It's All An Illusion Charlie Brown
God...where to begin.
First let me say, the purpose of this post is not to gain sympathy. It really isn't. But I like to think that I keep it real here at BAS, and the reason I do that is so that maybe someone out there will feel less alone, less crazy, less hopeless if they know someone else is grappling with the same things they are. I've talked about my loss of identity, my struggle to find myself, my feelings of inadquacy when it comes to parenting my Diminutive One, who has several issues that make even good days a challenge. I've talked about all the little bumps in the road that I think we all encounter at some point; a myriad of petty annoyances that really make adulthood suck ass sometimes. And I talk about these things because I want you to see me as the real person I am, with flaws and neuroses and problems and glitches like everybody else. It makes me relatable. I hope.
Also, personally speaking, I think blogs that are all sweetness and light and Hallmark perfect are perfectly nauseating. You know the ones I'm talking about; perfect children, perfect job, perfect spouse, perfect life. They craft and cook and decorate and volunteer all with good cheer and effusive gratitude. Blech.
Life is hard, people. And it's not for wimps. You can't deal with it if you're not willing to acknowledge that perfection is an illusion. Pretending everything is perfect does not make it so. But maybe it does make life a little less excruciating. Unfortunately, I'm not very good at ignoring or sugar coating or pretending. No...you see, my super power is examining, obsessing and magnifying. Its one I have honed to absolute perfection over the years. And that, dear readers, is where my problem lies.
At this point, you are doubtless wondering what the hell I'm talking about, so I'll just say it.
I have an anxiety disorder. Whew. There. I said it.
I've been ignoring it for quite a number of years, you see. I realized long ago that my tendency to worry goes way beyond being a "worrywart", but I wasn't quite ready to admit that I might have a clinical disorder. So I practiced deep breathing, I counted to myself, I wrote or created elaborate fictitious scenarios in my head; all in an effort to stop my heart racing, the room spinning, my stomach churning, my knees trembling, the cold sweat, the inexplicable sense of doom, the sheer unadulterated panic that would occur for no apparent reason.
I sort of got used to it. Once I realized I wasn't dying of a heart attack, I learned to recognize the symptoms for what they were and I learned to cope. I learned to live with the constant knot of dread resting like a stone in the pit of my stomach. It became my normal.
But once my strokes were discovered, my brain turned things up a notch. It became harder and harder to live with the fear and dread that had become my constant companion, because it had become harder and harder talk myself out of panicking. Every time I had a migraine, I worried I was having another stroke. Every time I worked out a little too hard and it took a smidge longer for my heart rate to come down, I worried I was having a heart attack. Every time I found my car keys in the refrigerator or my purse in the kitchen cupboard, I worried I was developing early onset Alzheimer's. Every time I lost a word in the middle of a sentence, stuttered, twitched or repeated myself, I worried that something was gravely wrong with the organ I most cherished; my brain.
I was a friggen' mess. But I didn't let on to anybody just how anxiety ridden I had actually become. I hid it even from my husband; my closest friend and the person upon whom I counted to call an ambulance and deliver mouth to mouth in the event that I actually did keel over.
Still I didn't seek help. And I really can't say exactly why. But I suspect that it is my inherent perfectionism that kept me from admitting that I had a real, clinical problem that needed to be treated. I considered myself a strong person; a survivor, dammit. Survivors are not pussies and survivors do not wimp out by taking pills.
I would just have to try harder.
But then my Mom died. And that's when things really got bad. Because one minute she was here and the next she was gone and if it could happen to her it could happen to me and dear God how I fear the cold , dark nothingness of death. Which is why I think that faith is not a choice. Yes, that's another post for another day, but I just want to say that if it was....and believing in Jesus and asking him into my heart would take care of my anxiety, (which it may or may not do, but I think there's a good chance that some kind of definitive belief about death would help) I would choose to believe in him right the fuck now.
So anyway...I had a wicked stomach bug over the weekend. But even after my symptoms had passed and I was able to keep food and fluids on traditional route through my digestive tract, I just didn't feel right. I was weak, shaky, and dizzy. Just to make myself feel better, I took my blood pressure at the drug store. That plan, unfortunately, backfired most spectacularly when the reading was 132/120. Right then and there, certain that a stroke was imminent, I had the worst panic attack of my life. I don't even know how I made it home. It was the first time I actually felt like I might lose consciousness and that scared the living shit out of me.
I decided enough was enough. I called our family doctor's office and begged them to get me in as soon as possible. Amazingly, they fit me in at 9:15 the following morning. I told myself that I just had to stay alive for eighteen hours. Just eighteen hours. Seventeen. Sixteen. And so on....
It was touch and go for a while, but I made it through the night.
And then I found myself in the doctor's office, spilling my guts, though I hadn't planned to do anything of the sort. I was just going to ask for some drugs and be done with it.
"The problem is doctor, that I don't trust anything my body tells me. I mean, almost every day my body tells me its dying someway somehow, but I know its probably not. But what if it is? What if I miss something important because I'm dismissing the symptoms as anxiety? Or, what if I end up in the ER with the entire staff laughing at me because I came in with an acute case of gas? I just don't know what to believe and I. Can't. Handle. That."
My doctor, bless him, first told me that with all I've had to deal with this year, he'd be surprised if I wasn't having anxiety issues. He also said that women in today's world are under an enormous amount of pressure; pressure that men just are not subjected to. I think I got a little teary at that point, and he gave my arm a kindly pat with a reassuring little squeeze at the end. Then he said,
"But there are some things you CAN count on. You are young, you don't smoke, you exercise regularly, you are at a healthy weight and you eat a healthy diet. Your cholesterol levels are some of the best I've seen, all your hormone levels are normal and your sed rates and white counts are perfect. In other words, you are a very healthy person who happens to have experienced a fairly serious, but I believe, isolated, health crisis."
He paused to let that sink in and then continued.
"The problem is, that by telling you these things, I am speaking to the right side of your brain. Anxiety comes from the left side of the brain. So. What we have to do, is make both sides feel better."
I could have kissed him then. I really could have. He got it. He understood that I was asking for help that would allow me to function right now, today; to handle all the stuff I have to handle and not let anybody down. Something that would allow me to feel like normal competent me again. But he also understood that medication can only do so much. And I knew that going in. I knew that I had some things that needed addressing on a psychological level and some issues to work through related to my mother's death and the upheaval it caused in our lives. He gave me a referral to a trusted colleague who specializes in anxiety disorders, and, as it happens, grief and bereavement.
I feel better just having some kind of plan in place. I have some drugs, yes. And I will use them. If that makes me a pussy, so be it. I'll be a happy one. But I've also made an appointment with the therapist and I find that I'm looking forward to it. I need to talk to someone. Oh, my husband would listen to me, but I need someone who doesn't love me, or count on me, or idealize me. I need someone completely neutral and unbiased who can tell me frankly how screwed up I am, but also, how to fix it.
And maybe, just maybe, I can avoid becoming one of those people who is afraid of milk or feels compelled to brush their teeth one by one in sequential order, or can't part with pet hair.
Wish me luck.