My Story - Breaking Free
The Beginning: Anxiety and Confusion
Hello there, and thanks so much for checking out my website. My name is Michael Priebe, and I am a wellness coach, a writer, the creator of the Lovely Grind YouTube videos and newsletters, and someone who survived both anxiety struggles and the great “mystery illness” of the twenty-first century—prescription drug withdrawal. This is my story.
About twenty years ago, when I was approaching my final year of journalism school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I began experiencing debilitating panic attacks. I was dutifully sitting in summer classes trying to graduate on time and near the top of my class, when suddenly I was overtaken by a storm of strange symptoms. My heart was pounding and I felt dizzy. I was immobilized, sweating, and red-faced; and I felt certain that everyone else was staring at me and commenting on how strange I looked.
I’d experienced some social anxiety before, but this was different.
Shortly after experiencing the first of those in-school panic attacks, I began worrying about them constantly and obsessing about them beforehand. Despite my true love of academic life, I found myself on the verge of dropping out of college and throwing away everything I’d worked so hard for over the course of the previous several years.
But instead of leaving the university, I visited a family doctor. And that’s when I was prescribed this new "wonder drug"—the SSRI Paxil—along with a monthly bottle of the tranquilizer Xanax.
Although I wasn’t thrilled about the idea of relying on prescription pills to function, I began taking the medications, and soon enough they became a part of my daily routine. I graduated college with honors, got married, got a job, and for the most part quelled my internal debate about what place the medications ought to have in my life: I simply continued to take the pills, and I did so for about fourteen years.
The medications seemed to help with my anxiety (at times), but eventually the anxiety got worse instead of better, and it became obvious that something was “off” in my life in other ways as well. During various stretches I would found myself overweight, listless, fatigued, compulsive, professionally unsatisfied, spiritually and emotionally off-kilter, and scared, depressed, or hopeless.
The dark downside of the prescription pills had long ago overtaken any benefits, and it was no longer possible to convince myself that I was walking in the direction of wellness.
In my mid-thirties, I decided it was time to stop the medications (something I’d actually fantasized about for years), and I looked forward to the better life that I was certain awaited me once they were no longer a part of it.
But then something unexpected happened when I took that last dose of the Paxil: Withdrawal hit me. At the time I didn’t really know what the name of that monster was, I just knew that it was ferocious and wouldn’t leave me alone.
Sickness & Decisions
I became deathly ill after stopping the SSRI medication. I couldn’t eat, sleep, or go to the bathroom normally. I had horrendous nightmares and night sweats. My life was suddenly defined by pain, anxiety, and terrible depression, and unfortunately each new day simply brought more of the same. Each weekday I drove an hour and fifteen minutes to my longtime job at a large technical college, and simply surviving a “normal” workday was a small miracle in and of itself. It was difficult to simply get out of bed each day much less interact with people and deal with work stress, but I prayed and leaned on the support of my wife and my God. And each day, God granted me enough mental and emotional strength to move forward.
So move forward I did. I was confused and weak and terrified—and I’m sure that I looked like hell to the outside world—but I kept moving ahead with my plans to get the Xanax out of my life, too. I had a huge mountain to climb (over the years my Xanax prescription had ballooned from .25 mg as needed to 4 mg every day), but I made one cut and then the next, and again I was hit by a massive withdrawal the likes of which I didn’t see coming.
My every day was full of bizarre mental symptoms, terrible physical pains, and severe emotional anguish. I felt like I was losing my mind, and I felt like I’d already lost my personality and the best years of my life.
Perhaps worst of all, I often felt alone. My family was great, and they tried to be supportive, but they couldn’t truly understand the nature of what I was going through. And why would they have been able to? Even the doctors who prescribed antidepressant and benzo medications on a daily basis claimed to know next to nothing about my “strange” situation.
What exactly was this thing I was experiencing, and how long would it last?
When I attempted to find answers and encouragement from the medical community, they dismissed my claims as legend and told me that any so called “withdrawal” should be something relatively quick and minor. One doctor even suggested that my strange symptoms were the result of drinking beer, something that I had regrettably admitted to on my quick “intake” form. I’d just come crawling to this man practically crying, telling him that I’d recently quit Paxil after thirteen years of use and that I was also in the middle of an intensive Xanax taper, but somehow he couldn’t see the connection between those facts and the terrible body pains and emotional turmoil I was suffering!
Oh, but the doctors did offer me additional pharmaceutical remedies for my situation. Maybe a different antidepressant would be the answer, maybe something for the signs of hopelessness and chronic fatigue, and Fibromyalgia I was showing. I actually did try two different medications, each for very short stints, but both made me sick and I quickly realized that my path forward no longer involved such chemical experiments.
After a couple years of prescription drug withdrawal, I was at my wit’s end. I was no longer certain that my troubles even were the result of something called “withdrawal,” and instead I wondered if I was succumbing to some disease of unknown origins. I talked things over with my father, and we almost drove to the Mayo clinic in Minnesota to have every corner of my body and mind investigated by the experts. But I never made that drive, thankfully.
Instead, I went back to the family doctor one last time with a request that he conduct simple blood work to assuage my fears of dying, and then I continued to move down the timeline of my own healing, paying special attention to my mental, emotional, and spiritual health. And taking notes along the way.
“No one else is doing what Michael is doing. It truly is a ministry! Michael is willing to make himself vulnerable to help others during their journey in the valley. He is very easy to talk to (I felt like I had known him forever), and I would most definitely recommend his coaching to others.”
-Andi, North Carolina
Healing and Growing
Fast forward a few years and I’m on the beach in Miami. I’ve just finished running eight sandy miles with a legendary South Beach fitness guru called the Raven, and I’m about to take the free Miami Beach trolley to South Pointe Park so that my wife and I can attend his annual runner’s picnic. I still get a little nervous in such social situations, but I try not to obsess over such apprehensions or allow them to keep me from living my life. I’ve learned that some anxiety in life, like some stress, is normal, and that the greatest victories and improvements come from pushing forward and learning how to think and behave in ways that don’t label oneself or one’s feelings as “disorders.” Ironically, after quitting the “antianxiety” medications and surviving withdrawal, I feel more calm and relaxed than I ever did while on the medications. Victory over chronic anxiety truly is attainable, in part by ceasing to see the situation as a war in the first place.
I have a great time at Raven’s Miami Beach picnic, and afterwards my wife and I sit on a park bench watching the moon shimmer off the waters of Government Cut. I feel peaceful and inspired during such times, amazed at God's grace and the healing it brings. And in the coming years, I return to Miami Beach multiple times to continue running with this famous friend. To date I’ve run with Raven thirteen times, and I’ve brought my family members along to meet him and run with him as well. These Raven Runs on Miami Beach are just a few of the many adventures and victories I’ve experienced since quitting the medications, and every day I still marvel at how different life can look when we begin taking small steps in the right direction.
Just a few years back—when I was in the fiercest grips of the medications and then the withdrawal, when I felt certain that my days were numbered—I couldn’t have imagined that such wonderful times would again be a part of my life, but they are.
In the time that has passed since quitting the Paxil and Xanax, I’ve regained control of my health in multiple ways. I’ve stopped smoking cigarettes (a nearly twenty-year habit), I’ve become an avid runner, and I’ve weaned myself off the three blood pressure medications that my Xanax-prescribing doctor once suggested I’d be on for life (high blood pressure was genetic and for me unavoidable, or so went the line from such people who didn’t truly care about my best health). I’ve reclaimed my personality, my creativity, my emotions, and my sense of balance, and I’ve redoubled my efforts to make my life mean something.
And somewhere along the way my story inspired people from all around the globe, and I began coaching others on how to regain their own hope and wellness. To date I’ve worked one-on-one in coaching with individuals from all over the United States and from sixteen additional countries, and that number is sure to keep growing. People all over the world struggle with things such as anxiety, depression, stress, overthinking, and a lack of fulfillment, and oftentimes they’ve had these struggles complicated by prescription medications that they then want to quit. However, people all over the world begin experiencing terrifying symptoms when trying to quit their antidepressant or benzodiazepine medications, and oftentimes they feel at a breaking point when contacting me. But together we make sense of the situation and work to bring clarity, calm, healing, and hope back to life.
Trust me, no matter what you are going through right now, a better future is out there for you. It just takes one step in the right direction to begin walking toward that future, and hopefully you’re having found this website is such a step for you.
Life is never 100 percent perfect—it isn’t for anyone, pills or no pills, withdrawal or no withdrawal—but it can be pretty damn good a lot of the time if we approach it the right way.
There is hope and healing for those who are trying to feel their way through the dark basement of prescription drug withdrawal and other wellness struggles, this I know for sure. Whether people were put on medications for anxiety or depression or high stress or obsessive thinking or what have you, there is life after these pills, and there is a good and healthy life that exists after withdrawal and health labels.
We just need to place our faith in God, find the proper support, implement innovative coping tools and growth strategies, and keep moving forward until our wildest dreams of healing and fulfillment become a reality.
That is my story (or at least an abbreviated version of it), and it is my hope that you’ll join my Members’ Community or reach out for coaching as you work on creating your own success story. I’d love to walk alongside of you as you do!
Take care today,
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“Michael is warm, compassionate, and wise, and most importantly he knows this process from a firsthand perspective. I enjoyed many different things about working with Michael. He provided reassurance and direction, and his counsel opened up the door for hope and determination. Also, his summary notes were invaluable, as were the supporting resources he provided. I would absolutely recommend his coaching services with a resounding yes!”