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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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

Identity Crisis

Labels, identity, sense of self. We all have them, we a5407255785_5362a34d7d_qll use them, sometimes I suspect we all hate them. Wouldn’t it be great to live life undefined? No limits? Every day a blank slate and no preconceived notions of what a person is or can achieve?

Growing up, I was “the happy one,” as I chatted easily with everyone I met. I was bubbly and silly and terribly bossy (oldest child here). I knew my place in the family: the happy, chatty (bossy) one. I also wrote stories as a child and by second or third grade was considering a career in journalism. In my mind, those traits defined me, not only holding my place in the family but also my self-worth.

So… When anxiety and then depression hit around age 17 I didn’t know who I was anymore. I would expend a lot of energy to still be ‘the happy one,’ but it had become a challenge. I was busy fighting a war inside of me that I didn’t understand. The extra effort it took to appear normal was exhausting. I didn’t dare speak of what I was feeling because I thought I was crazy and broken. Talking about it wouldn’t help.

The battle to still try to be who I was when I was no longer that person was a messy one. Sometimes I did a great job at it. Other times, my struggles were taken out on those around me. I was cruel and angry. I’d snap a lot. I’d have mood swings. My mother tried to persuade me to see a therapist or go on medication but I felt nothing could help me so I resisted. I suffered, somewhat in silence, minus the angry outbursts directed at those I loved most.

Inside, I was out of control. I no longer knew where I fit. Family members have roles, people have roles. If I lost my spot then who was I? It was terrifying to me and depressing. What would my new label be? The bitchy one? That didn’t sit well with me.

Fast forward a year or two. I come across a document on my computer, a book report written by my sister. I read it and it was really good. While I took in her beautiful words I felt threatened. Writing was MY thing. My sister had always been great with math and science, in ways that I would never be. She had a natural ability for it while I had to work at it and struggle to make sense out of it. It didn’t seem fair for her to be good at my thing because I certainly wasn’t good at her thing. It felt like something had been stolen from me. I know that sounds completely irrational and dramatic. It was, it is, but that is how I felt at the time. I wasn’t angry at my sister I was deflated.

Where is all of this leading to? Recently my dad quit smoking and his journey reminded me of my own. It turns out that my dad identifies as a smoker. He is not a person who smokes, HE, as a person, is a smoker. So to quit, to let that go, means giving up his identity or at least part of it. I never in a million years considered that perspective. It gives me a new appreciation to the struggle that is quitting smoking. I’m sure not all smokers feel that way but I am also sure that he is not alone in that sentiment.

His recent experience and learning how that unnerved him made me ponder how much labels,identity, and sense of self affect us on a daily basis. I’ve read in parenting articles online how critical it is for parents not to label their children- none of that ‘smart one,’ or ‘pretty one,’ etc. I’m appreciating the why behind it. I can definitely say that I’m trying to remove labels from my daily life. I don’t want to ever use language that could leave someone feeling pigeonholed. Most importantly, I am trying to make sure I don’t limit myself by some notion of who or what I am.

Photo Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons: Krisis Magazine

Emerging From The Darkness

I am emerging from the darkness. I am once again feeling stronger. After a few weeks of being down, dancing between two emotions; numb or melancholy, the fog is lifting.

Every so often I slip into a low. As my mother puts it, it is like a blanket that covers me and keeps me from being myself. I agree with her, partially. It is like a blanket, or a fog, or a haze that descends upon me. The usual happy go lucky demeanor takes a back seat. I get introspective, contemplative, quiet, and yes- moody.

However, I am still me, this is a part of me. Is it mild depression? Is it just part of my personality? The need to pull back now and then and take stock of my life? I don’t know. It doesn’t bother me, not too much at least. It doesn’t bother me because it doesn’t last. The only time it ever lasted I was on the wrong meds/too strong of a dose. Then I withdrew pretty much all together and spent any time not at work lounging or sleeping in my bed. That is not where I am now. That is not where I have been for a long time. 

To me, there is a certain beauty to darkness. I think embracing it now and then is important. Is it painful? Yes, but it also leads to growth, to joy, to a stronger version of me. Embracing it, as long as it is not stopping me from fulfilling my responsibilities (much), or totally cutting everyone out of my life, or having suicidal thoughts (which I don’t), then I say, embrace away. 

Still, there must be a balance. The dark cannot overtake the light. I mustn’t dwell for too long. Life is too precious, too fragile, too beautiful to focus on the misery and the sadness for an extended period of time. 

I was sort of due for this little segue into the land of sorrow. Uncle John’s birthday was just a week ago. There are other changes going on in my life that I was not thrilled to hear about. I have not been focusing on maintaining a positive attitude. There are a few stressors that had been weighing me down as well. Mix that all together and it’s a perfect recipe to backslide a touch. 

Besides, if I get too comfortable in life, if things are going too smoothly, it makes me a tad uncomfortable. I spent so many years overwhelmed and miserable due to my undiagnosed anxiety disorder that peacefulness can actually be unnerving at times. Realistically I suffered from my anxiety issues for years (at least seven years totally undiagnosed, three of those years experiencing panic attacks that scared the bejesus out of me). Just as I began to learn about my anxiety disorder and seek treatment the health of several relatives went into decline, one right after the other. 

In some ways, I’ve had a rough go of it since I was 17 years old.To be clear, not as rough as many in this life but this is my life, my journey, and my issues to deal with. Sure there were pockets of calm in between but also a lot of chaos, a lot of stress, a lot of… well… a lot. Not to mention the amount of growth a person does in those years regardless of other factors. 

So here I am, learning to adjust to a new normal. One I never imagined but one that I am content with. A normal that sadly doesn’t include people that I assumed would be around a lot longer than they were. A normal that still battles anxiety and depression. A normal with more amazing friends than I dared to believe possible when I was younger. A normal that includes healthy relationships with my family. A normal that is all mine. Yes, I am emerging from the darkness once again.