Cancer log 177: This is about anxiety and Xanax and rewiring your brain.

I’ve said before that I’m of generally even-keeled temperament; I’m calm, sanguine. I’ve been lucky that I don’t typically have depression, anxiety, or other mental illnesses. When I started the cancer-treatment process, I was relatively calm. But there are a lot of procedures during treatment, and many of them hurt a bit. Whether it’s the squeezing of a mammogram, or the many IV needle pricks, or the quite painful areola biopsy, etc. and so on — they add up, over time.
After several months of this, I was finding myself getting more and more anxious before procedures — I’d sleep badly the night before, feel panicky throughout the process. At the worst of it, when one nurse was having trouble inserting a needle, I found myself crying from the stress, which made her upset too. So there I was, crying and apologizing to her, and she was almost crying and apologizing to me. Just miserable all around.
When I talked to my doctor about this, finally (I spent a long time trying to ‘gut it out’), she immediately offered me a prescription for Xanax. I was hesitant, since I rarely take meds, and hadn’t ever taken anything like this, but she said, “You can just keep the bottle on your shelf and never take it, but if you fill the prescription, you’ll have it if you decide you want it.” That convinced me, so I went ahead and got it. And as it turned out, the next time I had a procedure scheduled, I decided to take one. (The pills are very low-dose, .25 mg.)
Best decision ever. Seriously, I wish I could go back and tell younger me to start them earlier. The Xanax didn’t take away the pain, of course, but it made me calm enough that I didn’t really mind that the new nurse was taking five tries to get the needle inserted (before finally calling a more experienced nurse to take over). And after a few experiences like that, knowing that I would take a Xanax in the morning before the procedure was enough to take away my anxiety the night before, so I slept better.
Then today, something interesting happened. I had run out of Xanax, and I had thought about calling for a refill, but then thought, “Well, I only have a few procedures left. And I’m not feeling anxious about this one right now; let me try it without the meds, see how it goes.”
Gentle readers, it went fine. I wasn’t anxious the night before, or this morning. When I was finally in the chair and the nurse was setting up, I started to get the tiniest bit tense, but I did my deep breathing, and it wasn’t a problem. I was fine!
What this indicates to me is that taking the Xanax for a few months was enough to re-train my brain, to ease the pattern of trauma that had led to increased anxiety. That series of calm procedures was enough to bring me back, reset me, to my normal sanguine self.
That’s kind of amazing.
I know a lot of people who struggle with mental health issues, and so often, when you’re in the hole, it seems like there’s just darkness all around. Even if you go to a therapist, they may tell you need meds. Even if you take meds, they may not work. Even if they work, you may be stuck with them (and their side effects) forever. And those are all certainly possibilities, and I would never say that any of this is easy. Cancer treatment isn’t easy either.
But sometimes, it works. Under the right conditions, brains and bodies sometimes get better. Just wanted to make a note of it.

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