Welcome to your life

“Welcome to your life.” Those were the words spoken to me by my therapist a couple of weeks ago and they’ve stuck with me ever since.

I was going through a brief phase of acceptance with regard to my anxiety disorder and seemed to be on the upswing at the time. That didn’t last long though as the very next week was one of the hardest I’ve had in a long time. I think a lot of it had to do with Ellie’s passing (we put our older dog to sleep last Tuesday and it was much harder than I thought it would be). I’ve had some other significant changes/stressors going on too – my little sister moved in with us and my mom went through a health scare. I went into grieving mode and a lot of emotions, thoughts and feelings, as well as anxiety and panic, emerged as a result.

Photo courtesy of Amanda M Hatfield
Photo courtesy of Amanda M Hatfield

I decided to start on anti-anxiety/anti-depression medication as of two weeks ago. Going on meds definitely wasn’t my first choice, but after going several months with only brief and fleeting improvements in the way I was feeling, I decided it was the right choice for me for right now. If being on medication can help me feel a little better while I continue to go to therapy and focus on sleep, exercise and taking better care of myself, then I will do it. I’d gotten to a point where I’ve been in nearly a constant state of anxiety and, as a result, I have been neglecting my kids and my marriage. I’m sick of telling my kids, “Don’t do that. Mommy doesn’t feel well.” I want them to be able to enjoy life and I want to enjoy it with them. I don’t want my whole family to have to walk on egg shells and constantly wonder how mommy is doing and how she will react. It’s not fair to them. A friend pointed out it’s not fair to me either to have to feel that way.

I’ve been taking Zoloft for two weeks now (a very low dose since when I tried to increase the dose, I started having insomnia, which was absolutely counterproductive) and haven’t noticed any good benefits yet, but my psychiatrist said it can take 2-6 weeks or even as many as 8, so I’m trying to be patient.

At the suggestion of my therapist last week, I picked up the book “The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook” by Edmund Bourne. It’s been a huge eye-opener for me both in showing me how I likely developed anxiety/panic disorder and in showing me steps to help myself recover from it. It’s also amazing how many things I can identify with in it. Talk about “welcome to your life.” This book feels like it was written just for me. If you have any issues with anxiety, panic, phobias or OCD, I strongly recommend this book. I am hopeful that it is going to have a huge impact on me as I try to heal myself. I’ve been doing the breathing techniques the past two nights and have found them alone to be very helpful.

One of the things I’ve found most frustrating in this whole process though is just how much of a process it is. There is no simple quick fix. Even medication takes time to kick in and to adjust the dosage and that (in my opinion) is really only a temporary solution and one part of the equation if true recovery is going to happen. And so I’m doing my best to be aware that the condition I’m in now took years and years to develop and it is going to take a long time to heal from as well. (Thanks to my dad for those words of wisdom.) I have to learn to appreciate the small victories and take it one day at a time or I will drive myself crazy.

I’ve taken a break from reading the news or anything that will likely raise my anxiety level. I read a little bit about the swine flu a couple days ago, and it sent me into a full-fledged panic attack. I’ve told Jody to tell me if there’s anything I need to know. Otherwise, I need to keep myself in the dark about some things for now for my own peace of mind.

Part of the reason I’m writing all of this is to let you know where I’m currently at, and also to encourage others who may be going through something like this that you are not alone. I also want you to know that I may not be blogging that often in the weeks ahead. (Subscribe to my RSS feed if you want to stay current.) I’ve already tapered off considerably from where I used to be – posting daily or nearly daily – and it feels good to take a break. I also haven’t been on Twitter much. I am sure it will wax and wane, but I also feel part of my recovery needs to involve looking at my internet addiction. Yes, I will freely admit to having one. I have lots of justifications for it too, but ultimately, I want to find a way to use the internet for productive reasons, not just to fritter away my time (which is what I’ve been doing way too much lately).

Yesterday was the first day this season I got out in the dirt in my backyard and did some weeding in my little strawberry patch from last year. I honestly haven’t felt at all like gardening so far this year, despite ordering seeds, seedlings and even some raspberry plants (that are still sitting, unplanted, in my garage). Although several of my friends have been digging in the dirt and planting for weeks, I just haven’t felt the gardening urge at all myself. That is, until yesterday. As I was weeding and getting the dirt under my fingernails and noticing that many of my strawberry plants have flowers on them, and the kids were playing in the dirt beside me, I began to feel alive and good and once again had the desire to garden. I think growing things and digging in the dirt will be very good for my mental health right now.

Like it or not, having anxiety/panic disorder is my life right now. It’s not what I would choose, but it’s where I’m at. I’m choosing to face it head on and do what I can to make it better – little by little, taking baby steps, one day at a time.

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Anxiety & anemia, but is there more?

On Dec. 31 of last year I wrote that my big goal for 2009 was to take care of my mental and emotional health. I knew I needed to do this for a few reasons. Not only was I treating my children and husband with the love and respect they deserve, but I felt my physical health was starting to suffer as well. I had started having anxiety or panic attacks – again.

I thought they were a thing of my past. I had experienced anxiety attacks while Jody and I were trying for month after month after month to conceive Ava. It was a difficult time in my life. I so wanted to be pregnant and to be a mom. I was charting using the Fertility Awareness Method and we seemed to be doing everything right, but it was not happening for us. It obviously eventually did happen (with a little help) and the anxiety attacks went away. That is until several months ago.

I don’t remember exactly when they started up again and because the symptoms weren’t consistent with what I’d experienced in the past, I wasn’t entirely sure they were anxiety attacks. My heart would start racing which would make breathing a little more difficult. I was also feeling dizzy at times, tired, lethargic and sometimes depressed.

Over the past month, the frequency of the attacks increased dramatically. I started having several anxiety attacks a day or ones that would last for a long, long time. I started getting worried that this was more than just anxiety. After consulting Dr. Google and my favorite resource, Twitter, ;) I thought I might have a thyroid issue or even a heart problem. After a particularly bad attack, I finally called my doctor’s office and scheduled an appointment. It was five days out. Five very. long. days.

During those five days the attacks continued. I debated about going to urgent care once or twice. I thought about going straight to the ER. And then, the night before my appointment, as I tried to go to sleep I had one of the worst attacks ever. My heart would not stop racing no matter what I tried to tell my brain to calm myself down, no matter how much I focused on my breathing. I told Jody I was doing really bad and that I wanted to call the doctor on call (while I was really thinking, “maybe you should call 911”). I had all of these fears that I would die the day before my appointment because I had put it off too long. That I was going to leave my children motherless and my husband a widower. It was too much.

I called the doctor’s office and spoke to the woman at the answering service. She told me to stay on the line and she would try to call the on-call doctor (not my doctor, but one in the same practice). To my relief the doctor answered the phone (even though it was 12:30 a.m.). I talked to the doctor for about 20 minutes. She reassured me, based on the symptoms I was describing that it was likely anxiety and not a heart issue, but she was also glad I was scheduled to come in for an appointment. I felt better the longer we talked and had calmed down a fair bit by the time we hung up. Of course, my heart started racing again after we were off the phone and there was no way I was going to sleep any time soon, but after watching Scrubs with Jody for an hour, I felt better and was able to go to sleep at 2 a.m.

Photo courtesy of Neeta Lind
Photo courtesy of Neeta Lind

The next morning I happily went to see my doctor. I told her my symptoms, she examined me and said she felt I was likely experiencing anxiety. My blood pressure was normal and my heart sounded, in her words, “perfect.” She did want to rule out thyroid and heart issues just to be sure, so she sent me for blood work and an EKG.

I had told her that I did not want to go on medication unless absolutely necessary, but I was looking for natural ways of treating this. She recommended a therapist, acupuncture, a $300 biofeedback video game called The Journey to the Wild Divine (it looks really cool, but pricey!), as well as fish oil (double the amount recommended on the bottle). She gave me a prescription for Xanax too, just in case I really needed it. (I haven’t taken it, although I was tempted to today.) She said she felt confident that we could get this under control and she wanted to see me back in two weeks.

In the meantime, I had my blood drawn and my first EKG. The EKG came back normal, but the bloodwork revealed that I am mildly anemic, so it was recommended that I go on an iron supplement and increase my green leafy vegetables.

It’s been nearly two weeks since my appointment and while the anxiety attacks do not seem to be happening as often, they are still happening – some worse than others (like last night’s when I was up until 2 a.m.).

I really want to believe that everything I’ve been experiencing is just from anxiety and anemia but honestly, I feel like it could be something more. And I don’t think I will be satisfied until I’ve ruled out those other possible issues.

This week I’m going back to my doctor for a follow-up appointment and I have a therapy evaluation scheduled. I might be making an eye appointment with the doctor who did my strabismus (eye muscle) surgery several years ago and revisiting my old neurologist too. I just want to get to the bottom of all of this. While I feel like there have been improvements in how I feel just in these two weeks, I still have a long way to go before I’m back to feeling like my old self. I miss my old self and am going to keep trying to get her back.