The miracle of Xanax


I have spoken before about my use of brain medicine: specifically, that I take a daily pill that makes me just a bit calmer and more – well, human.

But wait! There’s more!

Long before I went on my current medication – back around 2000 – I was going through a rough patch: a stressful period at work, my mother’s illness and death. I talked to my doctor, and he gave me a wonderful little prescription for alprazolam, also known as Xanax. The prescription reads (to this day): “Take one to three tablets daily, as needed.”

Over the last twelve years, I have availed myself of this medication, as needed.

Xanax, when used correctly, is wonderful. It creates perspective. You know, when you’re worried about something, how it becomes obsessive and nasty and threatening? Xanax takes the threat away. You’re confronting the same problem, but without the accompanying angst. You can look at the world calmly, without freaking out.

The problem, of course, is that you really can’t take it every day. It’s not a narcotic, but it’s addictive in its own way; you begin to rely on it. I’ve always tried not to take it more than two days in a row.

Since 2010, when my doctor prescribed the Wonder Drug Citalopram, I have not used Xanax much. I was worried, at first, that they might interact and send me into a coma. “No,” my doctor reassured me. “They don’t work that way. You can take both in the same day.”

I actually tried, one day, just to see. He was right. Nothing happened.

Lately, I’ve been having some stress. Nothing world-shattering, but it’s been making me nervous and cranky.  So I dipped into the Xanax reserves again.

Oh my! I’d forgotten how it felt!

I took one just the other day, at seven-thirty in the morning, anticipating a tense active day. By eight I was Jesus and Gandhi in one cheerful package, and I think I could easily have cured scrofula with a touch of my hand. The day passed in a glow of benevolence. “You know,” my student assistant Gunnar said around four forty-five in the afternoon, “you were in a really good mood today.”

“I confess,” I said. “I took something this morning.”

“Muscle relaxer?” he asked.

Brain relaxer,” I said.

He laughed explosively. He wasn’t expecting that.

Sleep medication


Apollonia was all haggard and red-eyed the other day. “Up late casting evil spells?” I said.



She swatted at me, then slumped into herself and sighed. “I was reading in bed,” she said. “I finished one book. Then I couldn’t sleep.”



“You overexcited yourself,” I said. “Last night I was reading ‘A History of the Monks of Syria.’ I conked out almost immediately. Did you know Saint Euphronius lived in a treetrunk?”



“Anyway,” Apollonia said, disregarding me, “I had another – um – story I wanted to read on my iPad, so I read that. [Editor’s note: no doubt some piece of trashy “Twilight” fan fiction. And, by “read,” she probably meant “write.”] Then I was really awake. Then I started thinking about work. Then I looked at the clock, and it was 2:00 am. So -”



“Three words, babe,” I said. “Am. Bi. En. I take it. Everyone takes it. Take a ride on the big green butterfly, babe.”



Pills,” she said with alarm.



Pills,” I said mockingly. “Better living through chemistry. Enter the new millennium, grandma.”



For decades, like poor Apollonia, I used to lie awake and stare at the ceiling. Every noise kept me awake. Reading in bed helped a little, but not much. If the room was too warm, or too cold, or too stuffy, or too drafty, I couldn’t sleep. For a while in the 1990s I had an apartment with old-fashioned steam radiators that went KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK all night, and believe me, that will keep you awake.



Then I discovered the Big Green Butterfly. (Oh, wait, I just remembered.  That’s Lunesta, not Ambien. But let’s go with the image anyway. It’s so pretty.)



God bless my general practitioner, skinny little Doctor M., who first prescribed Ambien for me.



Some people report “sleep-eating” when they take Ambien: they go into a somnambulistic trance, go to the kitchen, eat everything in sight, go back to bed, and wake up to a sink full of dirty dishes. I have never had this happen. (So far as I know.)



It does blank out your memory, though. Partner tells me that, when I take it, I have entire conversations with him which I forget by morning. (Partner also takes rides on the Green Butterfly, however, so he has been known to say odd things before bedtime himself.)



Bedtime’s drawing near as I write this.



Hear that fluttering? The pretty butterfly is entering our airspace.







Brain medicine


I have taken various kinds of psychoactive medication over the past ten years. (I’m kind of, um, tense. And I have what are charitably called “moods.”)



I like my current medication. I am much calmer now, and much less likely to freak out over stupid things. I’m still irritated by idiots, but I’m not infuriated by them quite so much.



But – and here’s the funny thing – I find that my memory (which used to be, frankly, amazing) is not so amazing anymore. (I read recently that my medication is prescribed for people with obsessive-compulsive disorder, which makes sense; the medication seems to take the urgency away from everyday situations, and makes everything fuzzy around the edges.)



But I am calmer now. And, as I said to someone recently, if this is how normal people feel most of the time, I’m sorry I missed out on it for so long.



I do miss the sharpness and focus I used to have. But I don’t miss the nervousness and tension and depression and obsession over details.



Partly, I know, it’s just the passage of time. I’m in my mid-fifties, and my brain is getting mushy, like a soft-boiled egg. My fuzziness and loss of memory may just as well be the progressive degeneration of my brain tissue.



Who knows?



Anyway, I’m not going to obsess about it.




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