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Friday, February 10, 2012

About Anxiety, Part 2

Panic attacks were not new to me, but after that visit to the ER in high school they had a name.  Panic.  Yep, that was about right.  Anxiety, why yes, I'm feeling quite anxious actually.  The relief that came with finally knowing what to call this monster faded quickly.  Yes, I now knew what it was, but I had no idea what to do about it.  I didn't ask.

Granted, it was great knowing that in the midst of a panic attack I wasn't going to die.  However, in the midst of a panic attack, I felt like I was dying anyway.  I felt like if it was panic or anxiety I should be able to control it.  You know, mind over matter.  I was wrong, way wrong.  You cannot control a panic attack.  Sure, sometimes they might be caused by that raging storm threatening to throw the trees across the street.  Sometimes though, they're caused because I'm conscious.  No reason, just panic.  Breathe in a paper bag?  Right, I love feeling like I'm suffocating.  Keep telling myself that it's just a panic attack.  There is no such thing as just a panic attack.

I can sit here now and tell you that a panic attack is just my brain being tricked by chemicals telling it we're about to fall off the edge of a cliff.  I KNOW it's all about chemistry.  Knowing that doesn't change the way I feel when it's happening.  Rational Attic Dweller is totally gone in those moments where my life is taken over by the anxiety.  I knew there was medicine out there that could help.  I was still in high school though, I didn't want to be that girl that had to be on medicine to be "normal".  Leave it to a teenage brain to go and figure that it's better to be the girl who freaks out for no apparent reason than the girl on "crazy pills".

So, at fourteen I found out what the problem was.  I was twenty-seven by the time I finally found myself in such a desperate state that I went to the doctor again.  My biggest fear was that he was going to look at me and tell me I was making it all up.  I was afraid that all those years of thinking I knew what was bothering me were going to evaporate in one doctor's visit.  As I was sitting there waiting for him, I actually thought about leaving.  I had to physically force myself to stay in the chair in that exam room.  That wait did nothing to help with my anxiety.  Finally, in came the doctor.  He asked what was wrong, and I melted.  I became a puddle of tears and fears.  I had a panic attack right there in the doctor's office.  That's certainly one way to make sure he knew exactly what I was talking about.

He handed me a tissue, put his hand on my back, and told me it was going to be OK.  For the first time, I actually believed it was.  He told me I wasn't crazy.  I was normal.  I just had chemicals in my brain trying to convince me otherwise.  Yes, there's a pill for it.  In fact there are several we could try.  He told me not to let anyone else's opinions of people on medication to drive my own decision to get help.  I saw a light at the end of the tunnel that day.  All my feelings of darkness and hopelessness began to evaporate.  I had hope that maybe, just maybe, anxiety didn't have to rule my life.

You know what, the doc was right.  We had to play with the dosage a little, but we finally got to a point where I'm in the driver's seat, not the panic attacks.  They're not gone completely.  The pill is not a magic miracle cure.  They just don't come nearly as often.  Many times when they try to interrupt my day I can feel them fade out before they can become a problem.  Some sneak through.  Sometimes I have a panic attack.  Now though, instead of a world of grays and blacks, I live in full technicolor.  I feel normal.  I feel free. I feel like I am a regular human being.  I'm finally getting to know who I am.

The first time there was a severe storm and I didn't dissolve into a great big, anxiety ridden mess, I cried anyway.  They were happy tears.  I wish now I wouldn't have waited so long to take the medicine.  I might have gotten to know the real Attic Dweller in high school.  Instead, I'm just now able to know who I really am.  I go and try new things.  I laugh through haunted houses.  I sit on the porch during a thunderstorm.  OK, sometimes I sit on the porch during a thunderstorm.  I'm still scared of the storms.  It's an actual honest to goodness fear of storms.  That's OK.  I can live with that.  I can live with feeling scared, just as long as I'm not always consumed by it.  I can feel.  That's most important.  Now that that fog of constant anxiety has lifted, I can feel.

This is where I beg.  Medication only has a stigma if we let it.  Don't let how someone else might perceive you hold you back.  Modern medicine has provided us with a way to break free.  If you need it, take it.  It's much better on this side.  Trust me.  

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