Granny Always Had the Best Drugs

I miss my grandmother. Today I miss her little silver box. Sad but true. My own grandmother occasionally medicated anyone in the family who dared get a little “worked-up.”

She always kept what I now know as Xanax in a small metal container in her purse. No one ever would have guessed that the red-headed preacher’s wife was pedaling highly addictive controlled substances.

I come from a long line of folks with pretty severe anxiety amongst other mental illnesses, but in true Southern fashion, none of this was ever discussed, probably because it was our normal.

My grandmother was known for being “unruly” and having “outbursts” at inopportune times, but I just thought of her as feisty and spirited.

I was eleven years old when I was first offered “a nerve pill” from the small silver tin. I vaguely remember Granny and my mom arguing in the department store after a harrowing back-to-school shopping trip.

“I just can’t do anything with her!!!” My mother lamented after an unmatched scream-fest in the preteen dressing room.

“Here, darling. This will calm you down.”

I just assumed it was a powerful breath mint that all grandmothers stashed in their giant, senior citizen handbags.

I didn’t get the so-called nerve pills very often, and I don’t remember feeling particularly calm after taking them, even though I swallowed cooperatively.

But I certainly was never sent to a doctor, therapist, or even a school counselor to discuss my “fits.”

Looking back I suffered from pretty severe anxiety from a young age. The first time I experienced what I now know as a full-blown panic attack was in the first grade. We were taking a standardized test, and I was the last of my classmates to finish. I became more and more unnerved as I heard each of my friends hand in their exams and exit through the door adjacent to my desk. I remember the sweating, the dry mouth, and the overwhelming sense of doom that I was a failure. I couldn’t focus on the test because it took every ounce of energy I had to stay in my chair, breathe, and will away the tears forming in my eyes.

My panic attacks have subsided as I’ve learned to control them, and it’s rare that I say I need to be medicated. I’m also hyper-aware that addiction is as much a part of my family DNA as anxiety. Big shock, huh!?

Right now, though, I’m struggling. The panic wakes me up at night, and if I’m lucky enough to actually get decent sleep, it’s the first thing I notice when I wake up.

I dread the conversation I’ll have to have once again with my medically westernized doctor. She’ll remind me that this is something I can’t control, and I need to accept that I’ll probably always need some form of medication. I disagree. I’ve done very well off medication. I exercise regularly, meditate, do yoga; my mental health toolbox is overflowing, thanks to strategies from multiple therapists, spiritual gurus, and self-help books.

Really, most of the time, I’m good.

I also know when I really need pharmaceuticals, and now is one of those times.

But honestly, I miss Grandma’s pill box as an option. As twisted as it was, I could count on her never-ending supply of “nerve-pills.” She was even kind enough to give me my own little box when I went off to college — “just for emergencies.”

I didn’t figure out until I actually had my own prescription that what my normally law-abiding grandma was doing was illegal. Still, it was also a whole lot easier than jumping through the hoops required to get the proper mental health services that are sometimes necessary.

My grandmother was from a time where people were committed against their wills to places known as insane asylums. My own grandfather (said grandmother’s husband) suffered from debilitating depression in the 1920s and was sent to one of these so-called hospitals and treated with shock therapy. The term “lunatic” followed him and was forever on his record. Ironically, he was the stable one in our family. Perhaps the shock therapy, or electroconvulsive therapy as it’s now called, was just what he needed. It also severely altered his memory, and from what I’m told, he was never quite the same.

Granny watched helplessly as he suffered, and she was also there to witness the stigma that followed. I suppose this is part of the reason no one in my family got around to sharing this part of my family history. I actually learned about his hospitalization from my uncle’s ex-wife, another regular recipient of Grandma’s hand-outs. She was known as “the one he was married to who would turn red in the face and sweat in public.”

Mental illness is complicated, and there are still so many interpretations and misunderstandings.

Tomorrow when I get my prescription filled, I might just drop a few in a metal tin to keep in my purse.

And when I start sweating profusely and feel that familiar clench in my gut as my breathing shallows, I’ll pull out the tin, smile, and think of Granny.

I’ll also remember to keep my pills to myself and recognize this for what it is — a trying time that I’ll eventually get through. In the meantime, I’m grateful for modern medicine.

6 thoughts on “Granny Always Had the Best Drugs

  1. I must admit that between depression and anxiety, anxiety is more disturbing for me. I absolutely hate having panic attacks, esp. in public. I chose not to go the route of Xanax, opting instead for the antidepressant, Effexor. When my stress is too great, medication can only do so much. I’m like you in that I tried alternative methods for years before turning to meds. Other methods helped, but didn’t eradicate the problem. It wasn’t until my ex left me and I was alone with a 1 yr old while suffering bad postpartum depression and anxiety that I ran to get on meds. I was afraid I’d suddenly snap one day or drive into oncoming traffic.

    Now 10 years later, I’m terrified to go off the medication. I worry about withdrawals or experiencing those hellish extremes again. I keep waiting for my life to get better so I’ll be on a more even keel, but…yeah. Doesn’t look like that’s going to happen anytime soon. Now I get to look forward to menopause and the anxiety and depression that comes with that! Ha! Boy, we women are screwed all around, aren’t we?


    • Yeah, I think my anxiety is worse in the spring/summer months, and depression worse in fall/winter. Since I wrote this post I’ve felt better and haven’t quite made it to the doc yet. I’ve had weird reactions to antidepressants since having children — the exact drugs and exact dosages work completely differently than in my pre-children days. They really don’t seem to work at all. The best combination seems to be Adderall and Xanax. However, these are both controlled substances which means I have to go to the dr. once a month in order to get my prescriptions. PLUS, there’s lots of trial and error with the dosages. It often feels like WAY more hassle than it’s worth.

      I’ve never taken Effexor, but I worked briefly in a mental health job, and dealt with people who had great results. BUT…it’s not an easy drug to come off of — and sometimes takes a while, and there are some nasty side effects. I had severe vertigo after coming off Zoloft years ago — dreadful. After that, I became the queen of slow weaning. That’s one thing I do like about Adderall and Xanax — in quick and out quick, though not good if one is prone to addiction. I can be a control freak in regards to this since substance abuse is quite prevalent in my family. My doctors get frustrated with me because I have a hard time reaching a “therapeutic dose” because I’m afraid of getting hooked.

      I can certainly see how being left with a 1 yr old could make you snap. I had pretty bad postpartum depression, too. NOT fun. Geez, life…….


  2. I love your Granny! Thank you for sharing this.

    Although I have categorically refused meds (even at the strong recommendation of mental health providers), I commend you for being strong enough to recognize when you need just a little help. I hope you are able to cope through this difficult time, and know that my heart is with you through it.


    • I can be pretty self-destructive at times, and in my experience, when things get really bad, medication gets me over the hump. I do understand not wanting to rely on that, though. I don’t think meds solve anything — just ease things temporarily. I’d love to discuss this more. I’m always interested in people’s reasons for/for not choosing to take psychiatric drugs. I wish they were more regulated in that people taking them should also have to participate in some kind of therapy. The reason I go the drug route from time to time is because I lost my father to suicide. I believe his pride prevented him from getting the help that might have saved his life — not just medication but therapy as well.


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