I suffer from anxiety. Not the ordinary kind. The extreme, debilitating, agoraphobia-causing, physically-symptomatic, scary, utterly-uncontrollable kind.
I have suffered from anxiety in a more “regular” way. I would worry about due dates and projects. My mind would race with thoughts of unfinished tasks, shopping lists, to-dos. It was a form of anxiety that was almost constructive in its presence; it helped me accomplish tasks. It was a motivator.
Now, it is the worst feeling. It is awful and scary and handicapping and scary.
I think I’ve always had an unusually high level of anxiety. I remember, as a young girl, not wanting to fall asleep for fear that something would happen whilst I slept. At that time, it was an irrational fear that someone would break in my window and hurt my family. Or that I would die. Or a fire. Or some other catastrophic event. I preferred to sleep with my mom. At an unusually late age for that type of behavior. It wasn’t exactly that I was afraid of the dark. More like, I was afraid of what would happen while my world slept. So, I would stay up to take care of it. And, when I could no longer, I would seek refuge with my mom, my fellow insomniac (not for reasons of anxiety but for reasons of bibliophiling). She would take watch while I slept.
That went on for awhile during my childhood. I can’t remember when or how long or why it stopped, but eventually, I must have gotten it out of my system.
Beyond disrupting my sleep patterns, I would to have irrational fears of dying or being sick throughout my day. I remember that I used to play a particular game with myself that allowed me to breathe easier. I would convince myself that I was being irrational based on the occurrence of concurrent/upcoming events. For instance, I would tell myself that “God” wouldn’t let me be sick or die during the month of my birthday. Or right before our spring break. Or before the spelling bee. I would repeat these mantras and actually convince myself that I was being foolish. I adapted quite well and, again, I was able to keep my anxiety at bay.
Then, a few years ago, as an adult, I had my first full-fledged panic attack. At the time, over weeks and months, I had anxiety building again. I did not recognize it for what it was, but I became more introverted than I had been in previous years and began sticking around my home more and more frequently. Then, one night, I was having trouble breathing. A weight was covering my chest. I actually thought it was a symptom of congestion, so I took some medicine for that. It didn’t work. Instead, my heart began racing and I was convinced I was dying.
I waited as long as I could until I woke Beer Bear, my newlywed husband, to tell him that he needed to take me to the hospital. A quick drive in the middle of the night and I was telling the desk receptionist that I was having breathing problems and needed to be seen. Right away, they hooked me up to monitors and began assessing the results. The doctor came in and advised me he was going to give me a shot. Almost immediately, I began to feel better. He told me that my test results were fine. That everything was normal. He had given me a shot that was used as an anti-nausea drug but, often, had the surprising side-effect of treating a panic attack. At first, I was relieved that I was going to be ok. But, the feeling was fleeting. Replacing it deftly in its wake, came the shame. I was so ashamed that I had wasted the time of the staff, doctor, and, most of all, Beer Bear, who would have to leave for work in the coming hours. On no sleep. All because I couldn’t get control of myself. All because I freaked out. For no reason. Ah yes, there was (and is) shame.
The doctor gave me a prescription for tranquilizers and discharged me. I have no doubt that Beer Bear remained as patient and as sympathetic as he could be. But, he didn’t understand. He didn’t really understand. How could he? He was always capable of disseminating the difference between stress and fear and the actual steps that it took for me to have him haul me to the ER. In fact, I feel like I often get this response from people. The lucky ones. The ones who have never felt the vice grip that anxiety can hold on you. The spinning out of control. The spiral of thought that digs you deeper and deeper until you are convinced that your worst fears are being realized. Sure, people have anxiety. Remember that constructive, motivating kind? Some of us have that horrid, unfortunate kind too.
After my trip to the ER, my anxiety began spinning out of control. That’s the true rub. I would absolutely know what was happening. I had a diagnosis. I would know that the shortness of breath, the heart-racing, the nausea, the sudden need for a bathroom; they were all symptoms of anxiety. I would tell myself to calm down, to breathe. I would repeat mantras of relaxation to myself. I would play little games, like spelling words backwards, and counting things I saw, and writing; anything to take my mind off of what was happening. I would take a tranquilizer and pray for a reprieve.
But, I became more and more withdrawn. My fear spread from me dying of a sudden heart attack to me dying in a car crash. I was no longer comfortable driving. Then, I worried that I would have an anxiety attack while in public and not have an escape alternative. I worried that my anxiety would betray me in public and my body would be out of my control and I would have an accident and incur the judgement of strangers. Strangers who, somehow, would’ve had such import to me that I would have felt great shame in their presence. I was no longer comfortable leaving my home.
After a short while of reclusive behavior and, still, experiencing daily torture, I sought the help of a psychiatrist and an endocrinologist (with the help of Beer Bear and my mom, thank you both). I tend to believe that my systems are all intertwined with my hormones so I began treatments for a hormonal imbalance and a proper, daily treatment for anxiety. With this new, daily medication, I hoped to be acting preventatively rather than attempting to tranquilize an already raging beast.
It worked. Within a few months, I felt better than I had in a long time. I was able to start enjoying my days again and become more functional, both in and outside of my home. I stuck with my medicinal regimen for about a year and, feeling confident and steady once more, weaned off carefully.
For a long time, I was good. I may have had situational anxieties, but these were most often brought on by challenging times or specific stressors. I was quite able to manage my infrequent symptoms with tranquilizers again. I still avoided some situations that I knew would lead to discomfort, but, for the most part, was quite functional. I knew better than to test my limits in crowds or confined spaces or the usual suspects.
Unfortunately, recently, my anxiety has reared its ugly head again. I’m not sure how or when it creeped back up on me. All I know is that it’s here and I am afraid again.
I’m writing this at 4 am, not because I needed to write it or because I particularly wanted to share the way I feel but because I was hoping that, by sitting here and writing this, I might be able to shake off some of this ickiness. It’s not exactly working though. I took a tranquilizer. Not exactly working though. I have to get up in less than four hours and be with Ducky all day and I still want to wake my family up and have them take me to the ER. Even though I know what the problem really is. As does Beer Bear. Who has to work. Again.
I am seeking professional treatment. I have been seeing a counselor at an intake center so that I can get an appointment with a psychiatrist. In the past, I treated my anxiety with medicine and it worked for me. At that time, I was able to make an appointment and go seek the help of a psychiatrist who worked with me directly for my medicinal management. This time, however, I am required to complete an assessment with a counseling service to get a referral for a psychiatric consultation. This is only unfortunate for me because I believe in the results of the medicine and it would behoove me to begin that program concurrently with any required counseling treatment, rather than consecutively. I am, however, looking forward to trying the therapeutic treatment this time supplementally. I’m hoping that with drugs and therapy, I can nip this shit in the bud again.
Because I can’t afford to have nights like this; frought with worries and pain and sleeplessness. Because I can’t afford to spiral into hysteria. Because I can’t afford to begin public withdrawal and inhibit the natural development of my daughter. Because I can’t afford to do my writing in the midst of these emotions, in the middle of the night, with the primary goal of calming down and eluding the anxiety monster. Because, while my source of inspiration is clear, my eyes are weary and my mind occupied. Not ideal for a #spellingnazi.