Coming Out of the Fog – Stopping Xanax
For the past three months I’ve been tapering off of Xanax, yes Xanax the much maligned drug that many in the medical community scoff it. Even though it’s been a rough and a slow process I don’t think Xanax is evil. It gave me my life back that severe anxiety and non-stop panic attacks had taken in my 20s. It worked. Nothing else did. Period.
But now that I’m nearing 50 and the anxiety has waned and panic attacks are very rare I was ready to stop taking it. Actually, it was the retirement of my family doctor, and the fact that I had to see a new doctor who recommended I stop that finally gave me to go ahead to try but this time with some help.
She prescribed amitriptyline to help me sleep at night because insomnia is the withdrawal symptom that always derailed me before when I attempted to cut back. It also helps take the edge off of the withdrawal symptoms but I still experienced the wide range of symptoms that are commonly seen when tapering off of Xanax.
My doctor had suggested a much faster tapering than the pace I took. She wanted me off in 4 weeks but I knew that wasn’t going to be possible or even safe because I’ve read many medical papers on the subject and knew a much slower taping was the safest and most successful method.
Luckily, I still had a couple refills left from my previous doctor so I had enough to go more slowly. If I hadn’t had those refills I would have tried to persuade my new doctor to allow me to go more slowly.
Basically, I just listened to my body and tapered at a rate that was tolerable. I’d been working a 40-hour a week job throughout this period so I needed to remain functional.
I had been taking two half a milligram tablets per day. I took half a milligram at about 5am and another half a milligram at 1pm. This had been my routine for many years.
Between those two dosages I experienced interdose withdrawal symptoms when the effectiveness of the drug wore off between dosages. It was the worst in the morning because there was more time between the afternoon dose and the next morning’s dose.
It was much more difficult to cut back the morning dose as well.
So every morning I woke up in withdrawal and had to walk wearily to the kitchen to take my pill before feeding the dogs who were impatiently waiting for their bowls to be filled.
Xanax has a short half-life which essentially means its effectiveness wears off quickly. For me, it lost its’ punch after about 6 or 7 hours or so. But Xanax kicks in fast which is why it’s so good for panic attacks. You need a drug that works quickly, not one that take 2 weeks to work.
And there just aren’t many good anxiety medications. Benzodiazepines like Xanax are the most effective. There’s plenty of depression meds that kinda help anxiety but I didn’t have depression. I had anxiety and those or two totally different things.
People suffering with anxiety are put into a tough spot because benzos do the job that no other medication does. When taken responsibly they’re generally safe. It’s just that most patients require increased dosages to be effective and quitting them can be hell, especially if you’re still dealing with severe anxiety.
I wouldn’t have been able to stop taking Xanax when I was having panic attacks on a daily basis. I probably have become suicidal. So, no, doctors shouldn’t feel the need to rip the bottle out of their patient’s hands.
If you need it, you need it. When you’re ready to quit then you’re ready to quit.
How I Tappered Off of Xanax
The tapering schedule wasn’t exactly linear in the sense that I religiously stuck to a rigid schedule of reducing the amount I was taking on a weekly basis. Instead I learned it was better to listen to my body and taper on a schedule that I could tolerate.
I tapered on the weekends so I’d have a couple days to adjust before going back to work.
I’d usually stay at a certain dosage for a couple weeks to allow my body time to adjust.
Most of the time when I tapered down on Saturday I wasn’t able to continue that low amount the next day so I’d go back to what I’d been taking before – not the full original dosage but the reduced amount I had taken before tapering again.
So, for example if I had cut back to a quarter of a pill on Saturday and couldn’t handle that smaller amount on Sunday, I’d bump it back up to a half a pill and then on Monday I’d knock it back down to a quarter of a pill.
This helped because on the third day I was able to tolerate trying to cut back again. I’m not sure why but it usually worked for me. Also, I learned that not taking the tapered amount at the same time every day helped.
My brain or chemistry or whatever would demand that I take Xanax at a certain time or pay the price. When I threw it off with differing schedules, especially once I got down to a very small dosage later in the tapering process, I had fewer withdrawal symptoms.
Mostly I just want to stress that I listened to my body and did what I could tolerate or at least I learned to do that in time.
Early in the process I slept a lot probably because I was still taking a good amount of Xanax and also amitriptyline at a night to help me sleep. Mornings were rough and luckily I worked second shift so I slept until 10 or 11 in the morning which was totally uncharacteristic of me.
I’m the type of person that needs to be always doing something productive or meaningful. I’m definitely not the type to sit in front of a TV all day long and vegetate.
In addition to my regular 40-hour job I also have a side hustle business so I’m a very busy person. I also try to fit in exercise everyday.
I had to allow myself time to get better because I couldn’t handle doing all of those things everyday during the worst weeks and there were bad weeks!
I just realized that it was okay to take a few weeks, a couple months, off from my busy schedule and allow myself time to get better. I couldn’t do everything I was doing before and once I got rid of the guilt for not being able to do all of those things the process was much easier.
Now I’m down to just a quarter of a pill once a day so soon I’ll be completely off of it which leaves me to wonder what life will be without it?
The Reward for the Journey
Very early in the tapering I would have moments of visual clarity. I saw the world again like I had seen it before taking benzos. I literally could see better. Colors were more vibrant and everything looked so brilliant.
When you’re on Xanax or another type of benzo you’re kinda living in a fog and a forcefield. I was numb to a lot around me. I wasn’t unaware or at least I don’t think I was. I functioned well cognitively.
I successfully went through four years of college in my 40s and graduated Summa Cum Laude. It hadn’t affected my ability to think but it did affect my ability to see clearly and how I interacted with people.
I was just numb to everything. The wind didn’t feel the same. I didn’t notice sounds the same.
One morning I was laying in bed and heard a train horn in the distance and it sounded glorious because I hadn’t heard a sound in that way for over 20 years.
But I have to admit that there were some weeks during the process in which I didn’t see any light at the end of the tunnel. Those moments of clarity disappeared.
There were times when I wondered what was the point of this.
But once I came through those weeks I began coming back to myself.
Today, I’m still going through withdrawal. I have constant ringing in my ears. I’m often dizzy and get headaches frequently. There’s a lot of muscle pain and sometimes nausea. I’m not able to go back to my full schedule just yet so I’m laying low.
I can’t tell you the end of the story because I haven’t reach it yet but I’m feeling much more hopeful that I’ll get myself back. It may take months after I stop taking Xanax but I expect to get there.
This isn’t meant as medical advice because I’m not a doctor or an expert. This is just my story. If you are trying to stop Xanax you need to be under the care of a physician. Seizures are possible, as well as other potentially fatal symptoms, especially if you try to quit cold turkey or just way too fast.
That reminds me that I did have issues with my heart. My normal resting heart is in the 50s but it had gone up to the 80s and 90s during the worst of it. During that time I bumped my dosage back up.
If you experience these kinds of symptoms you should call your doctor or go to the ER. I didn’t because I was doing it alone for the most part but I wouldn’t recommend doing it my way because it might not be the right way for you.
I do recommend going at your own pace however. We’re all different.
As for how I’ll deal with anxiety and panic attacks without Xanax. Well, my doctor isn’t taking me off of Xanax completely. I’ll still have a prescription for when I absolutely need it. She just doesn’t want me to take it on a daily basis.
But I know how quickly I became dependent upon Xanax. In fact, I remember when I became hooked. I remember seeing the world so much brighter and clearly on those days when I wasn’t taking it and the fog I lived in on days that I did. It concerned me way back then.
I don’t want to go through that again. I’ll keep it for when I go on a flight or for some out of the ordinary anxiety provoking circumstance but learning how to deal with anxiety without meds is the goal.
Anyway, this has been a long and winding post but I just wanted to share my experience because there are millions of other people just like me.
It helps to know you’re not the only one.