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No, Those Aren't Mints in My Purse

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If I were to lose my purse or wallet and a stranger started rummaging through it to find my identification or just to be nosy, they would find all the standard stuff. My license, health card, debit and credit cards, tons of receipts, random lip gloss that I forgot about, hair ties etc. They would also find a small container, maybe an old Advil to go bottle with the label ripped off or a small tin with a Victorian looking print on it. If they opened this container, they would find some white round tiny cylindrical hard objects. They might think to themselves, “That’s an interesting way to keep mints!” The thing is though, I don’t keep mints in my purse. I’m actually more of a gum person.

What I do keep in my purse will not give you fresh breath, but if you put one of those little white objects under your tongue and let it dissolve for a few minutes, it will bring a sense of calm and allow you to think straight again when a panic attack is gripping you. What I do carry in my purse — and have scattered in little clusters in small containers across a number of bags I carry regularly — is Ativan. As someone with panic disorder, I carry it with me at all times.

Thankfully I don’t often need to use it as I have a repertoire of other strategies at my disposal, but I always have it on hand in case I need it as a last resort. I actually use it so infrequently that the medication has actually expired on me and wasn’t as potent when I did need to use it. Whoops! The use of medications like Ativan, known as a benzodiazepines, can be problematic if it is the only tool in the box, as it is possible to develop a physical dependence on it. However many people who have panic attacks need to use it every now and then.

There is nothing wrong with that. Many people with medical conditions such as angina, diabetes or severe allergies carry medications with them for emergencies. This is the same reason I almost always have Ativan on me when I leave the house. I never know when is going to be a day when I can get through a situation by using my other tools or when I will need to use it. Even though I know it is not very likely I will need it, even just having it there can give me a sense of calm. However, I often carry it in nondescript containers instead of the pill bottle.

This is partially because the number of pills in the prescription is distributed across many containers, but also because I worry about what other people would think if I accidentally spilled my bag and the pill bottle went spilling out. There is still a lot of stigma for the use of medication for mental health difficulties. So if you see me putting a little white “mint” under my tongue, don’t ask for one, as I can’t share. Just know I am doing what I need to do to get by.

Originally published: August 26, 2016
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