the habit then and there and never looked back.
This was when everything really took a turn for the worse.
I know you’re probably thinking, "when does this story get better / when does she overcome?"…Well from what I’ve learned / experienced, sometimes things gets worse before they get better. We’re almost there!
I started seeing a hypnotherapist that introduced me to meditation, holistic healing and spirituality. I began meditating excessively and it brought up everything that I had suppressed over the years; the pain, toxicity, anger, sadness, repressed thoughts and fears. It was as if my body could no longer hold all that I had suppressed in the last 28 years and was screaming “enough!” Bodily pains from past injuries began to surface as I was no longer taking muscle relaxants (aka Xanax). I experienced alarming shooting pains up and down the entire left side of my body. I blacked out again, this time alone in a hotel room on a job. I was only able to sleep 4 nights a week. I even began to break out with cystic acne. Quitting Xanax, alcohol and changing my diet drastically left me without any crutches, therefore completely aware and awake in my body. It was overwhelming to say the least. I felt like I was tail spinning, so I headed to a 7 day spiritual retreat in the mountains with no access to phones or the internet. It was an eye opening and transformative experience, I fell in love with retreats and was reminded how healing nature is. I became passionate about holistic wellness and meditation and began researching and practicing nonstop. When I returned to LA, I saw all kinds of healers who helped me on my path. A Chinese Medicine doctor, a Homeopath, a Naturopath, a Nutritionist. I did all the reiki, yoga, women’s circles and sound baths. Cutting out sugar proved to help ease the cycle of rampant anxious thoughts. I was disciplined and dedicated to my meditation and healing. After a year and a half of turmoil, processing, exploring and hard work, I began to experience a profound shift in my being. Darkness turned to light and the colors from within surfaced. I felt comfortable and confident in my own skin. The acne cleared. I was able to sleep through the night. My emotions were balanced and I was able to move through situations that would normally trigger anxiety with more ease. Integrating my shadow side had me feeling more whole and authentic. I felt like a totally different person, because I was.
There are a lot of things that got me to this place. I was lucky enough to have a solid group of reliable friends, and a supportive family that allowed me to lean on them when I could not hold myself up. This was a practice of vulnerability for me to be able to receive this kind of support. I found a wonderful therapist that supported me through this whole journey, whom I still see to this day. I saw many healers and had quite a few guides. I made self love and self care a priority. I completely changed my lifestyle; I walked away from the work I was doing, moved, surrounded myself with a more holistic community, overhauled my diet, changed my style, started creating my own visual art, and got a Holistic Health Coaching certification.
Yet the # 1 thing I attribute the healing of my anxiety to is: meditation.
Meditation became my new drug, and without it, I would not have been able to find the inner strength and guidance to make these big life changes. It brought up my most intense fears, but it also gave me the courage and calm to face them head on, right there on the cushion. Meditation helped me ground into my body, to actually feel my feelings. Accessing my senses helped me get more in touch with who I was, especially who I was sans medication. After a period of time, I became more comfortable with my mind and sitting in discomfort. Getting comfortable with allowing sensations to move through my body without resistance was the key to overcoming my fears and the perpetual cycle of panic attacks. Sitting with myself helped me understand the connection between my thoughts and my mood. It expanded my heart and mind, allowing me to see past my ego and be more open to different perspectives. Meditation unlocked my inner world of creativity and gave me the courage to start creative directing my own shoots, using visuals to express myself and tell my stories. It helped me get through my first flight without Xanax in 10 years. It gave me the confidence to travel solo and take on new challenges. Meditation rewired my brain and to this day I no longer identify with the labels of anxiety and depression. Knowing that I can just close my eyes and focus on my breath in any situation, relying solely on myself instead of a pill or a person gives me strength and empowerment. In my opinion, it is the most powerful tool there is to overcome pretty much anything.
All that being said, my journey was rocky and tumultuous and I don’t want to scare anyone off or deter people from doing the deep work because of this. It’s important to know I was going through an incredibly tough and emotional time in my life where a lot of things had seemingly fallen apart. I also had a tendency to be quite drastic and impulsive which was caused by the pressure of anxiety. I would never recommend for anyone to quit meds cold turkey, throw themselves into meditating heavily in really dire times, or change everything at once. Even though in the end it has helped, I learned the hard way that making sudden and drastic changes like that are not sustainable. Though painful, I am grateful for these experiences and lessons, as I have become incredibly passionate about guiding others to find healing the natural way through holistic practices and meditation. Helping clients make significant shifts at a slow, steady and sustainable rate has been so fulfilling.
For those of you out there that are be struggling with a mental illness I hope this story inspires you and makes you feel seen and heard. I want you to know you are not sick, you are not crazy, and it is absolutely NOT all in your head. I want you to know you are not alone. I have been there too, I have felt your pain. Healing IS possible. I am living proof. As dark as the dark can feel, touching that part of yourself can make the light that much brighter and give you so much more compassion for others; eventually becoming a part of your gift to the world. There is no right or wrong path to heal, whether you choose to use medication or go the holistic route, know that your body is your own and only you know what is right for you. Either way, I stand with you, I support you and I love you. <3
Through this healing process I have become a certified Holistic Health Coach and offer services to help those in need of guidance on their healing journey, it is a great passion of mine. Book a session below if you’d like to work with me to learn skills and gain tools to cope with anxiety, depression or life transitions.