It is interesting to be back in Kingston, Ontario because last time I was here I was extremely unwell. Both physically and mentally I was the sickest I have ever been. The last time I lived in this town was at the peak of both my anxiety and my eating disorder. I was admitted to Kingston General Hospital after presenting myself in the emergency room because I hadn’t eaten in almost two weeks.
At the time I thought that I was on a pretty great diet and that I had developed the flu, typical for fall on a university campus. Needless to say, I was still blind to the anorexia that had developed and that vomiting is a natural reaction to having a completely empty stomach upset by all the excess stomach acid. Apparently, I had some troubling vital signs because to this day I have never been rushed into care so quickly as I was on that day.
But back to my anxiety, it started the moment I realized I was actually going off on my own to university, having barely spent a night away from home my entire life. I didn’t get any treatment until I arrived at Queen’s University, though. For three months I experienced panic attacks and constant anxiety without any coping mechanisms. After a major panic attack in the first set of exams, I made an appointment at student health.
I was prescribed the highest dosage allowed for Clonazepam or Ativan, depending on the brand you are used to hearing about. Taking them helped a lot and at the time they simply made me feel normal. If I was to take that same dose today I would either fall asleep or feel completely high in a zen-like way. To me, this proves that almost 15 years ago, I really did need them the same way a person needs their heart meds.
So now you want to know how I got to the point of no longer needing to rely on this medication? Well, it came about slowly for sure. A good idea when withdrawing from any narcotic, which these meds in fact are. Eventually, my life was less stressful, but this took years (in part because I also survived a sexual assault 13 years ago, a small bump in the road towards recovery) and a lot of work.
A Step-By-Step Guide to Reducing Anxiety
Get medication if you need it, don’t be afraid to ask for help
Cut toxic people out of your life or set clear boundaries
Surround yourself with a fabulous support network
Try yoga, meditation, and deep breathing
Use mantras and positive self-talk
One of my favourites to say as I breathe out, “I am free of anxiety” and as I breathe in, “I am full of peace”.
I had to leave a relationship I wasn’t happy in, find a job I liked, gain more financial independence, and develop a good personal support network. I had to cut toxic people out of my life, some of whom were my closest family members. These are all good first steps if you are looking for a place to start, although I recognize some are easier to achieve than others, especially depending on your own social location (race, gender, class, sexuality, ability, etc). I also discovered yoga, meditation, and deep breathing.
But still, it took practice, a lot of practice. While I practiced, I slowly reduced my use of medication, going from three times a day to only once a month over at least 10 years. Eventually, I lost access to a family doctor because of a move across the province and because this medication retains a narcotic descriptor I was unable to get a prescription from walk-in clinics. This forced me to push myself even further.
It was challenging at times, especially when I first started flying for work travel, and doing so on a regular basis. I didn’t really like flying and it took a lot of positive self-talk to replace my anxiety with positivity. I also learned to recognize the advantages of having anxiety and trying to use it for good. It makes me an excellent risk manager in terms of planning at work and it ensures I am well insured in all aspects of my life.
It is also important that I keep practicing self-care and all of my other anxiety-reducing strategies. If I go too long without yoga and meditation, I start to notice that anxious feeling returning in small ways. But once I get back to it, I feel better. Your journey may be completely different from mine and that is okay but I believe we can all learn from each other and discover techniques that work best for us by trying what has worked for others.