Struggle, Anxiety, Meds

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The last several months the struggle with anxiety has been all too real. I’ve suffered from and dealt with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Social Anxiety, and panic attacks for over half of my life at this point. I’ve been on and off medication, mostly on, since I was 23 years old. Despite the fact it helps I also hate medication. I hate the side effects. I hate being tired all of the time. I hate sweating. However, I’ve come to the conclusion, I need to be on medication.

In the past when I’ve gone off of medication I was reckless and stubborn. I went off meds before cold turkey, not once, but twice. I suffered withdrawals. I was miserable. I made my family miserable.

This time had to be different. This time, I felt like I was in a really solid place in life. Good job, house, meditating, had seen a therapist, etc. I felt ready to tackle life without medication. This time I reached out to my doctor to wean off properly and I even got the info at least a month in advance.

I weaned off, slowly and carefully as prescribed and man… I felt great. I wasn’t tired all the time. On my days off I was actually making plans to be social rather than hide in my house and nap and be lazy. I had energy! My sleep was great! The annoying and ridiculous sweating stopped. Life was lovely for maybe a month.

Slowly though, impatience started creeping in. Anger started seeping out the seams. Frustration was being aimed at my dogs and my parents and my aunt. Work has been kind of messed up since June 2017 and just kept getting worse, more overwhelming. By November I had a massive panic attack. Every day I was questioning myself if I was doing the right thing by being off of medication. I was constantly analyzing how I felt and trying to determine if I needed medication again.

By December it was abundantly clear with the never ending tension in my neck and shoulders. I reached out to my doctor and set up an appointment. Thankfully, unlike my last primary care physician, my current one listens to me. We discussed options and came up with a plan. We started me on the lowest dose of the original medication I went on years ago with the plan of increasing if needed after a week or two.

At the end of close to two weeks and there still being significant anxiety and even the intrusive thought of, “I’d rather be dead than deal with this.” I increased to the higher dosage. Slowly the medication started working in my system. Slowly things were getting more manageable.

Sadly though, it only took me so far. My doctor and I discussed the possibly of increasing the dose or changing meds and we ultimately decided to change meds. During the next couple weeks there were some ups and downs with the adjustment. I’ve also been back in therapy as well.  My physical revealed that I am very low on Vitamin D which can be a contributing factor to anxiety and depression.

While I made so much progress I also struggled in that I was beating myself up. It never took me this long to get back on track when going back on meds. I had not been so low in such a long time, if ever. I’ve been hard on myself thinking how much of a burden I’ve been to my friends and family. I’ve been analyzing every thought and feeling. Judging or grading my progress. Any time I felt even a little anxious I went into over drive, trying to figure out why and lamenting that I was still having anxiety. After all, I’m on meds, I’m on prescription strength Vitamin D, I’m in therapy, I cut out caffeine and alcohol.

I expressed this to my therapist who told me, “Stop beating yourself up. Focus on the positives. You’re stressing yourself out more and making it worse.” Well… that was a novel idea. To not focus on the struggle and instead focus on the good? Focus on all the hard fought battles I’d won? It definitely helped to shift things.

At this point, I’m still not entirely where I want to be. Sometimes interacting with others takes more energy than I have but I get through. My mind still goes into over drive here and there. But… I’m getting there. Sometimes, it’s a journey and I’m having to finally slow down and accept it for what it is.

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Progress Made

It’s a funny place I find myself in, sitting comfortably in my mid-thirties, rid of all the angst of my late teens to mid-twenties. I still recall the emotional turmoil I was in, the loneliness, the anger- so much anger! Despite the ability to recall it all, in vivid detail, it also feels like a lifetime ago. The suffering definitely helped to shape who I am, but that person, that version of myself seems foreign to me now.

I remember… staying up all night, watching tv and chatting over AIM with 5 people at once and writing two pieces at a time. I remember all the pent up rage over my (perceived) inability to live a normal life. I remember the feelings of isolation, desperation, and loneliness that overwhelmed me. I remember having my first full blown panic attack one night around 1am, while watching Vanilla Sky, wondering if I should wake my parents to take me to the hospital or let them sleep and maybe find me dead on the couch in the morning. I let them sleep and hoped and prayed I wasn’t having a heart attack and dying like I thought I was, like I felt I was.

I remember… writing dark and twisted poetry about the fury, the sorrow, and romanticizing suicide. I never truly considered it but it felt like such a tempting escape from the misery I was in.

I think back to all the crazy that I attracted to my life during that time. The drama filled people who seemed to find me like I was a magnet and truth be told, I probably was. It seemed like one friend after another was in crisis. My friendship circle consisted of self-harmers, pill poppers, and the like. It was also filled with people who had been dealt some really shitty hands in life but year after year they continued to be the victim rather than become the heroine of their own life. I remember one often repeating, “I don’t know what I did in a past life to deserve all of this.”

I remember… finding solace in the darkness of depression, the depression that anxiety drove me into. Misery does love company and I found my tribe. I remember feeling so liberated being able to share the chaos and storms that were swirling within me. I was no longer alone in my looney tribe of misfits. We were all wounded in our own ways and suffering but we had each other and that made it less lonely.

I remember… the clouds starting to lift in my life. The poetry dried up and I feared I was losing my creativity. I remember that the down moments came less frequently, the mood swings not as severe. I remember feeling at odds with myself because I didn’t recognize myself anymore without turmoil. Sometimes, even now, a little part of me misses it. For the creativity that is. There is something about angst and writing that go hand in hand, at least in my twisted mind.

Yet, I wouldn’t go back to it. I like being in a happy place now. That’s not to say my life is perfect but I am more appreciative now. I understand my anxiety better and have a better handle on it. I’m thankful for my struggles because there are somethings one cannot fully understand without experiencing them, mental health issues being one of them. Yes, I remember my battle and I’m grateful for it but I am so content to be exactly where I am right now. 100_0291_2.jpg

First Step…

They say the first step to solving a problem is admitting that it exists. Well, I’ve long admitted that I have issues; with anxiety, stress, social anxiety, trust, insecurity, abandonment, need for control, need to fix everything, take care of everyone, etc. Ok in all fairness most of the issues stem from anxiety/social anxiety. I’ve known that ALL people could benefit from therapy while actively avoiding going to therapy. I did try it once, but it was the wrong fit and quite disastrous. Also, being (mostly) self aware I knew a lot of the things I need to change/work on/address so… How would discussing it with a stranger help me, really?

shutterstock_139247051.jpgStill… As the anxiety/stress was leaving my shoulders and stomach in knots, as I was reeling from the emotional fallout of some big decisions, and knowing that I deserve better in life I finally sucked it up and sought out therapy. Again.  I called my insurance stuffs, found a recommendation, and made an appointment. Even making an appointment led to my active mind kicking into overdrive. My therapist treats people in his office or at his home. His home was closer and also better parking options not to mention the day that worked best for me happened to be a day he was working out of his home. Enter active mind: I’m meeting a man I do not know, in his home, and I’ll be alone. Is that really safe?  Is that wise? What if he is creepy? What if he is some weirdo? What if, what if, what if? The two biggest words that roll around in my brain. Ok. STOP. BREATHE. 1. If your health insurance/employment is recommending this person he probably checks out. 2. If he is some psychotic, monster he probably wouldn’t have passed whatever screening was necessary to be recommended by reputable companies. 3. Just hush noisy brain. Hush.

For anyone who has never gone to therapy, the first session mainly revolves around paperwork, dotting the i’s, crossing the t’s, establishing what is bringing you in, in a nutshell. The first appointment we didn’t discuss anything huge. Right away I felt at ease with him. He reminds me of my uncle John that passed away. He has a plant growing in his living room, the same kind of plant that my sisters and I gave to our relatives for Christmas one year as kids. I felt comfortable.  I also realized pretty quickly that he was perceptive and picked up on the things I wasn’t saying. While we didn’t cover anything deep or significant, I felt lighter. He gave me some ideas to consider, a few challenges in how I think about things.

At this point I’m about 5 or 6 sessions in. I can definitely see it helping me. I was right, I know a lot of the things I need to work on but it does help having someone neutral to discuss things with. I’m finding that I am getting better at stopping my mind from spiraling out. My aunt says I am calmer, less nervous. The thing I’m finding, I didn’t fully realize how neurotic I was until I started making positive changes. I was explaining one of those realizations lately to my best friend and told her, “I was so crazy before, the thought process that would have been going through my head over something so insignificant, but now, I am ok with making this inconsequential decision and not analyzing it to death or assuming what the other person could be thinking.” She was very  gracious and told me I wasn’t crazy before but that my brain was definitely very busy and that it must have been exhausting. True dat. 

Processing

IMG_1047I’ve been processing a lot lately. I’ve been evaluating myself, my life, my relationships.  I’ve been looking at what brings me stress and what brings me joy. I’ve been focusing on my motivation and gratitude. I’ve made tough choices, I’ve made changes, I’m leaving myself vulnerable in ways I haven’t in a long time. It’s been scary and difficult and painful but I am moving in the right direction.  I couldn’t have done it without my support system, my family, my close friends.

I still have a long ways to go. I’m realizing that this world and all its ugliness is leaving my soul tired. It’s depressing and makes my heart hurt. It makes me want to run away, buy an island (like I have money for that), and never interact with the world at large again. Instead I need to be a force of change. I can’t run, I can’t hide. I can only do what I can to make the world a better place.

I have to let go of what I can’t fix because in truth, I want to fix anything and everything that brings me sorrow. I am accepting my limitations rather than dwelling on what I cannot change. I’m letting go and opening up at the same time. It’s hard, I don’t like to let go, but it’s a process and one I’m committed to.

Reconnecting with Myself

The past few weeks I’ve been spending some time reconnecting with myself. This month I’ve been investing in myself in ways I haven’t in a long time. I started watching what I’m eating, thanks to Weight Watchers, and I’m down three and a half pounds. I’ve (mostly) given up naps and I’m working to establish a better sleep schedule.Thanks to accompanying a good friend on a makeup shopping trip, I’ve gone back to wearing full make-up, at least for two weeks and counting. I’ve even been disciplined enough to wash my make-up off at the end of the day.

It’s funny how something as small as makeup can make a gal happy. Wearing it reminds me of my days working in salons. When I walk into a Sephora or Ulta and I’m hit with the sweet smells of fragrances and shampoos, it feels like home.

I’ve even been more active at home, running the dishwasher, doing laundry, attacking the weeds. Little things but they add up and they are making me happy.

In the past year I’ve set out on a journey to identify my health issues and they are under control (mostly). I’ve gone back to college, I’ve even stayed on top of cutting the grass this year, unlike last summer. Perhaps some of the last steps (hahahaIMG_0082) of me reclaiming and reconnecting with my life means finding out what makes me happy- on the superficial end of things that has meant short hair, long fake nails, and make-up. On the intellectual side it means working to complete my college degree. On the mental/emotional end, it means speaking up more, expressing my needs, saying no more, and preserving my sanity. Making room in my life for those I love and not worrying so much as to what others think of my life choices.

I am feeling more and more like myself every day and that is a great feeling.

Coming Up Roses

I’m finally coming out the other side of the funk I was in. Life feels much more positive and hopeful again. Why was I in a funk to begin with? Because not feeling well takes a freaking toll. Because missing work because I don’t feel well takes a toll. Because I was feeling like I was letting everyone down but mostly myself. I was constantly on the defensive, at least on the inside feeling like I had to explain myself to anyone who asked. Here’s the reality: I don’t owe explanations to anyone.

With the flare ups I was having with GERD I was constantly nauseous and sometimes in pain. Now that I’m back on meds for that twice a day I’m feeling like a normal human being again. Which means everything else starts to shift into a better perspective. I’m still experiencing some anxiety but I’m working on that too. Lots of deep breathing throughout the day (not when I’m panicking but to help maintain calm). I’m also trying to get back to a normal sleep schedule. Things are slowly coming back together which makes me feel better mentally and emotionally.

My film class is going well. So far I have an A and my professor even gave me a “good job,” on my first film essay. It is only an 8 week course which means all the work of a 16 week course in half the time. I think it will be a little bit challenging but will also strengthen my fiction writing and give me a better perspective.

Now I’m off to enjoy my unexpected three day weekend. 100_0185_2

Lost & Looking

Right now I’m feeling a little lost and a lot impatient. I’ve been having flare ups lately- of GERD and anxiety. I wake up incredibly nauseous and then as I start trying to force myself to get up for work I have panic attacks. It’s a lovely combination really. The other night Daney butt was sick which scared me something fierce. I’m ready for school to be done. I’m ready to be self employed. I’m just… ready. Heck I would be tickled to be retired and spend my days volunteering for causes I believe in and spending time with all of those I love.

I need to focus on the here and now. It’s an issue I have struggled with my entire life. I’m always looking at the next thing, whatever that is. My mind is always going, ten steps ahead of where I’m at, spinning out of control and defeating myself, probably from exhaustion if nothing else.

I’m craving change of some kind. I’m needing something new. I’m needing to find some relaxation- the one thing in life I’ve never been good at. Well that and math. I’m a little lost right now but it’s ok, I’m looking to find my way again.

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Photo courtesy of Alessandra, Flickr Creative Commons. Original photo can be found by clicking on pic.