So, last year I wrote up a post about how I deal with my chronic anxiety. It wasn’t a difficult post to compose; anxiety is something that so many people deal with, and something I thought I had a pretty good grip on. Therefore, I looked at that post as a simple how-to for people who needed some help with their nerves/panic.
It’s quite possible that God saw that post and was like “Girl. You don’t even know the half of it. I’ve got some PLANS for you.”
This post is about what happens when life decides to kick you in the balls. Or rather, when your anxiety decides to take you by the throat for four months.
Back in December, I started having really bad anxiety again, to the point where I almost had panic attacks on several occasions. I think it was a combination of semester stress and the still-crushing sadness I felt from Nance’s passing. Then the holidays came and I managed to calm down, and then the school year started up and the attacks seemingly diminished. Until one night.
I was accidentally prescribed a different type of birth control than I was used to, and one of the side effects was panic and increased anxiety. I didn’t think that would happen to me. Little did I know. Four days into the new pills, I drove to hang out with my boyfriend and few friends at a bar. I walked into the bar, said hello to my friends, and all of a sudden it hit my like a freight train. The worst panic attack I’d had in years. I can’t really describe it, except it felt like someone put my brain into a blender and hit FREAKOUT. I immediately ran out of the bar and leaned up against the side of the building, sobbing hysterically. This was different than other forms of anxiety I’d had. This was an uncontrollable force that I couldn’t stop if I had the mental fortitude of a Buddhist monk.
It was so bad that the BF (who is Patience on a damn monument) had to cut short our plans so we could go home. I drove back to his place crying the entire time. I’ve never had a situation like that, ever. I’d heard about people who’d had paralyzing panic, but I’d never experienced it. I’d always been able to control it. By the end of the night I was so exhausted from crying that I just wanted to lay in bed and watch Parks and Recreation until I passed out.
About four days later I had another one, but this time I didn’t have my boyfriend to calm me down and talk me through it. I was working at home, got a little overheated in my loft, and BAM – panic central. By the end of it – panic attacks tend to last only about half an hour, but it felt like forever – I was practically laying on my kitchen floor, shaking uncontrollably, staring up at the ceiling and thinking to myself Well, I’m gonna just die here I guess?
Obviously I didn’t die. But that night was the start of four months of paralyzing fear. And this was after I realized those attacks were a result of hormone imbalance and got my ass off that birth control (which led to three straight weeks of feeling like my hormones were doing a tapdance and nobody knew the choreography). Ever since I got off the pills, the panic attacks stopped*. But the fear of experiencing that type of crushing horror was so intense, it haunted me for months.
*Note: I am not saying that all types of birth control cause horrifying side effects such as crippling anxiety – I’m actually on the hunt for another type of birth control in order to handle my PMS cycles, so I truly do believe in their efficacy. It’s just that specific one I was on was NOT good for me. Or for anyone. Woof.
The fear was still with me. For weeks I didn’t want to go anywhere or do anything because I was scared shitless the panic attacks would happen when I was out and about. I would go out to the mall or to a restaurant and feel like the walls were closing in and I’d have to go outside and suck down fresh air, feeling like I was claustrophobic. Teaching was always something that I enjoyed, but more often than not my goals for class periods became less about imparting information and more about not having panic attacks in front of my students – I still taught a successful curriculum, of course, but that fear was still in the back of my mind. I started eating a bit more out of comfort rather than necessity and most of it went straight to my ass. I started feeling exhausted, depressed, frazzled, and broken. I slept a LOT and still felt like it wasn’t enough. The Final Four should have been a wonderful and exhilarating time, but my anxiety made it impossible for me to have fun. I spent that weekend feeling tired or completely wired. Of course, some of this anxiety was to be expected from a long semester teaching, but the fear of panic on top of that made it nearly unbearable.
Then, I got rejected from every single PhD program I applied for, and oddly I felt a bit of relief from all that pressure, despite how I ended up sobbing in the arms of my friend from the FE office. Something broke in my head. I’m not a pessimistic creature. I have to be happy. I deserve to be happy. And this type of living, with its pain and anger, wasn’t the winning edge.
Eventually I started trying to fix, rather than bemoan, my existence. I started doing yoga more consistently. I started going for walks. I started working at a bookstore (which is helping my anxiety by forcing me to be with people). I started reading for leisure again, and challenging myself to go places by myself – I saw Godzilla on Friday and honestly really enjoyed myself, despite the nervous feeling in my stomach when the lights went down. I stopped drinking so much coffee, which has really calmed down my overall behaviors, and I also have stopped eating chocolate and refined sugars most days of the week and replaced it with fresh fruit. I stopped beating myself up all the time. Or at least, tried to stop.
And finally, after months of wrestling with the notion of going down a psychiatric route, I started seeing a psychologist. I knew it was the right thing to do because the first time she asked me to talk about my story, I broke down and started sobbing in her office. Clearly I was looking for someone to uncork this bottle of pain on, and she was the one to help me examine the contents.
Since I’ve started therapy, things have been getting better. I’m slowly, painfully, picking apart the patterns that go into my behaviors, and it’s becoming an easier process to handle. I’m learning coping mechanisms. I can be by myself for long periods of time without feeling like I’m going to explode. I can go to restaurants without panicking and shoveling food down my throat. I was able to get through my teaching this semester successfully and had a lot of students give me fantastic evaluations, despite what was going on inside of me.
I’m not saying this like I’m past any of it. I’m still feeling all of it. I’m better than I was by a long shot, but the triggers are still there. There have been a few times where, in the middle of a party, I’ve had to stand up and walk into another room to be by myself. I still get very restless and panicked, mostly out of the ‘what-if’s’ of a situation rather than the realities. But it’s been generally much better than it has been. Every week it’s been getting incrementally better. Just this past weekend I had a long day of work at the bookstore, then went to a cookout and then a bar for drinks, came home and fell asleep on the couch watching @Midnight. It was glorious because it was normal. I was still a little nervous, and a bit sleepy (dammit, I miss afternoon coffee jolts) but I wasn’t a mess. I wasn’t freaking out. I just was. Granted I did have a bit of anxiety on Sunday prior to brunch – I get a bit hypoglycemic if I don’t eat immediately upon waking – but I dealt with it better than I have in months.
So, I’m getting there. It’s a slow rebuilding process, but I’m getting there. I just have to be patient.
I think that if anyone is reading this that’s going through something similar, know this – if you have the right people around you, who love you fiercely and want you to be happy…they will completely understand your idiosyncracies, your fears, your panic. They will help the pain go away if you let them in. The hardest part out of all of this was admitting I needed help to fix my brain, and I was absolutely astonished at the amount of love and support I received from those closest to me.
It was almost as if they thought I was worth it.
I am worth it. And so are you.
Hang in there.
PS. A more fun post is coming later on this week. It’s about The Twilight Saga. It took me a week to read the first book because I kept throwing the book across the room, then I burned through New Moon in one day and am currently about 70 pages into Eclipse. I need a full post to encapsulate my emotions, but suffice to say I HATE ALL OF IT.