Anxiety–Destroyer of Lives, Part 4: Where Do We Go from Here?

I started this series of posts a long time ago. In fact, I posted parts 1, 2, and 3 (you can click on the numbers to read them) over a year ago. I had every intention of writing this fourth part back then, but a funny thing happened on the way to writing it…I went back to work as a teacher!

If you read it, then you may recall that in part 1 I wrote that anxiety had robbed me of a promising teaching career that was still in its infancy at the time. That was true–I did think that at the time. But, about two weeks after I wrote part 3, I got a call from a school district nearby asking me to come in for an interview. I went and interviewed first with the principal, another English teacher, and the counselor. Before I got home from that interview, the principal called me back and asked me to come and meet the superintendent the next day. I did so, and before I got out of the parking lot, the principal called again to offer me the job. I was amazed.

In the interest of total honesty and transparency, I will admit to you that, in that moment (and many moments yet to come) I had my doubts about whether or not I could really do it. After all, the last time I had stepped in a classroom had been a year and a half earlier, and the bout of anxiety I was enduring was better, but still pretty bad. I was worried.

I won’t belabor this story except to tell you that I did it. I made it through the whole school year. It was difficult, and there were days that were very bad. I did miss days because of my anxiety, and I wasn’t able to be as big a part of the school community as I would have liked. I told my mom late in the school year that every day had been a battle, and that was true. Every day of the school year had been a battle to one degree or another. But, just as there were days that were very bad, there were also days that were very good.

I was fortunate to have an amazing group of students to work with. From day 1, they were welcoming, friendly, respectful, and willing to learn. It is true that no school is perfect because no person or group of people is perfect, but while not perfect, my students were capable and willing to work–and I asked them to work hard. In the end, the most important lesson of the year was the one that they taught me during the last days of school–I wrote about that lesson here.

My kids and me! Well, mostly the top of my bald head, but I’m not the important one in the picture.

Now, I’m preparing to move on to another school district and meet another group of students. And, again, in the interest of total honesty and transparency, I will admit to you that I am scared.

The last few weeks since school was out have been difficult. For some reason or another (with anxiety one almost never knows for sure), my anxiety has peaked again. The best and only theory I can come up with is that I’ve broken the routine I was in for 10 months; and sometimes my mind and body don’t respond well to a broken routine.

And this brings us to the central question of this post: Where do we go from here?

I’m tired. I’m worn out. I’m physically and mentally exhausted from, literally half my life being caught in the ebb and flow of my anxiety disorder. I have to find a way out of it–or, at least find a way to deal with it so that individual panic attacks don’t become strings of panic attacks, and that strings of panic attacks don’t become months- or years-long episodes of debilitating anxiety. I just can’t do that anymore–not and have any hope of a meaningful life or career. So, I’m taking what for me will be a big step…

In two weeks I will enter the Intensive Outpatient Treatment Program for Anxiety Disorders at UT Health East Texas. This program provides people like me who suffer with anxiety and depression with skills and techniques designed to help us cope with this disorder. It is not typical group counseling. I won’t be sitting around in a circle with a bunch of other people talking about my problems–not that there is anything wrong with that; it’s just not the way this program is designed. Instead, I will be in an educational environment three days a week, learning.

Hey! I’m a pretty good student these days…this could be great!

I have high hopes. I’ve tried cognitive approaches before, but have never been able to maintain the discipline and focus necessary to make them effective. Since this program is guided, I will be accountable to someone other than myself. I think that will make the difference. Hopefully, by the time school starts, I will be in a better place–a place where I can, at the very least, not worry so much about all of the what if’s.

That’s a lot about where do I go from here…what about the we?

I’ve been thinking a lot about that, too. I’ve been thinking about it because WE in this country still focus more on the mental part of mental health than we do the health part.

We must get to a place where we recognize mental health as part, a BIG part, of our overall health as human beings. We must focus more of our attention and resources on the research and treatment of mental health issues, rather than continuing to sweep them under the rug or hide them out of the way in shame.

The statistics detailing the number of people suffering from some mental health issue are staggering. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness:

  • Approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S.—43.8 million, or 18.5%—experiences mental illness in a given year.
  • Approximately 1 in 25 adults in the U.S.—9.8 million, or 4.0%—experiences a serious mental illness in a given year that substantially interferes with or limits one or more major life activities.
  • Approximately 1 in 5 youth aged 13–18 (21.4%) experiences a severe mental disorder at some point during their life. For children aged 8–15, the estimate is 13%.
  • 6.9% of adults in the U.S.—16 million—had at least one major depressive episode in the past year.
  • 18.1% of adults in the U.S. experienced an anxiety disorder such as post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and specific phobias.

The costs associated with lack of treatment are equally incredible:

  • Serious mental illness costs America $193.2 billion in lost earnings per year.
  • Mood disorders, including major depression, dysthymic disorder and bipolar disorder, are the third most common cause of hospitalization in the U.S. for both youth and adults aged 18–44.
  • Individuals living with serious mental illness face an increased risk of having chronic medical conditions.17 Adults in the U.S. living with serious mental illness die on average 25 years earlier than others, largely due to treatable medical conditions.
  • Over one-third (37%) of students with a mental health condition age 14­–21 and older who are served by special education drop out—the highest dropout rate of any disability group.
  • Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S.,20 the 3rd leading cause of death for people aged 10–14 and the 2nd leading cause of death for people aged 15–24.
  • More than 90% of children who die by suicide have a mental health condition.
  • Each day an estimated 18-22 veterans die by suicide.

(You can read the full report by clicking here.)

Just think about that for a minute. Mood disorders are the 3rd most common cause of hospitalization in adults aged 18-44; suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death for people aged 10-14 and the 2nd leading cause of death for people aged 15-24. Why should we even have statistics for suicide in people who are that young?!

We’re better than this. We have to be better than this. We are the wealthiest country in the world–the wealthiest country in the history of the world, and yet, we cannot seem to find a way to allocate enough resources to adequately research and treat mental health issues.

The budget proposed by President Trump earlier this year dramatically cut federal spending on mental health services. Likewise, the House Republican plan left the lion’s share of responsibility for those services to the states, which according to a report in U.S. News:

…would mean a cut of about $1.4 trillion over 10 years from projected spending. States would face hard choices over competing priorities like mental health or addiction treatment, nursing home costs or prenatal care for low-income women.

Fair-minded and caring people can make the argument that federal spending and debt is so out-of-control that it must be curbed before it is too late to do anything about. I don’t disagree. However, when a health issue becomes a burden to the economy–and mental health certainly has–a smarter, long-term strategy would be to allocate a level of funding that can do some good.

Regrettably, this, like so many other issues which should not be mired in partisan politics, has become mired in partisan politics. What that means is that most people who suffer from some mental health issue will, most likely, not get the treatment they need because it is either not available in their area (rural areas are hit especially hard by this crisis), or they simply cannot afford the services. Even people with health insurance are often left untreated because their plans do not cover treatment adequately or at all.

I am, by nature, not a very politically active person. I certainly have my beliefs and opinions, and from time to time I will offer them, but in general, I try to stay away from politic activism. But, I’m not sure I can stay away from this issue much longer. It is one that, for obvious reasons, I’m very passionate about. While I don’t have a lot of time to spend on it, I can certainly make my voice heard, and try to bring attention to it. I would hope you would consider doing the same.

Mental health issues touch almost every one of us on some level. Either we suffer ourselves, or we have friends or family members who do. That is what makes it imperative that we become more vocal and advocate for adequate mental health services. That is what makes it imperative that we stop sweeping the issue under the rug out of shame and fear.

We can do better.

We must do better!


If you, or someone you know or love, is suffering from a mental health problem, I urge you to reach out and seek treatment, or offer your support and help for your loved one who is suffering. Below are a few numbers to call for help in finding resources near you.

Please like and share this post…you never know who you could help!

National Suicide Prevention Hotline – 800.273.8255 (TALK)

Veterans Crisis Line – 800.273.8255 (Press option 1)

Treatment Referral Hotline – 877.726.4727

For more resources: www.mentalhealth.gov

Anxiety–Destroyer of Lives, Part 3: Things People Say That I Wish They Didn’t Say

For the last two weeks, I’ve been writing about my experiences with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Panic Disorder, and panic attacks. On week 1, I shared with you a brief outline of the progression of these disorders over the course of my life, and last week, I wrote about the things I think people need to know about those of us who suffer from them. It’s important that I clarify again the point that, while each person’s experiences with these disorders is different, we do share many experiences, feelings and thoughts. That is why I feel comfortable speaking broadly on the topic and speaking “for” all of us as a whole. Of course, I always welcome input from readers who agree or disagree.

This weeks’ post has been a little tougher to write. Why? Because this week I’m writing about the things that people say to and about those of us who suffer with GAD and panic attacks that I wish people didn’t say to and about us. Frankly, there are too many to include in one post. The tough part about this week has been narrowing those things down to a manageable number–five seems to be the magical one in this case. So, without further ado, here are…

Five Things People Say To People Who Suffer With GAD and Panic Attacks That I Wish They Didn’t Say

“You’re okay.” or…”You’re going to be okay.” or…”Everything is okay.”

Actually, no. We’re not okay. Everything is not okay. And, when we’re in the middle of a panic attack or an anxious day, it’s next to impossible for us to believe that we’re going to be okay. We know that you think you’re saying something that will help, and honestly, we want it to be true. But, remember that by nature, our panic attacks and anxieties are not rational. During the throes of one, thinking rationally is virtually impossible. Our bodies are flooded with adrenaline in the most massive “fight or flight” response you could ever imagine. Think of it this way: when someone is having a panic attack, their body is reacting in the most primal way it can. It is reacting in the way that has kept the human species alive over hundreds of thousands of years in the face of other animals far stronger than we, and cataclysmic events that rendered other species extinct. It is as if we are being chased by an animal capable of devouring us and shredding our bodies limb from limb. If we don’t run far and fast, we will die. Only…there is no REAL danger present at that moment. We know that in our rational minds, but our bodies cannot respond accordingly. It is frightening…no, it is terrifying. We just don’t feel like we will be okay.

“Just relax.”

If only! Most people who suffer with GAD, panic attacks, and panic disorder find relaxation to be, at best, difficult to attain. We would love to lie on a sun-drenched beach, eyes closed, listening to the waves roll ashore; forgetting all the cares of the world for at least a little while. But, as we lie there, we worry. We worry about skin cancer from sun exposure. We worry about the kids playing in the ocean whose parents don’t seem to be paying close attention. We worry that while we lie there and relax, something back home is going dreadfully, terribly wrong and we’re not there to stop it (as if we could). Believe it or not, sometimes just the act of TRYING to relax makes us more anxious than we already were. Speaking personally, the more still and quiet I am, the more time I have to think; and thinking is rarely relaxing. As much as we want to, and as much as we know we should, most of us who suffer with GAD and panic attacks simply cannot “just relax.”

“Take some deep breaths.”

I don’t know about you, but I breathe constantly. Okay, that was a little sarcastic, but you get my point. Yes, taking deep breaths does work to slow the heart rate, lower the blood pressure, and to some extent, calm the nerves. But, just like the act of trying to relax, focusing on breathing makes some of us (myself included) even more nervous and anxious than we already are; and being reminded to breathe deeply makes it that much worse. We are breathing, and we are taking as many deep breaths as possible, as often as possible. Give us time. Our breathing will slow, even if you don’t remind us that it needs to.

“Pray about it.” or…”God doesn’t give us anything we can’t bear.”

I have many well-meaning brothers and sisters in Christ who have said these things to me so many times. If you only knew how many times I’ve prayed about it. If you only knew how many times I’ve asked God to deliver me from this panic, anxiety, worry, and fear. I dare say that I’ve prayed about this more than I’ve prayed about anything else in my entire life. As far as God not giving us anything more than we are able to bear: respectfully, that is a terrible misconstruction and misinterpretation of that particular passage of Scripture. What the Bible actually says is:

“No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.” – 1 Corinthians 10:13 NKJV

This has nothing to do with the situations and circumstances in life that befall us. What Paul refers to in this passage specifically deals with righteous living; with not being able to withstand the temptations that come to us–those which are common to us all. Generalized Anxiety Disorder and panic attacks are not temptations. They are very real conditions which affect millions of people–Christians and non-Christians alike.

“You’re not trying to get better.”

This one really gets to me. How do you know I’m not trying? Furthermore, if you think I’m not trying, what exactly would “trying” look like to you? The problem with GAD and panic attacks, just like the problem with many illnesses and disorders, is that not all treatments work for everyone. Some treatments work better than others. Some treatments don’t work at all, and some treatments work a little, but not a lot. For some of us, trying is what we’ve been doing the entire time we’ve been suffering, and we still haven’t found what works best. There are even some of us who have tried everything known to help without any results at all. “Trying to get better” looks different for all of us, and to folks who don’t suffer, our best efforts might not looks like any effort at all. But, we really are trying. I don’t know anyone with either GAD, panic attacks, or both who WANTS to continue having them.

I’m not a big believer in policing the things that people say and I am a big believer in free speech and the free exchange of ideas. But, I would caution folks to be careful in choosing their words when talking to people who suffer with GAD and panic attacks. Sometimes even the most innocent words hurt the most because they call into question our ability to control our own lives even more than we already question it ourselves. All I ask, all any of us ask, is that you just be there for us; to support us, to comfort us. Sometimes–most of the time, actually–no words are required for that.

Coming up:

Anxiety–Destroyer of Lives, Part 4: Where do we go from here?

Anxiety–Destroyer of Lives, Part 2: The Things You Need to Know About GAD & Panic Attacks

Last week, I posted Anxiety–Destroyer of Lives, Part 1: My Long & Complicated Relationship With Panic. In it, I gave a brief description of how and when I began experiencing the crippling effects of Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Panic Attacks. If you have not yet read part 1, reading it before you read this post might help with context.

What is Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)?

The Mayo Clinic defines GAD as “. . .excessive, ongoing anxiety and worry that interfere with day-to-day activities.” People may develop “generalized anxiety disorder as a child or an adult. Generalized anxiety disorder has symptoms that are similar to panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and other types of anxiety, but they are all different conditions.”

Symptoms of GAD include:

Persistent worrying or obsession about small or large concerns that’s out of proportion to the impact of the event
Inability to set aside or let go of a worry
Inability to relax, restlessness, and feeling keyed up or on edge
Difficulty concentrating, or the feeling that your mind “goes blank”
Worrying about excessively worrying
Distress about making decisions for fear of making the wrong decision
Carrying every option in a situation all the way out to its possible negative conclusion
Difficulty handling uncertainty or indecisiveness
Fatigue
Irritability
Muscle tension or muscle aches
Trembling, feeling twitchy
Being easily startled
Trouble sleeping
Sweating
Nausea, diarrhea or irritable bowel syndrome
Headaches

Symptoms in children and teens can manifest differently than adults and may include:

Performance at school or sporting events suffering
Difficulty being on time (punctuality)
Fear of earthquakes, nuclear war or other catastrophic events
Feeling overly anxious to fit in
Being a perfectionist
Tendency to redo tasks because they aren’t perfect the first time
Spending excessive time doing homework
Lacking confidence
Striving for approval
Requiring a lot of reassurance about performance

What are Panic Attacks?

The Mayo Clinic defines a panic attack as ” a sudden episode of intense fear that triggers severe physical reactions when there is no real danger or apparent cause. Panic attacks can be very frightening. When panic attacks occur, you might think you’re losing control, having a heart attack or even dying.” Further, they note that “Many people have just one or two panic attacks in their lifetimes, and the problem goes away, perhaps when a stressful situation ends. But if you’ve had recurrent, unexpected panic attacks and spent long periods in constant fear of another attack, you may have a condition called panic disorder. . .Although panic attacks themselves aren’t life-threatening, they can be frightening and significantly affect your quality of life.”

Panic attack symptoms vary widely from person to person, but they almost always come on suddenly and without warning, even at times when there does not seem to be anything that would trigger a panic attack. Many people, myself included, have been awakened in the middle of the night from a sound sleep having a panic attack. While symptoms are not the same from one person to the next, they can include:

Sense of impending doom or danger
Fear of loss of control or death
Rapid, pounding heart rate
Sweating
Trembling or shaking
Shortness of breath or tightness in your throat
Chills
Hot flashes
Nausea
Abdominal cramping
Chest pain
Headache
Dizziness, light-headedness or faintness
Numbness or tingling sensation
Feeling of unreality or detachment

I have experienced all of those symptoms over the years. Most of the time, my panic attacks have multiple symptoms at a time. They are incredibly frightening, embarrassing, and create a sense of helplessness and hopelessness that someone who doesn’t experience them simply cannot understand. They are exhausting, and after they end, I feel as though I could sleep for days. But, the worst part about panic attacks and panic disorder is the fear that they will happen again. That is why I, and so many other people who suffer from them, avoid situations where they might occur. That leads to isolation, loneliness, and depression. As I said in part 1, relationships with family, friends, significant others, and co-workers can be dramatically impacted by these conditions.

But, the symptoms of GAD, panic attacks (panic disorder) are not the only things you need to know. There are several more that those of us who suffer want those of you who don’t to know–not about the conditions, but about US!

We Are Not Crazy
People who suffer from GAD and panic attacks are not insane. In fact, on the whole, we are among the most sane, intelligent, and creative people you’ll ever meet. Leann Rimes, Johnny Depp, Kate Moss, Emma Stone, Joey Votto, Kim Basinger, Scarlett Johansson, and Adele are just a few of the people known to suffer from GAD, panic attacks, or both. Some psychologists and psychiatrists who’ve studied his writings believe that Abraham Lincoln also likely suffered from GAD. (from CalmClinic.com) While GAD and panic disorder are classified as mental/emotional in nature, the people who suffer from them are most certainly not mentally disturbed or insane. You don’t need to be afraid of us.

We Don’t Have A Switch To Turn It Off
Oh, that there were a switch that would allow us to turn off the worry, the fear, the panic, the racing thoughts–I don’t know that there is a price we wouldn’t be willing to pay. Unfortunately, that switch doesn’t exist. As much as we want to (as much as YOU may want us to), and as hard as we try, we can’t just turn it off. Many people with GAD and panic disorder have suffered with it since childhood; and while there may be times when we are perfectly fine, we always know that the panic could hit at any time. There are effective treatments for GAD and panic disorder which help many people who suffer with them, but they are just treatments, not cures. We will most likely always “have it.”

We Probably Can’t Tell You What We Are Afraid Of
I have a fairly sizeable list of phobias: heights, closed spaces, large crowds, etc. But, ask me during a panic attack what it is that I’m afraid of at that moment, and I probably won’t be able to tell you. The vast majority of my panic attacks are not triggered by any of the phobias I have. I can’t tell you what most of them are triggered by, and most of the people who I’ve talked to who suffer like me say the same thing. We can’t tell you what we are afraid of during a panic attack. All we know is that the fear is very real.

We Need You To Be Our Friend Even Though We Can’t Always Be Yours
This is, maybe, the hardest truth about GAD and panic attacks that I know of. Those of us who suffer need people around who care about us. We need people around who know what we’re going through and who still love us anyway. We need people around us who will continue to be our friends even though we are not always very good at being yours. This flies in the face of everything we’re ever told about friendships. You know–they’re a “two-way street.” That is true. Unfortunately for those of us who suffer from these disorders, we’re not always able to travel down the other side. We know we need to. We know we should. But, just at that moment, we can’t make the trip.

We Haven’t “Given Up” On Life
One of the things that I dread most when I talk to people about GAD and panic attacks are the looks of pity on people’s faces. You know the look–furrowed brow, eyebrows raised, head tilted to the side, weepy eyes. It’s a look that suggests the thought: “Oh, you poor, hopeless thing. You’ve given up on having a happy life.” But, we haven’t. Most sufferers of GAD and panic attacks may have some level of depression accompanying the disorders, but we don’t often just give up and go to bed. Even during the times when I’ve been housebound, I’ve been busy about trying to get better. It may just be that my “busy” doesn’t look the same as yours. But, trust me, I (we) haven’t given up.

Lastly, and the most important thing we want you to know…

If you know someone who you think may be experiencing Generalized Anxiety Disorder and/or panic attacks, please talk to them. Let them know that there is help available and that they don’t have to suffer alone. This is especially important for little kids who might be suffering. The earlier GAD and panic attacks are caught, the easier they seem to be to treat. Please don’t let someone you know suffer alone. There is hope and there is help.

If you think you may know someone who suffers from Generalized Anxiety Disorder and/or Panic Attacks/Panic Disorder, check out the resources available through the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA).

And, don’t forget to be a friend!
Coming up:

Anxiety–Destroyer of Lives, Part 3: The Things People Say That I wish People Didn’t Say
Anxiety–Destroyer of Lives, Part 4: Let’s Get Serious About This

Damn You, Eleanor Roosevelt: The Torment of Living With Anxiety Disorder

There are volumes upon volumes of books and reams upon reams of reports about the symptoms and causes of Anxiety Disorder. I’m not a physician, psychiatrist, or medical researcher, so there’s nothing I can add to them. I’ve written before about my own symptoms and about what happens when the debilitating panic sets in, and there’s nothing new for me to add to those. Today I’m writing about the part of anxiety that is, at least for me, the worst part. . .

. . .the torment

One of the most cruel truths about suffering from Anxiety Disorder is that the sufferer is robbed of the life that he or she truly wants and knows they deserve. But, our fears are so overwhelming; they are so all-consuming, that we cannot live that life. The torment of living with anxiety disorder is that, as we are sidelined in fear, we are forced to look on as others experience what we don’t believe we ever can.

Last night, during my nearly nightly rabbit-holing of YouTube, I ran across a BBC documentary from 2013 about a group of young people from the United Kingdom who suffer from severe Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Their conditions are so severe that traditional means of treatment have been largely ineffective. The group, all between 17 and 25 years old, volunteer for an intensive treatment regimen which exposes them to their fears and triggers in order to train them to cope with them in hopes of leading more normal lives.

The group flew from London to Seattle, and were then taken into the Washington wilderness. For 10 days, they lived together, half a world away from home, purposely exposing themselves to their greatest fears. The documentary is so raw and real that it almost triggered a panic attack for me as I watched. You see, as things are now, I cannot fathom the thought of being that far away from home–of my “safe place”–with no quick way to get back. But, these kids faced their fears even with no real guarantee that the treatment would work.

In the end, each of them did find success. No, they were not cured of OCD–as yet, there is no cure. But, they did learn coping skills which allowed each of them to go places, do things, and cultivate relationships, all of which had been unthinkable. As they prepared to head back home, each was presented by the therapists who were with them with a dragon charm hanging from a necklace. One of the therapists told the group that the charms were a reminder to each of them of the importance of facing their fears no matter how big they might seem. He quoted Eleanor Roosevelt:

Do one thing every day that scares you.

I sat on the couch and wept. I wept partially from the happiness I felt for those people and partially from the sadness I feel for my own life and partially from the sadness I feel for other people like me who are always looking on.

Damn you, Eleanor Roosevelt!

The real rub with Anxiety Disorder is that those of us who suffer from it understand that our fears are irrational. Research tells us that many people who suffer from Anxiety Disorder are highly intelligent and creative people. We are more than capable of the thought processes necessary to overcome those fears. Not only are we capable of them, but we frequently engage in them. So, if we are so darn smart, why can’t we just take Mrs. Roosevelt’s advice and face them? I can answer that question in two words: cognitive dissonance. 

You see, while our fears might be irrational, they are not always unreasonable. For example, I have an extreme fear of heights. My fear of heights is so bad that even standing on an ordinary ladder which one might find in someone’s home is something that I cannot do without triggering very real, physical responses–vertigo, shakiness, etc. Barring some freak set of circumstances, the most that might happen to me if I were to fall from that height would be a torn ligament or a broken bone. However, a fall from heights not all that much higher than the ladder could result in more serious injuries or worse, but the chances it will happen are very low. There you have it–cognitive dissonance. My extreme fear of heights is, simultaneously, irrational but not unreasonable.

It’s easy for people who don’t know the torment of Anxiety Disorder to quote Eleanor Roosevelt and others who have said similar things. Honestly, it should be easy for me and other sufferers to do, but the truth of the matter is that it is not. My fears–yes, I have a long list of them–are far more than things that just scare me. They are life-altering. As much as I want to travel; as much as I miss singing; as much as I want to do something as simple as spend the weekend with friends, I cannot do any of those things–at least not now.

The torment of living with this disorder is that other people get to do all of those things that I want to do while I sit and watch.  And, that is worse than anything.

 

Getting All Third-Persony About It

Sorry for the delay in posts the last week or so. I’ve been a little busy trying to start my life all over again, ‘n’ stuff.

(A quick note to new readers: anytime you see words underlined or in a different color, you can click on them to read something related to the current post. Okay, carry on..)

There’s a part of me that is really glad things happened the way they did, you know? The whole situation forced me to take a genuine look at the guy I see in the mirror every morning (that would be me in case you were wondering) and decide if I care enough aboutthird person him to fix things, or if I should just let him keep treading water.

I decided to help him out…

Is it weird that I just spent half a paragraph referring to myself in the third person? Not as weird as you might think. Many times, when I’m in the midst of a panic attack, or just a particularly anxious moment, I get the feeling that I’m outside of my body observing what is going on, but completely unable to control it. I’ve been assured by many people, some of them trained professionals, that this is not at all abnormal for people who suffer with anxiety and depression.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time in third person recently.

The-more-you-knowInteresting factoid: referring to oneself in the third person is called ILLEISM. 🙂 See, this blog is not only entertaining, but educational. 

If I’m being totally honest and transparent (everybody’s using that word lately, so I thought I should, too) then I must say that, while my life has not been direction-less, it has certainly been leaning toward the chaotic side of the universe. I mean, I’m sort of a jack of all trades and master of several, but not all in a way. In my brain that translates to I kinda don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. And, THAT….causes a lot of problems.

What I really, Really, REALLY want to be is a writer. The problem with that is that I also really, REALLY like to eat and drive and have electricity in my apartment. So, until someone recognizes my genius, I’ll need another job. But then my wanderlust kicks in and I get bored and frustrated; and then my anxiety kicks in and I get scared and terrified, and here I am–staring at myself in the mirror and getting all third-persony about it.

Have you ever had a moment in your life when you just wanted to scream, WHAT THE HELL??!!

This is one of those moments for me. It’s a moment that never seems to pass by no matter how many minutes, or hours, or days, or weeks pass. It’s a moment when everything I touch seems to turn to crap no matter how hard I try for gold. It’s a moment when I have to keep telling myself that crap is GREAT fertilizer and so I keep throwing seeds down on top of the crap trusting that something beautiful will come out of it.

Okay, I’m not crazy about where that metaphor was going, so I’m gonna cut it off before it gets too weird!

Seriously, though, have you ever had one of those moments? Are you having one now? Do you have a magic trick that makes those moments go by faster?

If you answered yes to any of those questions, then take a couple of minutes to post a comment and tell me about it. I’d love to hear about your third-persony moments. Who knows, maybe we share something in common? But, even if you decide not to comment, would you do me a favor? Would you please take a second to LIKE and SHARE this post in case someone you know might be staring at him/herself in the mirror? I surely would appreciate it!

 

 

 

 

Silent cries are often the loudest

I started having panic attacks when I was ten years old. Back then nobody really used that term. Back then I was just a “nervous kid” or I had a “nervous stomach.” Back then, to most of my teachers, I was just a lazy kid who didn’t want to work very hard. There was no such thing as therapy for little kids who got sick every morning just thinking panicabout going to school, or who got sick at school for no apparent reason. Back then I was a hypochondriac. A freak. By high school I had graduated to “pussy” or “tit bag.” Back then I was a lot of things, but deserving of compassion wasn’t on the list.

Not a lot has changed in 35 years. Oh sure, now days when I tell people I suffer from anxiety and depression they know what I’m talking about. Now days when I tell people I have panic attacks they are at least familiar with the terminology. But, other than vocabulary, nothing has really changed. Nobody calls me freak, pussy, or tit bag anymore (at least not to my face). They don’t have to. I can see it in their faces. I can hear it in their voices. Despite their best attempts to hide what I will generously call their ignorance about the reality of my condition, nobody’s poker face is that good.

I’ve said before and will repeat now: if I were to go to the doctor and be diagnosed (God forbid) with cancer, or heart disease, or kidney disease, or any other physical ailment, no one would question me. No one would say, “why can’t you just be happy?” No one would say, “just get over it.” No one would say, “you’re a grown man. Act like it.” No, if I were to be striken with a physical illness I would not hear those things. I would not see the look in people’s eyes wondering why it is that I can’t get out and do things. I would never hear the unmistakable doubt in people’s voices. But, you see, I’m not physically ill–at least not with anything that is causing the hell I’m going through right now.

i'm fine

I had a full physical exam three weeks ago. I had blood work, pressing, poking, listening. . .the whole shebang. Guess what I found out? Other than mildly elevated (and I do mean MILDLY) cholesterol, I’m as healthy as a 43-year-old overweight man with a family history of diabetes and heart disease whose diet is complete crap could possibly be expected to be. Healthier, actually. Even the doctor said he was shocked by my labs. So, that’s great news, right? Right. Maybe. Sort of. A little. Or, not.

Now I’m just stuck knowing that everything I feel–the dizziness, shaking, shortness of breath, cold sweats, nausea, racing thoughts–all of that is just a product of what’s going on in my head. It’s real, only it’s not. How do you explain that to people who don’t experience it, though? How do you describe to someone who’s never felt it the sudden sense of abject TERROR and overwhelming need to flee a grocery store, or church, orrunning away school, or work for no real reason? There’s no way to do it successfully. There’s no way to make people who don’t experience those feelings understand that sometimes, on the really bad days, even walking to the mailbox can be an impossible ordeal.

Because explaining is impossible it’s easier just to stay quiet. It’s easier to stay locked away from the places, situations, and people who trigger the panic. It’s easier to keep it inside and spare people the awkward agony of not knowing what to say or how to react to someone who sometimes has trouble sitting in the drive-thru line of a fast food restaurant long enough to grab a burger for lunch. Yeah, it’s just easier that way.

screamThere are countless thousands of people out there who are just like me. You might even be close to one, two, or ten of them without even knowing it because, like me, they find it easier to exercise their right to remain silent. What you need to understand though is that those silent cries are often the loudest and most tortured. Those silent cries are the cries of people who have given in to fear and given up on hope. Those silent cries are the ones you should listen for the most. Can you hear them? What will you say?

Shhhhh….don’t answer until you’re sure.

Better living through chemistry…or something like that.

A bit of history for my new readers. I started this blog back in 2009 in the middle of a pretty serious bout of anxiety and depression. I was, for all intents and purposes, housebound for a couple of months. The blog started as my way of recording my thoughts and feelings about everything that was going on and ended up being a therapeutic narrative which I shared with the world. It kept me connected to reality and allowed me to hear from people who made me realize I wasn’t alone.

I haven’t had a lot of issues with anxiety for the last few years other than an occasional attack here and there. That is until a few weeks ago. Due to a combination of several things, my anxiety really ramped up around the first of February. At first the attacks were pretty minor, but last week was really dreadful. I was in a state of panic really for the entire week. Just as I was coming down from one attach, something would happen which would trigger another one. It was a mess–I was a mess! Something had to be done.

I’ve had a prescription for Xanax for almost a year now, but until last Saturday I’d never taken one. I’m not really big on taking medication, and in the past I’d been able to get through my anxiety issues without it. But, last week was starting to make me physically ill, so I broke down and started taking it. Contrary to what I expected, it really did help. I didn’t get “high” or anything like that. The medicine just took the edge off my anxiety and made me not feel so bad. I knew I had a doctor’s appointment for today–nothing serious, just a physical–so I figured I’d talk to him about it.

As much as I don’t like taking medicine, I don’t like going to see the doctor even more. This is not new. I got nervous going to the doctor when I was a little kid. I fully expected to have an anxiety attack while I was there, and boy, did I ever! Blood pressure upon first exam– 180/120. Thank God for a calm nurse and an understanding doctor. Neither of them got overly excited. Both of them kept telling me that everything was going to be okay. The doctor did the exam as normal. He didn’t find anything wrong. My heart sounded good (even though it was beating too fast), my lungs sounded good, my gut sounded good. No masses or swollen glands…you know the drill. Basically, from what he could see on his exam, I’m fine physically. But, he wants to help with my anxiety.

Let me say that again, because it’s new for a doctor…he wants to HELP with my anxiety. He prescribed Zoloft. He wants me to take it for two weeks and then come back to see him. He kept telling me that we’d get this figured out and that everything would bezoloft okay. I can’t tell you how much that helped. I’ve had bad experiences with doctors in the past, but I trust him. I believed him. He wasn’t condescending or dismissive. He listened to me and let me listen to him. He didn’t talk fast or over my head. He told me exactly what the plan is, and even though I’m still really nervous about taking a new medicine, I’m going to do it because I believe him.

So, here we go! Better living through chemistry, or so they say. I guess we’re about to find out. I’ll let you know how it goes. In the meantime, to lighten the mood a bit, take a look at the video below–the great Cheri Oteri playing Colette Reardon, the drug lady. Enjoy!