Going into New Year, my steadiness grew and I again looked to ditching the meds. By now, I was taking only the Tofranil. They’d done their job. I wasn’t depressed, I wasn’t having panic attacks, my anxiety was probably as normal as anybody else’s (well, mostly), and the intrusive thoughts were few and dismissible.
The worry was whether any – or all – of that stuff would come back once I went off the meds. Was it lying in wait? Already, when I’d decreased my dosage of Tofranil by one quarter, the anxiety had seethed. Maybe I hadn’t tried hard enough to get through it.
For over fifteen months, I’d been taking meds, feeling like I wasn’t whole because I needed them to operate. All that anger and self-loathing and even indignation that I couldn’t be like everybody else, that I couldn’t be carefree and unencumbered by drugs, finally built to the point where it exploded.
That was it: Tofranil was gone.
I didn’t tell Dr Menlow. I’m not sure why. Maybe he’d discourage me, although he hadn’t given any indication that he’d do that. It might’ve been something simpler. Maybe I just wanted to show up one day and tell him, ‘Hey, I’m not taking medication anymore.’ It’d be like I’d done it all by myself.
Because that’s the way this felt. That I’d had to do this myself.
The morning Tofranil went first. I waited anxiously for the return of anxiety. But there was no change. I was the same as I always – or, at least, the same as I had become over the last year.
I removed another Tofranil from the dose of three I took nightly, and within a week I felt the effects. There were no panic attacks. The anxiety had been white noise, but now it became loud. I contemplated resuming that Tofranil, but decided to push through to see how long I could tolerate its absence.
The next several days were hellish. Again, I was hypersensitive. Every noise grated. Every argument made me jump. The anxiety readied to explode into life. What came next? Panic attacks? Constant panic? The same descent as last time?
I kept busy, kept writing, went out with friends, went to the footy. The only time the anxiety could really get to me was at night, when it was just it and me. Some nights it took forever to get to sleep. Other nights – particularly if I’d had a good day writing – I lay there and looked forward to tomorrow.
Bit by bit, I assimilated the anxiety back into me. It was like getting used to it and noticing it less. When it had dropped to a buzz, I flicked the second Tofranil and went through the same cycle again. And again when I got rid of the third and final one.
Lots of times the anxiety burned. And it wasn’t like I was strong in dealing with it, or wise and knew how to deal with it. If I was smarter, I might’ve handled the whole situation better. Instead, the only thing that pushed me through was dumb determination to get off the meds once and for all.
By the time I saw Dr Menlow again, I’d been off meds for about three weeks. My anxiety levels had simmered. As our routine appointment began, he asked me how I was doing, and I told him straight out that I was off the meds. He was surprised – I don’t think because I was off meds, but because I’d done it on the sly.
He recovered quickly (and graciously) and told me that as I was doing fine, I didn’t need them at the hospital anymore. But if ever I had problems again in the future, I should feel free to come back.
I left PANCH, and instead of walking to the train station, walked to the next one – an extra ten-minute walk. Nervous energy boiled in me, but it was good nervous energy. Pride fuelled it. Happiness. I’d gone through this crap for two years, been on meds for just less than that time, and when it had come to getting through it, I’d done it.
I was free.