a level playing field…

Some of my earliest memories are of being anxious. I even remember once, when I was seven, having a panic attack. I didn’t have a name for either of those feelings when I was little. Anxious was just how I felt. And the panic attack…

Cue wavy flashback visuals and subtle chimes…

I was 7 and it was summer. As on most days I was outside under a giant shrub playing in my fairy garden. The sun was hot but I was laying on my belly propped up on my elbows on the cool dry earth of the shade somewhere between my house and the shrubs that lined it. I was trying to think of an appropriate offering for the fairies when little drips of blood started to spatter the dirt beneath my nose. I wiped the back of my hand across the base of my nose to see how much blood there was. Bloody noses were a common occurrence, a nuisance. They weren’t something to worry about unless the blood flow resembled a stream.

The blood was just a smear so I rolled over onto my back and tilted my head up wiping the blood from the back of my hand onto a leaf on the shrub that sheltered me as I watched the hot summer sun force itself through the dense growth of leaves to dapple the ground with light.

And then I looked back to the leaf on which I’d wiped my blood and my body started to tingle and freeze. The blood flowed out of my face and my breath stopped even as my heart raced. I wanted to scream out for help but I couldn’t. And I thought of the triage scenes from M*A*S*H with the soldiers terribly wounded or going in for an appendectomy or maybe just being too scared of the world and I was certain that I was about to die. The world began to spin and I couldn’t move a muscle as tears streamed down my face. And at some point little white-haired blue-eyed Cami blacked out on the ground under the shrub outside the house.

I don’t know how long I was there in that state. I don’t know how I pulled myself out of it. I just know sometime later I realized I wasn’t dead. My body aching with tension I plucked off the leaf that had been smeared with blood and took it to the trash. I went inside to see blood crusted beneath my nose and cleaned it up. I changed out of the little shorts I’d been wearing because they were covered in the dry dusty earth. And then I went to the kitchen to slake my thirst.

Cue wavy flashback end sequence…

Thinking you’re dying takes a lot out of a kid. I imagine I probably treated myself to a Capri Sun.

Growing up, my anxiety was something that made me different. But not in a good way. Also, I didn’t realize it was the thing that made me different. I didn’t ever stop to think at that young age if others experienced the world in the same way I did. They didn’t

Now I know that everyone experiences the world in their own way. There are people who experience it in what would be described as a typical way and then there’s everyone else.

My life-long experience with anxiety and with panic has given me some gifts.

  • I have the uncanny ability to seek out and find the bright side in almost any situation. Which is as much a gift as a curse and something I’m working really hard to tamp down right now.
  • I’m nearly always prepared for the worst. Sometimes I cope with anxiety by asking myself what the worst thing that could happen is. And then I prepare for it just in case I’m right. It’s not so much the being prepared that helps my mental state as it is that having something TO DO to FIX THE THING helps me cope.

But now, I’m not alone in my anxiety. I’m in the majority. Pretty much the super majority. Right now, anxious seems to be the status quo. People who’ve blissfully wandered through life without feeling trapped, without what-iffing every scenario. Without panicking at the thought of getting out of bed or walking out the front door are suddenly over here in my field feeling that deep sense of anxious dread with me.

Hi. Welcome. This is what it’s like. This. This is living with anxiety. And it’s not fun. And it’s sometimes hard to cope. And if you’re one of those newly struggling with anxiety, I’m glad you’re here. And I’m confident that we’ll get through this together. But at least 10 yards apart.

medication iteration…

When I finally gave in nearly two years ago and asked my doctor for help with my anxiety, being medicated was the most terrifying thing in the world to me. I didn’t want to do it but I could no longer continue with the status quo I’d been living.

I wanted my anxiety to abate, but I also didn’t know how much it would change me as a person to have that part of me dulled or cut out. If you believe, as I do, that your entire lifetime of experiences make you who are are at any specific moment. Both the good and the bad. Then you might understand why, as a person who loved much of her life, I would be terrified to change something the size of a mountain.

Also anxiety has a funny way of preserving itself. It feeds lies. It feeds panic. It does everything it can to keep itself safe within you so it can live and grow and thrive. Like a parasite eating away at the rest of you.

The hardest time was the first few weeks when my new medications weren’t yet taking hold and every morning taking a pill that was making me tired, stupid, and dizzy seemed like the worst idea ever. When my anxiety told me I was killing something good with every swallow.

I don’t want to drone on about things I’ve already said but…

I will repeat, that I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder and also Panic Disorder. And it’s no walk in the park. I’ve heard anxiety scoffed at as the socially acceptable hip version of depression. I’ve heard people with anxiety and panic mocked for as just being too tightly wound. Or chided for not being able to get their shit together. I assure you, it’s none of that.

So, as is probably no surprise to anyone, my anxiety has risen to a new level during the recent global pandemic (starting in the months leading up to it). Not just because of the Coronavirus situation itself, but because of how humanity in general is responding. Or not responding in many cases.

It started as a low whisper, grew to a constant white noise, and before I knew it I was back in the wind tunnel of full blown anxiety. My anxiety meds not really keeping anything at bay. My body tingling with stress and fear from the moment I opened my eyes, if I was lucky enough to sleep. My panic attacks coming in clusters more and more often.

And so I told myself it would be fine. It will get better soon. I’ll get used to this new normal. I’ll adjust. I’ll adapt. I’ll cope.

And I started using my coping methods more and more frequently. I started taking my panic medication more frequently. My tells started to show more and more. And then last week some sauce packets we didn’t need or want were delivered with our takeout. And instead of tossing them, which yes I know is wasteful, I dug through a cabinet looking for an empty canister to store them in. You know, in case we need them. For later.

I was a sauce packet hoarder my entire life. Because I was afraid to throw them out. Because we might need them. For something. Someday. But we never used them. Ever. Never ever.

With that in mind, and with the knowledge that I had once again started exhibiting other tells, and also knowing that my panic prescription was almost out I called my doctor and once again did the really hard work of saying “Help me.”

Are my meds losing efficacy for me? Did I adjust? Or is the world just too much to bear right now? I’m not sure, but I was sure I was backsliding. I could feel the soft sucking quicksand of my illness sucking me back in.

So for the first time in a while I’m in the midst of making some changes to my meds. I feel exhausted. I feel dizzy. I feel like thoughts are trying to work their way out of my head as though they’re moving through cooled pudding.

This time I want to take them. My meds. I want to get back to what was my new normal 6 months ago. But my anxiety still has other ideas.

Featured photo by am JD on Unsplash

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If you are struggling with depression, anxiety, feelings of isolation, anger or any combination thereof please reach out for help. To a friend, to your family, a doctor, clergy member, or a counselor. You can call 1-877-726-4727 (Monday – Friday 8am to 8pm) for help locating mental health services available to you in your area.

If you feel overwhelmed and like you may harm yourself you can find local resources to help you here: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org or call the National Suicide prevention hotline 1-800-273-8255 (24 hours a day 7 days a week).

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Note: medication isn’t the answer for everyone. It hasn’t always been the answer for me. It may not always be the answer for me. I hope it isn’t. I’m just sharing my story as it is. Right now.

knows no reason…

This morning I got up early because my brain was buzzing when I woke up at 5am. Buzzing with all the things I didn’t have time for yesterday, all of the things I’m afraid I won’t have time for today. And the anticipation of social interaction later.

Which I will enjoy, but find draining.

I started working early. Making lists. Completing tasks. Checking calendars.

I ate breakfast and chatted with friends. I packed up my bag and hopped in the shower. Got dressed. Put on a favorite pair of earrings. My bracelets. My rings. Threw on blush, mascara, and lip balm. Put on my shoes. Picked up a grocery bag full of solo cups and headed out the door.

Suddenly what started as a brain buzz this morning had traveled deep into my stomach and chest. Tight. Tension. Stiffness. Something in my throat. That familiar fight or flight moment inching into my personal space.

It occurred to me as I stepped onto the train that I wouldn’t have this level of anxiety if I were stepping on a plane to fly across the country. Or across an ocean. Where was this coming from? Why was taking a train into an office I’m familiar with cause me want to run for it. Or more accurately to take off my shoes and pants and climb into bed with a cup of tea?

Anxiety doesn’t make sense. There is no rhyme or reason to it. It just does as it will and has its way with us.

I’ve been on medication for my anxiety (Generalized Anxiety Disorder) for nearly two years. Life is different now. It’s better. But this ghost never really goes away. Just tags along in silence waiting to show it’s shadowy figure and turn me inside out.