Story time (otherwise known as, the big background post)

Posted in anxiety, depression, personal with tags , , , on May 30, 2013 by Trace

So I’ve juggled the idea of putting together a blog about anxiety for a long time. I talk about it enough elsewhere, so it seems silly I haven’t consolidated my feelings somewhere. And since this blog is mainly about my journey with an anxiety disorder, well, we probably should start at the beginning, shouldn’t we?

If I’m honest with myself, there were a lot of little things that were brewing way before my first panic attack. I had a tendency to really dislike crowds and actively avoided them. I worried about long trips because of the potential lack of bathrooms. I worried about people not making it home after work and school at night in an almost obsessive sort of way. I never really connected it all, though, not while it was happening. My parents shrugged it off as me being a homebody. I put it off as that, too – it was easy to just tell myself I preferred hanging out at my house than going to parties. When college came around, I chose the closest ones, never really even considering leaving home. Graduation happened, I got in to the university I wanted to go to, and things seemed pretty good.

I never saw the first panic attack coming. It was the summer before college and I was eighteen. I woke up and it honestly felt like I was having a heart attack. How I didn’t manage to rush to the hospital that night, I don’t know, but it forever changed me. I spent that month basically waiting to die, despite doctors assuring me I was fine. I nearly gave up on the idea of college all together, even though I was staying home and commuting, but my parents convinced me to give it a try. The first semester was brutal. There was one class I could barely sit in because it made what I now realize was anxiety flare up so badly. I nearly failed that course, and my other classes weren’t so hot either. It was November that year that I first went to a therapist.

Before I continue, I want to say that I won’t go into the long list of therapists and therapies I have tried in this post. Those might become their own posts, because sharing what I’ve been through and the types of therapies I’ve tried might help someone reading this pick one for themselves. What I will say here is the journey to finding the right therapy for you can be long and hard, and it took me two tries to get to a therapist who at least helped me function. I was put on medications at that point – after bad reactions to a few, I eventually was put on Zoloft and Klonopin. They helped get me through school, though at one point I went off my meds and ended up having to leave school for a semester when I basically reverted right back to how I used to be.

Protip: Don’t go off your meds and stop therapy in a stupid decision that you are clearly fine when you start feeling better. Trust me, it will probably not end well.

I missed out on a lot of things in school, unfortunately. It was hard to stay there, so I usually just did my classes and went home. Eventually I got a job on campus during phone stuff for fundraising, which I liked. But beyond that, my participation in social life suffered tremendously and the years I had to get work experience was sucked away. I had a general idea of what I wanted, but was always too nervous to talk to my adviser because I had no set goals. There were still classes that really made me anxious for one reason or another, but I’m pretty proud to say I only had to talk to one professor about it (and only because she had a strict attendance policy). The rest I managed to get through and get decent grades in. It took me longer than it ought to have, but I graduated at the end of 2009. Thrust into a world with no direction, my anxiety got bad very quickly.

I tried to better myself before I hit the working world. I got a new therapist, decided to get weight loss surgery while I was still covered (that will be a post in itself one day) on my dad’s insurance. I coped with eating, and had ballooned to a pretty high weight. I thought surely once I lost I would be okay. I wasn’t. My health anxiety had flared up at that point, and the surgery caused me to be unable to tolerate my zoloft. I was taken off my parents’ insurance, and basically went off meds cold turkey. It went as well as it did the first time. Depressed, I hit rock bottom. It was the closest I’d ever been to being suicidal (though I was always too chicken to ever actually think about doing it). I couldn’t deal with my parents leaving for a week on vacation and even my sister saw how bad I was getting. With her urging, and having gotten my own insurance, I decided enough was enough and started working on getting back on meds and trying to get my life back on track. I was twenty-six by then. My health anxiety had gotten so bad I was getting a lot of tests done that found nothing. I’m still dealing with a lot of debt from that, even with insurance.

I found the prescribing doctor, but now I needed a proper therapist. I jumped around. Finally, I found my current one this year. It’s been a positive experience, overall. I’m pushing myself to do things more and more every day in a way I hadn’t been pushing before. Am I cured? No. Will I ever fully be cured? No. Am I learning to live with a chronic disorder that ebbs and flows? Yes, yes, and yes. I think one of the most important things someone with any mental illness is to accept that sometimes there will be low points even when things seem to be going good, and that it doesn’t mean you’re back to square one. I always remind myself my worst is still not as bad as it was in the very beginning when I didn’t even know what was happening. I didn’t have the coping tools I have now to pull out of it faster.

In the end, I take things one day at a time. Do my best, try not to worry when things get bad. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it – I like to think I still have a lot to give to this world, after all.