Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Mental Health Awareness ~ Welcome to My Crazy, by Dinner and a Nervous Breakdown

This post has been a few weeks in the making, and it all started when we were still in the middle of Mental Health Awareness Week. This very talented woman reached out to me and asked if she could share her story. Please check out her blog and Facebook page
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I thought I would share my story. Or rather, stories. Maybe it will help someone, or maybe I will just feel better after purging all the bullshit. Either way; welcome to my crazy

Before I had even hit middle school, I was diagnosed with the following. Although some of it kind of smooshes together, and some of it didn’t have such tidy, convenient names back then, here they are in all their glory along with MY definition of each. *IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER* I am NOT a doctor or an expert in any capacity, and each of these may be experienced differently by different people.

Social Anxiety Disorder – Social anxiety disorder is not about being shy, socially awkward, or uncomfortable at your new boyfriend’s cousin’s wedding. Everyone experiences social settings with varying degrees of discomfort. SAD goes beyond awkward and uncomfortable into excruciating and impossible. The thought of being placed into a social situation in which they are expected to be normal and carry on conversations and mingle, sets the SAD sufferer into a tailspin of dread, panic and thinking of any possible way that to get out of it.

Seasonal Depression – Apparently also called Seasonal Affective Disorder, Seasonal Depression strikes its sufferers, well, seasonally. As fall sets in and the weather gets colder, the days get shorter and the dark gets darker, the bleak also gets bleaker. Winter is approaching and it feels like the days of sunshine and summertime are never, ever going to come back and you’re doomed to wander this cold world, dark and alone, forever. And no, I’m not exaggerating.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder – GAD is an affliction that is the most counterproductive of all, in my opinion. It’s a cycle. Worry causes stress, stress causes fear, sleeplessness, soreness of body and mind. The constant and overwhelming worrying about something makes it impossible to productively focus on, let alone fix, whatever you began worrying about in the first place. Problems set off the GAD cycle, and, The GAD causes its symptoms, which cause more problems which give you more to worry about. It’s never ending and completely exhausting.

Claustrophobia – Everyone knows that this is the fear of closed, or small, spaces. While no one particularly likes being closed in small spaces, claustrophobics simply cannot handle it and will alter their life in whatever ways possible to avoid it. At all costs. They cannot handle the thought of being trapped in an airplane, so no trips. Elevators are absolutely not acceptable, so lots of stairs. Doctor’s offices - small rooms, closed doors, - cause panic so we usually just don’t go. Hospital? Surgery? Ha! Prescribing an MRI or a CAT scan is like prescribing death.

Agoraphobia – The actual definition of agoraphobia is “fear of open spaces.” It comes from the greek word agora, meaning market. And no, the irony is not lost on me. From a mental health standpoint, agoraphobia has basically come to mean the fear of any situation that may cause panic. Large crowds, tall buildings, unfamiliar surroundings for some. Being lost, not knowing where to find a bathroom or being somewhere by yourself for others. Agoraphobia is an all encompassing disorder and affects everyone differently. And it’s my least favorite.

Panic attacks – For me, and for many, any of the above situations can cause panic attacks, and are in turn worsened by panic attacks. I know that’s confusing, but I will get into it more later. A Panic attack never looks or feels the same for different people, or even for the same people in different situations. I’ll do my best to explain the way a panic attack most often feels to me:

I usually feel it coming and it usually starts with a heightened awareness of everything in the room. All of the noises and voices are suddenly closer, right in my ears and echoing in my head. The walls close in, while any chance of escape seems nearly impossible. I am sure everyone is looking at me, if not talking about me. And no, I don’t give a half a fuck what any of these people think about me, but why are they doing this? I’m sweaty and crampy, or nauseous. Extremely hot or extremely cold. I may be sick, or I may shit myself (seriously) and oh my god I am going to die. If I were being rational I would know that I am not actually, but panic replaces rationality. So no, not exactly literally, but I am still going to die. Or I am not going to die, instead I am going to feel this way forever and wish I would die. Why is this happening? Why can’t I just be normal dammit?! Fuck this, get me out of here. Now. No, I can’t leave, then the panic wins. I have to fight it. Why do I have to fight it? Why can’t I just stay home, where this won’t ever happen again and I don’t ever have to feel like this again and oh my god just please make it stop. It’s never going to stop. I am going to die. Where’s the door? Where’s the bathroom? When can I leave without it being awkward and making them all look at me and talk about me more than they already are….

That’s the best I can do and it doesn’t even come close.

Now, before I get into my personal experiences, I have to say something. I’m sure this is going to piss some people off, but I’ve been pissed off about it for a long time, so suck it up. If you feel like you have some kind of a disorder, please, please talk to somebody and get help. Please. But it you don’t – shut the fuck up. Allow me to explain; if you don’t like spiders, you do not have arachnophobia. You just don’t like spiders. Now if you refuse to go into some places, no matter how badly you need to, or alter your life in dramatic ways in order to avoid any situation in which you may possibly encounter an 8 legged asshole, then you may actually have arachnophobia. In the same sense; shy people do not have SAD, people who worry do not have GAD and people who prefer summer do not have seasonal depression. In order for any of these to be an actual condition, they have to be extreme, usually irrational and cause excruciating consequences. Not be simply uncomfortable. Uncomfortable is life. Everybody is uncomfortable. It seems like it has become trendy as of late to claim some sort of mental disorder or another. Everyone and their little sister has Generalized Anxiety Disorder now, or gets Panic Attacks. These are not things I would wish on my worst enemy, let alone want to have myself. Believe me, you DO NOT WANT this! Why pretend, or exaggerate, so that it looks like you have this? Seriously? Why? I think it is a result of drug companies and doctors. Someone has to be labeled in order to be medicated, and the more prescriptions they write the more money they make. But the whole thing makes me sick. The result is that those of us genuinely affected are not taken seriously. Try to tell someone that you suffer from a disorder that has exponentially hindered you in your life, and have them say, “Oh, me too.” Really? No.

Okay, rant over. You’re still here? Awesome. Lets continue.

Now, medication is usually viewed as the first and sometimes only treatment. Xanax, Valuim, Paxil, Effexor, Ativan and on and on and on. You’ve heard of them, I’m sure. You may take them. You may love them. I do not. I am on no medication. My opinion is that we are, as a society, completely over medicated and that these drugs do more to mask the problems, and zombify us, than to fix anything. While in some cases, medication may be a necessity, behavior modification, thought control and therapy are much more effective and may actually treat the issue instead of chemically covering it up. Though I do feel that medication has its purpose, that purpose is NOT in me. It’s not because I’m so strong, I don’t need drugs, I am going to fight this on my own. Nope. Most of the time I would so much rather pop a pill and have it go away. But I can’t. I literally cannot handle drugs. You know that little insert that comes with all the prescriptions? The one with the tiny print that lists all of the things that could possibly happen as a side effect? All of the things that could possibly go wrong? That list might as well be titled ALL OF THIS SHIT IS ABSOLUTELY GOING TO HAPPEN AS SOON AS YOU INGEST THIS PILL on anything prescribed to me.

I took Zoloft once. The doctor had been begging me to get on it for months,, and he finally convinced me by saying that it would likely lessen my panic attacks and my migraines. “I am going to get sick” I told him. “Just take it for 3 months and we will see” he responded. Okay. Here goes nothing. He gave me 25 milligrams, and I broke them in half. 12.5 milligrams a day. I was in bed for 2 weeks. I couldn’t eat, couldn’t really sleep, but couldn’t get up. I was nauseous and puking. It was like the worst flu AND hangover I had ever had, combined with not being able to grab onto any one thought for too long. I muscled through those miserable 2 weeks. By the third week I could get up, I could eat a little, but I was still all fuzzy, not really present. After a month I was almost normal, just felt a little disconnected. But if I forgot a pill, took one too early or too late, I was sick again. I sucked it up for 3 months, because I said I would. It did reduce my panic attacks and my migraines, but at the end of it all, I just couldn’t take it. My body does not like drugs.

So I’m pretty much on my own here.

All of these conditions that I have, essentially like to come out and play with each other and cause a clusterfuck for me. I’m going to try to keep it all straight, but sometimes you can’t. And by the end of this piece, you will see that they are all pretty much one big mess anyway.

I had my first panic attack in kindergarten. Of course, I didn’t know at the time that I was having a panic attack; I just thought that the entire world had flipped the fuck out and attacked me for a while. I told my mom about it and she brushed it off, said it was nothing and wouldn’t happen again. Mama didn’t respond this way to be heartless. You see, my 5 year old self had just explained to my mother her own worst nightmare. She had been suffering from her own panic disorders, to the point where she had been unable to leave the house for a period of years, and she thought that if she didn’t give it a name for me, didn’t give it any credibility, didn’t “feed the beast” I guess, then it wouldn’t happen to her baby as it had been happening to her. Mama was wrong.

I was too young to process it all really. The horrible thing had happened when I was in school. I loved school, but the horrible thing happened while I was in school, so I didn’t want to go ever again. But I had to. It wasn’t as simple as school being the problem though. For the first time ever I was being asked to socialize, and I was discovering that I just couldn’t. This talking and playing together thing that all the other kids were just effortlessly doing, was absolutely not working for me. I couldn’t. Welcome Social Anxiety Disorder. I was being asked to accomplish new things and follow new directions. I was a very smart kid, and certainly capable of all that they were asking me to do. But suddenly I was worried. What if I didn’t make my letters right? What if Suzy was better at coloring than me? What if I actually wasn’t smart, and I was doing it all completely wrong and everyone knew it? Welcome Generalized Anxiety Disorder. And as a result, welcome the Panic Attack. See how they all smoosh together?

As a kid I learned that I couldn’t go to sleepovers – I’d make it until about 2 am before I called mom to come get me. I couldn’t do the afterschool functions like parties or dances – I literally made myself sick with the nerves of trying. I couldn’t raise my hand in class, join any clubs or play any sports – I would be expected to talk. Out loud. While everyone looked at me. No. Oral presentations were an absolute nightmare. I skipped school, talked my way out of it with the teacher, or just took the E even though I was a straight A student. All the things caused the panic attacks, and the attacks caused me to avoid all the things. Simple. Fast forward a few years to when I was a young teenager and throw in hormones and seasonal depression. Then I had all the things plus an overwhelming desire to not get out of bed. Ever again. My poor mother had to physically pull me out of bed more than once. And every year I missed so much school that they threatened to fail me.

At some point my mother accepted the fact that I was suffering from many of the same things she had been suffering from. She took me to a doctor, they put some names on some of my crazy and discovered that pills hate me. My dear, well intentioned mother gave me some advice. Again, she was doing the best that she could with what she had. It went something like this;

“It’s a mental thing, honey. The panic attacks are going to happen all the time. Anytime there are too many people or too much noise, or sometimes for no reason at all. Try to fight through it. You’re not really going to die. It just feels like it. And sometimes makes you wish you could. But you can’t.”

Really, really bad advice. “It’s going to keep happening no matter what” and “just fight through it.’ Worst advice ever. But it was the best that she had, and it then became all that I had.

Now the funny – not at all funny – thing about all of these conditions is that they feed off of each other, cause each other to kick in and worsen one another. That’s confusing, I know, but here’s what I mean;

1. You go to Kroger, worried that you’ll have a panic attack

2. You have a panic attack and you either

a. Fight through it hoping to God it goes away once you’re out of the building

b. Get your ass kicked by it and abandon a full cart of groceries in isle 6 as you run for the door hoping that the screams that are inside your head don’t escape until your inside your car

3. But you survive it

4. You realize that you cannot go to that Kroger anymore because you will have another panic attack

5. Repeat steps 1-4 with every fucking place else.

That’s how my mama ended up staying not leaving the house for years. At my worst I made it 6 months before my then husband literally picked me up and deposited me (kicking and screaming unfortunately) in the middle of our front yard and held me there until I stopped. Actually, I pretended to be okay with it and ran back inside as soon as he let me go. But I didn’t want to end up like this, I didn’t want to be this, I didn’t want to do this. So I fought it.

I did avoid certain places and things that I knew would bring on an attack. Certain restaurants where I had experienced particularly nasty attacks, driving somewhere for the first time by myself (Before Siri could give me turn by turn, obviously), and small intimate gatherings were a no go. Everything else, I tried. Usually had an attack, sometimes fought through it, sometimes was beaten by it. I learned some tricks, though. My baby sister was born when I was 14. It didn’t take me long to discover that I didn’t panic when I had the baby with me. I don’t absolutely know why, but my guess is that my subconscious knew that I had a little person depending on me and wouldn’t allow me to lose my shit. So I brought the baby with me. Everywhere. Poor kid is 15 now and absolutely hates to be idle, she always wants to go, go, go. Oops. I learned that smokers had a very convenient, legitimate reason to periodically remove themselves from the situation. Looked like a great idea. And, it’s much easier to say “Be right back, gonna grab a smoke” than it is to say “If I don’t get the fuck out of here RIGHT NOW I am going to snap and this may be the one time that I don’t come back from the crazy.” I still smoke a pack a day and wish I had never started. I learned that if I was drunk, or even buzzed, I could almost handle a social situation. I still worried about it before, freaked during, and replayed it over and over in my head finding everything I did wrong after. But if I was not sober, I could participate some, it was a little less painful. I learned that if the attack didn’t go away when I left the situation, then I had to go home. Back to mom’s. Even after I moved out. Home was my safe place and mom was my safe person. I learned that relationships are even harder when you expect your boyfriend to put up with all of the things that you can’t do, all of the places that you can’t go, and all of the times that you have to go home (especially if you feel like you don’t deserve someone who will. But that’s a whole different post, isn’t it?). But I generally did better with a boyfriend around, so I pretty much always had one. And when I found one that would deal with all of my issues, I put up with whatever kind of treatment I got, because I’d likely never find anyone else willing to deal with the crazy anyway.

I went on like this for years. Missing out on so much, not enjoying the things that I couldn’t miss out on, and barely surviving things that other, normal people did every single day without even a thought. Constantly fighting panic and feeling extremely powerless and defeated anytime I let it win. Always tremendously, crushingly, unhappy and stressed out because I had to deal with all of this. Why the fuck couldn’t I just be normal? Everyone else could mingle at a party, even actually have fun, ride elevators, put gas in their cars for fucks sake, without issue! But not me. I was broken, and everything, all of the normal things, would always be hard.

I was doing it WRONG.

Once my fiancé and I started dating, I started dreading the obligatory I-have-issues-and-here-are-all-of-the-ways-that’s-going-to-suck-for-you conversation that was approaching. I never looked forward to this conversation. At best it was uncomfortable, at worst it put an end to whatever relationship was starting. But with this guy? I absolutely dreaded it. I didn’t know how he would respond, but I was pretty positive I wouldn’t like it. And I wasn’t wrong.

“…so that’s all of it,” I finished “I cant go some places, do some things, I have to leave in the middle of stuff a lot. And it sucks. What do you think?”

He then proceeded to say every single wrong thing possible.

“There’s no such thing as all that. Panic attacks? Its all in your head.”

Cue thunder and lightning, shocked face, middle finger, the entire array of nasty emotions available to a human being. Well, that’s pretty much done, I thought, so much for this guy. I still tried; I argued with him, tried to explain it, to make him see that it wasn’t all in my head, it was a very real thing, it wasn’t rational, I wasn’t rational once lost in it, I had no control over it . He didn’t buy it.

Until he saw a panic attack hit me, saw what it did to me. Then he believed it. And then he got pissed. He became angry that I had to deal with all of this, that I had been dealing with all of this for so long, frustrated that he couldn’t flip a switch and make it go away and kind of sad too I think, for all that I had missed. He understood, but he wasn’t willing to accept it. He was going to cure it. He was going to fix me. He told me this one day.

“Bahahahaha,” I laughed.”There is no fixing this babe, I’ve been dealing with it for more than 20 years! I do the best I can, but it’s not going to just go away.”

But the fiancé is stubborn. He’s also smart, has the patience to do extensive research, and has a passion for psychology and human behavior. Shortly after I laughed in his face, he approached me with a solution.

“Just decide you aren’t going to panic anymore.” He beamed. Like he had just solved fucking world peace and poverty all in one shot.

“Just decide, huh?” I asked. “Well, fuck! Why didn’t I think of that years ago?!?”

He tried to explain to me what he meant, how his solution would work. He talked about conditioning, behavior modification, conscious thinking. What in the actual fuck? Just what? He was psycho-babbling me, and really thought it would fix what had hindered my entire life. I quickly lost patience with it and insisted again that it wasn’t fixable, and that I as dealing with it the best that I could, and this was the best I was ever going to be.

He was patient when I lost my shit, stayed calm when I got frustrated (Totally opposite of the norm for us, by the way), and then he decided to take a different approach. “Just trust me.” He said. I knew that it would not work, but I went along with it. Mostly to shut him up.

That was almost 3 years ago. My panic attacks are down about 75% in frequency since then, and I am capable of doing 3 times as much shit as I could then. It’s not gone, fixed or cured, but it’s all so much better.

I’ll try to explain the process, try to minimize the psycho babble, and pray to God that I am able to get this across and that maybe someone else can benefit from it.

Before the fiancé decided to fix me, I started off every outing with “I am going to have a panic attack” running through my head like a mantra. I knew I was. I had been here before, and I had one then, so I would again (There’s that conditioning crap, y’all). Well, that was stupid. Human, but seriously stupid. Of course I am going to have one if I decide before I even leave the fucking house that I am going to have one. If you wake up in the morning and think “today is going to suck,” well then guess what? It probably will. I had to change that thought (There’s conscious thought). Well I immediately resisted that idea. I can’t control my fucking thoughts! What do you think I am? They just happen! But I tried. And it was ridiculously hard. It took a long time.

I started off thinking “I will probably have a panic attack.” Eventually it became “Maybe I will.” But about then, an amazing thing happened, and this is key; I went somewhere where I had always panicked, and I DIDN’T! I don’t know if it was a coincidence, or if it was that conscious thought shit working, but it was a huge fucking victory. And I grabbed it with both hands and ran with it. I started to be able to think “Maybe I won’t,” and sometimes even “I am not going to.” The whole conditioning thing, like the cycle I referred to earlier, had been working against me my whole life, and I was turning it around. I was making it work for me. I was making it my bitch!

What was previously:

All the things caused the panic attacks, and the attacks caused me to avoid all the things

Was becoming :

I can do stuff and not have an attack, so I can do stuff again and not have one again!

I know it all sounds kind of simple, but I promise you, it wasn’t. Its hard to change a thought pattern that is so ingrained. But every successful non-panicking thing fueled me. I gained confidence in myself. More importantly, I gained the desire to be not so damn afraid all the time, the desire to continue to accept this bullshit life with all these restrictions.

The fiancé helped me, tremendously. At first simply by distracting me while we were out, and it was sometimes enough to keep the panic away. And eventually, he saw the improvement, and the resulting confidence and so he challenged me.

“Drive out to this place tonight. I’ll meet you inside,” he said one night.

“Are you out of your mind?” I asked. “I can’t drive there by myself; I don’t know where it is. What if I get lost? And walk in by myself? To a place I’ve never been? What if I can’t find you? NO.”

“You can do it baby,” he assured me. “Remember last weekend? You made it through a whole afternoon at that crazy busy art fair!”

And he was right. I could. And I did! He played on my confidence, added to it and used it. More often than not I found out I could do it, and it was amazing. I was using that fucking god-awful cycle to my advantage. I was turning it around. Each new accomplishment allowed me the next one. It was like the best high of my life, every time I earned a victory.

They weren’t all victories, they still aren’t. I sometimes still slip into the old thinking. I just have to catch myself and pull out of it. And if I’m having a particularly crappy, weak day, and I have a panic attack, it still sometimes sets me back a bit. It’s still a battle. It’s still there. It always will be. But I have some of the control now. I just have to pay attention and keep it. It’s still a fight y’all, but now it’s a productive one, and one I can win.

And so can you. I’m not anybody special. I’m not super brave, or super strong. I was just super tired of it all, and I was handed a little piece of hope for change. And I took it. I built on it, I fought for it, and I refused to let it go. And now I’m handing it to you. If I can get better, even a little bit, you damn sure can.

And guys? Please try to keep in mind; no one ever knows what anyone else is going through. Be compassionate whenever you can. The world needs it.

1 comment:

  1. I'm on mobile so I can't comment what I want to effectively. But I will return on PC later because I love this. I'll be back. Promise.

    ReplyDelete

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