I had an anxiety attack last night.
My muscles spasmed and my chest hurt. If I didn’t know any better I’d think I was having a heart attack. I couldn’t breathe and I couldn’t stop crying. Everything irritated me: my body, my bed, the temperature of the room. I clenched my jaw so hard that my teeth tore through my rubber mouth guard. It took me about 45 minutes to come down from it, and then I was just exhausted.
Before last night, I hadn’t had one in over 6 months. It didn’t always used to be that way though. When I was in high school, I had at least one per week, usually more. I remember on a particularly bad night, my dad came down to my room at like, 2 am to see if I was okay… I wasn’t.
For long time I tried to do it on my own. Eventually I tried therapy which was hit and miss. My mom wanted me to go for a long time, and I was too prideful. But I finally relented and scheduled a session in the spring of my senior year of high school. I remember sitting in the waiting room my first time feeling such shame, fighting the pull to bolt out the door before she could come in the room. But, I stayed… and I’m so glad I did. I did therapy for about three months with an angel woman named Merilee, who helped me learn how to love myself and control my anxiety.
Then, I moved away. I moved all by myself to a place I’d never lived with people I’d never met. I was okay for a while, but I had my struggles. It wasn’t until about a year into college that I’d “relapsed” and had hard to control anxiety. I decided to try and see a new therapist where I lived, feeling more confident about the therapy process. Long story short, I hated it. I didn’t get along well and felt accused by the therapist. In fact, I came out of that therapy experience feeling more insecure and unstable than I had when I walked in.
I had a hard time at my then job after that, and quickly found something with much more flexibility and enjoyment – I became a groundskeeper. I actually get a lot of flak for this job… People have told me that it’s not a woman’s job and that I should have been doing something else. But, being outside and the physical labor helped me cope. It made me okay. And there I met some lifelong friends.
My life was still a rollercoaster of emotion though. In fact, one of the hardest points in my life was my engagement to my husband. I have a hard time opening up to people and I have never felt like I fit in anywhere, so when I was joining this new family, I immediately had it in my head that they wouldn’t want me. Frankly, this made me mean. I was a mean girl to people who just wanted to understand me. I felt all of this insecurity and emotion and I felt like no one understood. At that time Matt didn’t really have any experience or understanding of mental illness. In fact, his first exposure was watching me have an anxiety attack. I had warned him when we first started dating that I have them, they’re just a part of my life. But, I think that when he actually experienced it, he was a little afraid. Still, he learned how to help me.
A little less than a year into my marriage I’d decided I was done with the struggle. I decided to try medication. The emotional rollercoaster was giving me (and those around me) constant whiplash, and I couldn’t live like that anymore.
My doctor started me out on a really low dose, but immediately I felt better. The anxiety became a dull roar that I was able to push away. I could control my anger and fear. My head wasn’t so busy – I felt like the fog went away.
Eventually my dose was increased a little, and I’ve been on it ever since. And you’d never have known if I didn’t tell you.
But I ran out of my refills earlier this month, right at the time when I lost my health insurance. The past couple of weeks I’ve found myself again trying to cope on my own, while my brain produces too much cortisol and serotonin. Chemically, my brain forms these hormones – these neurotransmitters which cause stress and happiness, and instead of them firing through all the synapses throughout my brain once, they keep on bouncing around.
Think of it this way: Imagine you have a rubber bouncy ball, a sphere, and some super sticky glue. For some reason or another, the ball starts to bounce inside the sphere, and without the glue, it will continue to bounce until it runs out of energy. But, when the glue is added, the ball may bounce once or twice, but as soon as it hits the glue, it stops. That is what medication does. My medication is a “re-uptake inhibitor,” which means that the ball won’t keep bouncing around relentlessly. I still feel emotion, I’m just able to control it.
Jamie Tworkowski, the founder of a non-profit movement dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury, and suicide called To Write Love On Her Arms, wrote a book called, “If You Feel Too Much” which I think perfectly describes what it’s like to have a mental illness like mine. What I feel, I feel deeply – be it love, hate, happiness, or sadness. Medication helps me feel just right.
Thankfully, I was able to get an emergency refill to last me until my new insurance kicks in in January.
This was a hard post to write – and I long one! (Kudos if you’ve stuck around here to the finish.) There is a lot of shame involved in mental illness. I still feel it, even though I understand that it’s completely irrational. But, that’s ok if people think differently of me. Because I know who I am, and I am doing this for me.
Don’t be afraid to take care of yourself. It will not only help you, but those around you as well. And I promise, you’re not alone.