Tag Archives: anxiety

When Anxiety Becomes Outright Fear

Let me be the first to admit it — I lost my mind for a little while today. The anxiety I’ve been feeling all week has been weighing heavy on my mind and heart. It has been interfering with my ability to perform my job, a job that I love and enjoy and would hate to lose. The anxiety has been intruding on my sleep, causing me to wake up multiple times a night, tossing and turning and even, on occasion, feeling like I’m suffocating. It’s caused my mind to race with a thousand thoughts a once but prevented me from effectively focusing on any one of them. In short, anxiety has been making life hell this week.

So I was glad I had an appointment scheduled with my psychiatrist today. I wanted to talk to him about the increase in anxiety, the increase in sleep disturbances, and even the possibility (suggested to me over this past weekend by a former psych professor) that I might have Type II Bipolar. We made the decision to increase the dosages of a couple of my medications and to add an additional one to help with mental focus. And I left the office feeling optimistic and hopeful that these changes will start to make a difference quickly.

But I’m also currently without medical insurance, and one of my medication refills that’s critical to maintaining my sanity — Effexor (or rather, its generic, Venlafaxine) — turns out to be not so cheap without insurance to cover the bulk of the cost. I watched in horror as most of the money I’ve been saving away the last four week disappeared just on these medications I need to keep me mentally stable.

And that’s when the fear ripped through me. That knot of anxiety I’ve been living with all week exploded, erupted into uncontrolled anguish as every little worry and concern I’ve worked so hard this year to confront and face down came crashing back down on me like an anvil. I’ve been worried all week about maintaining this contract I’ve landed that I enjoy so much, so the fear that I might lose yet another job because my health is real. Plus, I have a car payment now, and I’d been planning to sock every spare dollar away to pay it off early and quickly. Instead, I got to watch as half the money I’d saved this last month disappeared in about three seconds.

All those feelings that I’ve been dealing with for the last 18 months hit me again. Hard. I felt like a failure. I felt like I can’t do this, that I’m never going to get ahead because every time I start to gain ground, I’m going to get knocked back again. I felt like I’m never going to get my life back, get a chance to really start it again, that I’m going to regress into a state of mind where nothing makes sense and everything is large and overwhelming and terrifying.

I had to take some time for myself.

So I drove to a local park and just sat in my car for an hour or so until I could calm down, slow my thoughts and my racing heart, and remind myself that things could be worse, much worse. This is a setback, yes, but it’s not the end of the world. And I’m still stronger and healthier than I was a year ago. I’m still fighting and clawing for every inch of forward progress I can get. And even if I do get knocked down a peg or two, so what? I pick myself up and start climbing again. There is no way but forward, and the only things behind me are the past and the lessons of life I’ve learned so well recently. There are still things I can do to improve my status and my situation, and I’m smart and clever. I have friends, family, and support. There’s no reason why, together, we can’t figure this thing out.

Yes, my anxiety turned into fear today, but it didn’t stay that way. I wouldn’t allow it. I’ve worked too damn hard to get where I am right now to let a little thing like this defeat me. And on top of all that, I know my God is still in control, still walks by my side, knows all my heartaches and troubles, and will not abandon me even now.

So here I go again, one foot in front of the other. There are things to be done and work to be completed. It’s just going to be a little harder than I expected, and that’s ok.

One day, one step, one breath.

Living with Anxiety

The thing about living with an anxiety disorder is that you never know when those cloying fingers of fear will wrap themselves around you and bring you to a debilitating halt. Sure, there are medications you can take to ease the symptoms and cognitive behavioral techniques you can employ to gain some measure of control. But even with those tools at your disposal, there are more than a few days when it’s still not enough, when those sneaky tendrils of anxiety, stress, and paranoia snake their way into your mind and body and wrap themselves tightly around you, holding you immobile and paralyzing you completely. You can take a self-care day, of course, focusing on resting and regaining the upper hand, but after taking a couple self-care days in a row, it’s easy to start feeling guilty about it because you know there are things around you that need to be done.

Like depression, anxiety, too, is a chronic liar. It tells you that everyone and everything is out to get you, that you’re constantly in danger. It takes everything in your willpower to fight against those lies, to push back against that fight-or-flight instinct, and to settle into a state of gentle repose instead. But it’s hard because that ball of fear stays lodged firmly in the pit of your stomach and, for me at least, my mind loses its ability to focus and my skin feels like it’s on fire with hypersensitivity.

Today is one of those days where it’s a fight and a struggle. Tears have been threatening to slip down my cheeks most of the afternoon already. One part of me wants to slip back into the safety of my bed, to sleep and to hide. Another part of me recognizes that won’t help nearly as much as I want it to and insists I stay put and fight. And so I write. I wield the only weapon currently at my disposal, the sword of words and the sharing of experience. I’m thankful for good friends I can talk to on days like this, friends who won’t judge and who will, in fact, do what they can to support me and prop me up when I can’t seem to do so myself.

This anxiety will pass. It always does. I rely on my mantra to remind me to breathe, and to keep breathing, in and out, as often as necessary, in order to make it from this moment to the next. I fall back on my faith, reminding myself that God walks with me and beside me, and that even if all my human friends were to turn away from me, He is still there for me. The key to all this is patience, a lesson I’ve learned all too well in the past 18 months and which I continue to learn and put into practice. I am a fighter, a warrior, and I wage battle inside myself, with myself, as often as necessary to bring my own body into submission, using whatever tools I have at hand. And I have put together quite the toolkit over the months, but I haven’t done it alone, and for that I am always grateful.

Life marches on. I insist on marching with it. Yes, I have mental illness, but I refuse to allow it to define me. Instead, I learn anew every day how to define myself, in spite of my illness — and perhaps even because of it — and how to keep moving forward. Because forward is the only acceptable direction. I’ve lived in the darkness before; I refuse to go back. The light is what I seek because that is where hope lives and life thrives.

One day, one step, one breath.

Caught Between a Lull and Quiet Place

I’m sitting here right now, trying to decide what to do with myself. And I don’t mean just on an immediate, here-and-now, should I pick up a controller and play a game or write a story sort of way, though that’s certainly a part of it. I mostly mean it in the sense of what do I do with myself moving forward with my life? I find myself caught in this lull of a place where I’m unable to find work, much as I need and want it. I’m either overqualified for certain positions I’ve applied for or job postings change scope mid-stream so that my application is no longer relevant to the position or maybe I’m just interviewing badly. I don’t really know, but whatever the case is, landing a job has become this herculean task that has started to feel impossible. And it doesn’t help that my anxiety disorder, while much improved from what it was even just a couple of months ago, still limits and prohibits me from taking on work that is fast-paced and high-stress. I’m working on that, trying to retrain my brain to interpret those panicky fight-or-flight signals as excitement and enthusiasm rather than fear and trepidation. But it’s not easy, it’s a process, and it takes time.

I’ve been telling people recently that if there’s one single lesson I’ve learned above all others this past year, it’s patience. When I got out of the hospital last April 28th (yes, exactly one year ago today), I had the expectation that, for the most part, I’d be better and healthy again within six weeks. And guess what? Here I am a year later, much improved but still struggling in some areas. Yes, I do feel healthier and stronger as a person than I have in several years, in spite of the lingering anxiety. I’m more stable and more self-aware than I have been in years. But I’ve also had to learn that healing takes time, it requires patience because it can’t all happen at once, as much as one might want it to. It takes effort and discipline and consistency to change your lifestyle to accommodate the changes in your brain and body and overall physiology. There are new skills to be learned, new coping methods, new ways of thinking and behaving, new habits to form, all the while wrestling and struggling on a daily basis with the depression and anxiety that started this whole mess to begin with. And the medication that is available for treating these disorders is a God-send, but it can’t do it all. You have to do your part, too.

There are plenty of hard days as you work through things, but as you do you find those hard days occur less and less frequently, even if they never go away completely. But you learn how to do self-care, how to be patient with yourself and not blame yourself for regressing, because that’s what it feels like. Going backward. Teaching yourself a healthier form of self-talk is important, catching yourself when your thoughts turn negative and turning them around into something positive. Inserting reminders that your brain is lying to you, that you have worth and value, that people actually do love and care about you. And again, all that takes time to learn and turn into a habit.

And of course, life doesn’t just stop around you and wait for you to catch up. It keeps on traveling by all lickety-split, almost seeming to laugh at you as it does. You find yourself moseying along at what already feels like a break-neck pace but is more like a cripple hobbling along on crutches. You find yourself watching things happen that you want to be a part of — and just can’t right now. And you either have to learn to make your peace with that or give up altogether — and I don’t consider the latter to be an option.

So I find myself caught between a lull, where I can’t find work and have trouble sometimes finding ways to occupy my free time, and what feels like a never-ending quiet place, because it feels like nothing is ever going to change. I fight impatience on a daily basis, both to continue finding victory over my anxiety and with the frustrating process of finding an employer who will hire me. I also face discouragement and loneliness and criticism — and facing all those things down demands patience. I’ve been learning more and more over the last several months to lean on my faith and rely on my God, trusting that He has a plan for all this and that it’s part of His plan for me right now to be exactly here. It’s a difficult thing to accept most days, but it is what it is and there’s nothing for me to do but accept it and continue to be patient, to wait on His plan. His timing is perfect, his plan for me is flawless, and I just have to trust and hope and wait.

It’s a journey and a process, and I continue to take it one day at a time, one step at a time, and sometimes even one breath at a time.

More Than a Figment

There was a time when I thought my anxiety wasn’t real, that it was a figment of my imagination, an emotional ghost conjured by my subconscious to cover up the other mental health issues I deal with on a daily basis. Having a psychology background I have a healthy respect for the way the human brain can deceive itself. My anxiety attacks were infrequent at best and typically over in five minutes or less. They didn’t interfere, so I shrugged them off.

Image by Mariana Zanatta under a Creative Commons license
Image by Mariana Zanatta under a Creative Commons license

Then in April the bottom fell out of my world, and I was hospitalized. Meds were changed. My depression became less severe, almost manageable. One layer of my psyche was pulled back, revealing another layer underneath that I didn’t even know existed. And it was pissed. Boy, was it ever.

Anxiety is new for me. I’ve always been prone to being easily stressed out. But I’ve never been this vulnerable to panic, at least not this way. I view my hospitalization as a pivotal moment in my life. Those four days are when everything changed. It’s like someone flipped a switch in my brain, toggling on a new kind of brain chemistry.

For a while I was still able to pass off my anxiety as circumstantial and irrelevant. I was adapting to sudden and jarring changes in my life situation. I was on new medications that my body needed to get used to. I’d lost my job and was freaking out about not being able to help provide for my kids. I was ‘out’ as an atheist and everyone close to me suddenly knew I’d lost my faith. These are the things I told myself to explain my anxiety and the frequent increases in heart rate and palpitations I felt.

The last couple of days have changed that for me. Life the last month or so has mostly stabilized. I’m getting better sleep now. I’m starting to look for work again. In short, my stress levels as a whole have dropped.

And yet, I step outside into the heat, and my anxiety skyrockets. I worked a baseball game last night for four hours. In a heat index approaching 100 degrees. Over a hot grill. And my heart rate was ridiculously high for most of that four hours. Prompted entirely by physical stress. That was the moment when I realized that my anxiety is a real condition, a real disorder, not just an addendum to a list of other issues I’m living with. There’s a reason why physical activity feels like a kind of living death, why I struggle so much some days to get my body going.

I’ve been afraid for so long that I’ve simply been deceiving myself somehow, that I’ve been subconsciously looking for ways to escape, that I had my brain convinced that it needed to lie for me and to me. I know now that’s not the case. I think this has simply been lying under the surface for a while and dealing, but it was covered up by the severity of my depression. With that better in hand now, it has simply revealed this additional health issue that I didn’t realize existed, let alone needed to be addressed.

It’s almost a relief, really, even in spite of the fact that it’s physically uncomfortable. I know I can push through it, and I do. Frequently. I know it’s not something I can control. It’s not my fault. I certainly didn’t ask for this. And if I could make it go away, instantly, I would. So it’s something to be managed. I’m already learning how to do that. I have good doctors who can help. I have good friends who support me and to whom I can talk when I need it.

Baby steps, people. My mantra. My philosophy for recovery.

Daily Routine – Grinding for XP

I got up this morning, took my meds like I’m supposed to, ate breakfast because my meds require it, started a load of laundry since it’s that time in the week again. It’s been a week since I started sleep treatments with my CPAP, and it’s clear they have made a significant difference. I sleep through the night now with minimal disruptions. My body is starting to feel better rested, even if I still feel tired much of the time. It’s a different sort of tiredness, though, less bone-weary and more “oh, I’m just in the middle of recuperating from some major illness.” It’s a process, albeit a frustratingly slow one.

My depression and anxiety have been constant companions this entire week. The depression itself has been relatively mild. Instead of crippling, it has presented itself more as a lingering melancholy and physical fatigue. The anxiety has actually been the more onerous condition, what with the random heart palpitations that sometimes make it hard to breathe for several seconds at a time. I see my psychiatrist again next week, and this is something that is definitely going to get addressed.

I’m finally trawling for work. I’ve had to lower my expectations somewhat. Every day is an unpredictable set of variables that make it impossible to know ahead of time what level of functionality I’m going to be at. Some days I can glide through with ease. Others require several hours to get started. Applying for the same kind of white-collar jobs I used to be able to do simply isn’t practical right now. So I’m looking for employment that allows me some flexibility while still providing a steady income stream. I have clocks ticking against me, and I’m beginning to feel a sense of cloying panic creep up that’s stifling.

But I’m making progress. Every day of this journey is new and different. I have had to learn patience and self-forgiveness. I have good people near me who support me and prop me up when I need propping. I take large steps when I can and little steps when I have to.

I’m grinding for XP. Maybe sometime soon I might even level up.

 If I Can Do This

There are days when you wake up with your brain already lying to you, when the regret and the pain and the hurt pile up on you so badly that you find it hard to draw breath, when every bit of your energy and attention is devoted exclusively to counteracting the power of those lies, when you want to just give up — on everything — and go back to bed, when the mantra running constantly through your head is “I can’t do this,” followed closely by “Yes, you can. And you will. Because you have to.”

Today is one of those days.

I still have some fight left in me, but I won’t lie and say I’m not stretched a little thin at the moment, because I am. And I have to go work in just about an hour, and I don’t feel like I can do this. But I will. Because I have to, and because I’m stronger than this.

Four Days in a Psych Ward

Just a few days ago, I was released from the hospital after a four-day treatment program for severe depression and suicidal ideation. This was my first inpatient hospital stay of any kind, and while I wouldn’t exactly describe it as being fun, it was extremely helpful and beneficial. Without it I’m not sure I’d even be alive right now to write about it.

Depression

I’ve battled depression for years. I’ve chronicled some of my experiences here and on Facebook and Twitter. It’s not a condition I’ve ever been particularly shy or embarrassed about. I’m a firm believer that we need a more open and honest discourse about mental health because so many people wrestle with it on a daily basis.

Over the past few years, my mental health has experienced a steady decline. My depression has become more persistent and acute, and anxiety has joined with it to make my life a daily living hell. These conditions have challenged my life, which I nearly took, and my faith, which I gave up. It has put significant pressure on my family and my work life, as well. This is not uncommon for people who have dealt with prolonged mental illness.

Had it not been for the intervention of a friend who grew concerned about me, who called me at the end of a weekend where I’d been trapped in my own bed and urged me to get help, who made all the arrangements for me to get into a hospital to get the treatment I needed, I probably wouldn’t be here right now. She literally saved my life, so close was I to making a terrible and irreversible decision.

And I didn’t want to go. All I wanted was to die, to relieve myself and my family of the burden that was my psychosis. At least then I could have peace, knowing that my family could actually move on and have a better life without me dragging them down. In my mind freeing them from the cancer of myself would greatly outweigh the horror of losing me to suicide.

But that was depression’s voice talking in my head, lying to me, convincing me of my worthlessness, reminding me of all the poor coping methods I’d chosen and bad decisions I’d made. Depression is a disease of the brain that alters the way you think, the way you see the world, the way you see yourself. It twists and distorts things so that you can’t determine fact from fiction. Reality loses purchase, and what seeps in instead is a view of life that holds no hope because it is full of unending pain and misery and despair.

I’m thankful for the voice of my friend, who was able to cut through the din long enough to get me out of bed and into a hospital, where I could get the help I really needed. It took four days, including several hours of talking with therapists, and a fairly significant change in medications to help me get to a better place mentally and emotionally. I still have a long road ahead, and pieces of my life that need to be picked up and reassembled as best as possible. But I actually feel stronger now and up to the challenge before me.

I know this won’t be the last time I face depression head-on like this and look down into its great, black belly. But I hope that when that happens, I’ll remember that I’m really not alone in this, that there are others out there willing and able to come alongside and help me.

Baby Steps Toward Mental Health

This tiny tablet is the first step of the next stage of my search to find mental wellness. (How sad is it that I kinda love the color?)

Wellbutrin

Those of you who also suffer from mental illness may recognize that little pill as buproprion, an off-brand of Wellbutrin. This is the second time I’ve been on this particular medication, but last time it was also the only antidepressant I was taking. I eventually had to switch off of it because it made me feel like I was coming out of my skin. Now, it’s been added to my psychotropic cocktail as an augment to the escitalopram I’m already taking in order to boost my psychological energy. Less than 24 hours being back on the Wellbutrin and my skin is already a little twitchy, my head feels like it’s on fire, and my eyes feel like they could just come tumbling out of my head at any point if I turn too quickly. (But! I’m actually getting things done, and that’s not nothing.)

And still, I’ll take that over the sense of despair and despondency that has clung to me for more than a year now.

I have, in the past year, been the closest to suicide I have ever been in my life. Doing battle every day with feelings of worthlessness and self-loathing eventually takes its toll. The sense of isolation wears on you, grinding away little bits of who you are over time. I’ve been close to giving up more times this year than I can count. Early in the year, I even resorted to cutting — just shallow scratches with a razor blade; I’m not a complete masochist — my hands and arms. I know. It’s not terribly common for a white male in his mid-30s to start cutting himself. But it allowed me to deal out, in small doses, the kind of punishment on myself that I felt like I deserved. It was a short-lived habit, but I’d be lying if I didn’t still have days where I want to cut on myself some more. The pain and heat from those cuts gave me a measure of control over the way I felt and therefore had a paradoxically therapeutic effect. I could stave off the worst of my depressive episodes by parting the skin on my arm — just a little bit — and give myself a tiny reprieve.

I’ve been spiraling for months. The counseling I was in during the first half of the year helped — until I had to back out of it because it was becoming difficult to keep appointments due to increasing busyness at my new job. Literally all the energy I had every day went into my job in an effort to keep from losing this one, too, so the subsequent exhaustion at the end of every day made it easier to justify to myself making poor decisions in my home and farm life, decisions that have negatively impacted my family and my relationships with those around me.

Hence the reintroduction of Wellbutrin into my life. Two very close friends encouraged me earlier this week to visit my family doctor again to see about modifying my medication. Yes, the Wellbutrin still makes me feel odd and a little manic. But after the apathy of the past year (and more), this is far preferable. Per my doctor’s instructions, I’m also working on getting in to see both a psychiatrist, for long-term maintenance of my medications, and a clinical psychologist, because sometimes talking about your troubles with someone who can be objective is a solution, too.

I’d be lying if I said I wanted to do any of this. I hate that any of it is necessary, that I can’t just fix myself and be done with it. But I can’t, and I need help from people more equipped to keep me on my feet. I’m nervous and scared, but maybe also a teensy, tiny bit hopeful, too. Just the fact that I’m writing this down at all is an improvement. I haven’t felt like writing much of anything for more than a year. As much as the Wellbutrin makes my skin crawl, it does seem to give me a little more of myself back, and for that I’m grateful.

Little steps forward, people. Little steps.