A lot of people (those who practice and those who don’t, yet… mwahaha) have asked me about getting off my anxiety medication or have told me that they themselves are so stressed out all the time. Well here’s the thing, I was on anxiety medicine for a year and a half, and I have been off of them for about 5 weeks now…. and I’m fine.
I started feeling very anxious my senior year of undergrad in 2009. I think the stress of applying to medical school was really what set it off. Here’s a brief idea of the application process of medical school: you begin the actual application over a year before you would matriculate if you are accepted. You usually are recommended to study for the MCAT (medical college admissions test) for 6 months prior to your test date. This is really a tough test. Six hours of testing on the computer inclusive of physics, general chemistry, organic chemistry, biochemistry, basic biological concepts, anatomy, and physiology. The majority of it is passage based, so you read the passage, and then answer questions based on the passage PLUS science concepts you should know prior to medical school admission. Even doctors talk about how awful this test is. So I was studying/taking the MCAT (I took it twice before entering senior year of college, after spending about a month abroad in India), getting my application together, and taking senior courses. OH, and don’t forget your 5 letters of recommendation, and making sure you have adequate volunteer and clinical experience. And, you better have straight A’s! Also, you should probably have something unique about you like you can juggle fire balls, swallow a sword, or breathe under water. I was stressed about what I’d be doing come fall 2010. If I didn’t get into school, then what?! I wasn’t confident with my application because my MCAT score was not up to par, but it is my dream to be a physician, so I’d thought I’d try anyways. As a backup plan, I applied to graduate school – specifically a Masters of Physiology at NCSU. And here I am.
I started my graduate program in the fall of 2010. I also signed up for the Kaplan MCAT course, because I knew this needed much improvement. This course was an hour away from my house, twice a week, for three hours at a time. YIKES! Talk about no life. I still kept up going to the gym 4-5 times a week. I was also a full time student, and I worked about 30 hours a week for a medical sales company. All of this was not fun, to say the least, and I began feeling extremely overwhelmed. My anxiety completely took over my body. My “resting” heart rate was about 100 beats per minute. My blood pressure was 150/100. I always had these weird crazy thoughts of dying…. Later I found out these are symptoms of anxiety. I would be sitting in class (always in the back because I didn’t want anyone to see me if I passed out), thinking of all that I had to do and to study, and I would have to leave and go home because I thought if I sat there any longer thinking of everything I had to do, and if I didn’t do it, I’d die. I mean I’m not kidding when I literally thought I was going to die!!!! Sometimes I would go into the bathroom to calm myself down (which never worked), and I would try to convince myself that I’m young and healthy and not going to die. I was scared to sleep at night, because I knew I had too much work to sleep. I thought if I went to sleep that I’d die, and I didn’t want anyone to find me dead in my bed so I would just stay awake. This sounds totally absurd and bizarre, but I wasn’t lying to you when I say my anxiety took over my body! It took over my normal homeostatic conditions such as blood pressure and my circadian rhythms. It also took over my mind. I couldn’t concentrate in class, I couldn’t focus on my practice MCATs, I couldn’t even drive my car at times because I would “forget” how to drive because I was so anxious. I knew it was REALLY bad when I went to get immunizations for my upcoming trip to Ethiopia. I got like 3 or 4 shots, something I do often since I travel often, and I completely broke down. I convinced myself that these shots (although inactive viruses) would kill me. I couldn’t go back to class, I had to go home and “make sure I wouldn’t die” is what I remember telling myself.
Two days later I was at my primary physician. She told me a) we have to get my blood pressure down or she would send me to a cardiologist, and b) this anxiety had to stop. I completely agreed with her. I was so exhausted of trying to convince myself I was not going to die just because I had a lot going on. She told me that feelings of death are common for certain anxieties. I explained to her that I work out about 5 days a week, so I don’t know how I am not able to “release stress” at the gym like everyone else seems to do. Then it hit me…. Hmmm I should try yoga again. Anyways, she gave me a prescription for anti-anxiety and I started immediately. I was so ready to be “fixed”.
I fixed myself all right. Standing head to knee, triangle, and camel will fix anyone – along with the entire 26 series of Birkam yoga. Five months later, I came to Bikram Yoga Raleigh and bought a 10 class card. I knew this yoga was treacherous, that’s why I had only seen the room like 5 times in the past 3 years! However, I knew if I bought a 10 class card, then I would attend class. It was hard and hot, and it is STILL hard and hot. Those things never change. But what did change is my perception on life and my ability to control my anxiety, not my anxiety control me. After my 10 class card expired, I started a 60 day challenge. I never felt better. Before the 60 challenge, my blood pressure was still high, but after the 60 day challenge, my blood pressure was back to normal (110/70). My doctor told me “YAY! The anxiety medicine is working”. I told her, “no, the yoga is working”.
I’m feeling great and going about my life, and in the fall I started a 100 day challenge (see my post 2 below about this amazing and life changing experience). Since I had been practicing for a consistent 10 months, this challenge was quite different from my 60 day challenge, although I do believe that all challenges within ones life would be different. The 60 day challenge was more about fixing my body. The 100 day challenge was more about fixing my mind. My mind is ONE crazy place, and I’m glad none of you have to experience it! HAHA – but I am sure we all have our own mental challenges. I had to face myself during my 100 day challenge. Truly, deeply face myself. The day I finished my 100 day challenge (also the day Mary Jarvis, a Bikram senior teacher, came to our study), I threw away my anxiety medicine. What the hell do I need that for? – I have my yoga. And my yoga has taught me who I am and how I can control my emotions. Yes I still get angry, sad, anxious, but I know how to control my emotions so they don’t take over my body like they did a year and a half ago. If I start feeling anxious, you WILL see me doing pranayama breathing (lol). Sometimes I will stop what I am doing and do tree. I can assure you that you cannot do tree if you are having an internal freak out moment! I practice my backbends to energize me – they give me energy before or during my studies and also help me “delete” any negative thoughts I have in my head. Comparing “life activities” between NOW (while I am off anxiety medicine) and BEFORE (when I was starting anxiety medicine) – NOW is much more hectic. Now I am working 40 hours a week, I am a full time student, and I am planning a wedding (which is 3 months away — so so so excited!), and getting my application together to apply to medical school again. I feel fine and at peace. I come to yoga at least 5 days a week to maintain my peace. I know how to look at a moment and determine whether it is necessary to drain my energy on worrying about it, which 99% of the time it is not. I love how one of my yoga instructors says, “what’s the matter? It’s your mind.” This is so true. I can now get out of my head when it is too crazy in there. I do it daily for 90 minutes in my lovely, homey yoga studio. But now I know how to do that outside the yoga room when duty calls.
FYI: on a monthly basis, yoga is cheaper than anxiety medicine. Do more yoga.