I suppose that as far as anxiety disorders go, I have it pretty good. My anxiety is usually tied to specific events as opposed to just life in general. When life is good, I’m great. I have had more than one person tell me that they were shocked to learn I deal with anxiety and panic attacks. (I’m using those terms interchangeably and possibly inaccurately. To me, anxiety is the under-the-surface simmering that brings a knot to my stomach, shallow breathing and a sense of doom or dread. A panic attack to me is when it all crashes down, and I shake and tense up, sob and hyperventilate. A panic attack is finite; anxiety can stick around. Just my terms.) I am a very outgoing and confident person. A friend once said I should hire a caddy to help carry around my self-esteem, and he’s right. I do great in social settings, although I don’t love the big crowds of concerts or football games. I’m never shy and I generally like myself quite a bit. I also don’t know what people think of when they think of someone suffering from anxiety because since it’s always been a part of my life, I don’t think it’s extraordinary.
The one time in my life that my anxiety was not situational was in my mid-20s. My life was shit, truly. My parents had gone through a nasty divorce when I was 21 and away at school. I became estranged from my entire paternal family. My mom was a mess, we suddenly were broke and I felt for the first time what self-loathing is. When my father chose to cut me out of his life, even though I knew he was being a complete asshole, I couldn’t help but turn on myself. How horrible of a person do you have to be for your own parent to walk away from you? How worthless are you when you call and beg your father to help with rent money (that he had always paid) and he tells you no? These questions consumed my brain for about 6 years, and the only way for me to quiet them was by drinking or overeating. And if there’s one way to make you feel even more worthless, it’s by gaining 100lbs and living in a constant state of hangover.
I went from feeling like a pretty damn good person to someone lost and devoid of identity and self-worth. I felt uncomfortable in my own skin AT ALL TIMES. I made nothing but bad decisions, which caused even more self-hatred. At this point, instead of anxiety, I had full blown depression, which is a whole other beast. It was constant. The world was moving on around me and I was stuck, wanting to be rescued or valued or SOMETHING but it’s hard to value someone who hates herself. I ended up moving away for a job and the depression began to subside some. I had a job I was good at and was making friends with people that got me. I was coming into my own. During this time, I met my husband. I thought I had adjusted enough to handle a mature relationship. We found out the hard way that both of us were not ready to let people in to our lives, but we did it anyway. During this time, my depression waned but my anxiety came back full force.
I can remember getting upset about things and thinking “I’ll never feel better. I’ll never get better. This is it.” The imagery of that time is that of being in a hole and dirt being thrown on me. Feeling so buried by emotions that I didn’t think it was possible to recover. I could feel my husband – still just boyfriend – getting scared off by me, and I didn’t want to lose him because I couldn’t stop crying for 2 hours over an argument. So I called my GP and asked for help.
My doctor at the time was also a family counselor, so he told me he would put me on Paxil for 3 months at a time, but then we would meet and reassess. I liked this. It was a plan of action. I wasn’t just putting a band-aid on my problems. I was going to work on them.
Almost immediately after beginning the Paxil, I felt so much better. I felt a bit numb, honestly, but not like a zombie. I loved it. I felt like for the first time in years, I could roll with the punches. Let things slide. Not fall to pieces. I could DEAL with things instead of being BURIED by things. I started to heal.
I fully support the use of meds to help with anxiety and depression. Some people believe that medicating takes the place of coping, and I couldn’t disagree more. Yes, coping with the shit life can throw at you is crucial, but it’s almost impossible to cope when you are lying in the bathroom floor, sobbing and gasping for air. That feeling of being buried will never leave me, and it’s my biggest fear now for coming off of Zoloft. Your brain really fucks with you, it really convinces you that YOU WILL NOT GET OUT OF THIS SHIT HOLE and it is crippling. That’s what anxiety is for me. It’s the slow sinking into the abyss. The inability to fight it off. Defeat. Surrender.
Taking medicine gave me a weapon to fight with. I still had to dig out of the hole, but at least I was equipped. I still have shit thrown at me. I still have doubts and fears and unknowns that are mind-boggling. But while on medication, I was able to fight these storms as a whole person, not a wounded and vulnerable creature. Will I be able to do that without it? Time will tell. But I will not allow myself to get defeated again.