Tuesday, September 11, 2012

It's All in My Head, #1

As I battle daily with severe anxiety and depression, I thought it would be conducive to posting about it here as this blog is supposed to be a reflection of my life. I posted this to my Facebook on May 28th.

This is something that I find difficult to share, but I think I owe it to all of you to explain the broken workings of my mind so that you may glean from it a better understanding of me. It's quite possible that some of you see me as dramatic, aloof, an avoider, a coward, or just plain antisocial. I know that it's difficult to understand mental problems if none of you have them (and thank whatever deity that you don't), because it just doesn't show on the outside. It really is an "invisible illness".

I've been told that it's all in my head and that I should just get over it. I've been told I'm faking it. I've been told that my problems and avoidance issues hurt my friends and I don't seem to think about them when I make these decisions. I've been told that I'm just shy and unworldly, because I was homeschooled, or because I have never lived in an urban setting before now.

If I could "get over it", do you think I would have suffered for this long? Is it because I enjoy it so much, or that I'm so used to it I know nothing else?

Few people seem to realize how badly I want to feel "normal".

I am currently being treated for an anxiety disorder that I have literally had for as long as I can remember. I am also being treated for severe depression, which seems to be hereditary in my family and hit me not long after I reached puberty at 10 years old. Both disorders have created great dangers for me over the years, including years of hidden cutting rituals and frequent thoughts of suicide. I no longer cut, but as it was an addiction, it's always in the back of my mind. I have pale horizontal scars on my upper arms. I never cut for attention, as many people seem to think this is why cutters do what they do. I would cut to punish myself, to release the pain inside my mind. I never wore tank tops, so my upper arms were the best bet for me to hide them from the world. If anyone did see them, I would lie and say that one of my cats got aggressive in play.

Whenever I felt suicidal, it was always random, and that's probably what scared me the most. I wanted to talk to people about it, because the popular opinion of society is "If someone talks about killing themselves, they're just being attention whores and aren't actually going to do it". Frankly, I would have rather been seen as an attention whore than be dead. Talking helps me, which is why I'm sharing all of this with you against my better judgement. And yes, despite my wonderful life in Canada with my husband, I have felt suicidal at very random times, mostly in the last three months; I feel that my medication is no longer working, and the thoughts on offing myself have become so severe and random that I fear leaving the house.

Do not be mistaken in thinking that I hate my life and am miserable. It's quite the opposite, actually. My dream was to come to Canada, be with Trevor for the rest of my life, and enjoy living in an urban setting where everything is within my grasp. I absolutely love my life and everything about it. But anxiety and depression still hamper it considerably, and I'm more than tired of fighting it every single day and so often losing.

My doctor is concerned me for at this time, which is why he's begun requesting appointments for every two weeks instead of 2-3 months. I'm hoping for an increase in my medication, another prescription for the tranquilizer Ativan, and maybe a recommendation to a psychiatrist. Doctor Bornstein now works hard to understand what's going on in my fragile mind, and I'm very thankful for that.

Both depression and anxiety cause me to stop going outside, stop doing the things I enjoy, and cease to function or care. Of the two, the anxiety is much more crippling, leaving me in a perpetually panicked and fearful state that can explode at the drop of a hat. At first, anxiety completely prevented me from finding a job here. It wasn't because I was lazy and irresponsible. I was terrified. Terror is an emotion that I've battled for years and still have not become the master of. It's an unpredictable bitch, just as the whole of anxiety is.

Anxiety makes me dread simple tasks days in advance. Going to the bank. Going to the doctor. Calling someone. Leaving the house. Interacting with other people. Interacting with myself. Looking for a job. Getting on the bus. Hanging out with friends. Driving a car. Getting on the subway. Going to The Meeting House or home church. Things that normal people do without blinking, while I struggle just to do one of these things without having a full-blown anxiety attack, and if I do accomplish one of these things, I see it as a huge triumph over my issues (although I will probably never properly learn to drive).

Even Trevor has difficulty understanding how I balk, hesitate, break out in a cold sweat, hyperventilate, withdraw from life, burst into random fits of rage or tears at the start of a panic attack, or start shaking. I've been very co-depedent on him, relying solely on his presence to keep me sane, and that's not good. Sometimes he yells at me to "Just relax", which is the worst possible thing one can say to someone with anxiety.

Anxiety causes me to think worst-case scenario at all times, to see the world in a warped sense, and to think only negative things. It causes me to relive horrible memories in my mind at night, things that happened years ago, from simple mistakes to terrible experiences that caused me great fear, such as the scarring eleven months that I was with my first boyfriend. Anxiety causes my body to be in perpetual fight-or-flight mode. It causes me to be paranoid to an extreme. It causes me to think I'm being judged at every step, being thought of badly, from strangers to best friends. It causes me to have broken, restless sleep. It causes me nothing but grief and a sense of being completely abnormal. When I was a child, I was so terrified of the thought of going to school that I finally convinced my parents, after much panicking and freaking out on my part, to homeschool me. My anxiety is not caused BY the homeschooling, but rather the homeschooling was caused by the anxiety.

Up until a few years ago, when I began researching it online, I had no idea what an anxiety disorder was. I hated myself so much because I didn't understand what on earth was wrong with me. When I finally began to understand, I felt so much relief in knowing that there were others like me, others struggling just with day-to-day existance. It didn't make my battle any easier, but it made me feel less alone.

One person who fully understands what is inside my head is my friend Nikkol, my "secret twin". Not only are we both Americans who married Canadians and have the same birth date and birth year, we both have severe anxiety and depression disorders. We are truly two of a kind. She is the one who has helped me to really see my irrational viewpoints on things, because she's had more professional help than I have and has many notes and ideas. We get each other out of the house (sometimes it's ineffective, but then one of us tries again another day). We have both made tiny anxiety accomplishments in each other's presence, I think because we silently strengthen one another. I have worked harder to fight my anxiety than I ever have in my life, thanks to her. I have made such small accomplishments as no longer fearing the bus or traveling on my own, when barely a year ago I couldn't fathom doing such a thing.

My medication has been my springboard to letting me deal with my issues. Before that, I just couldn't anymore. Not on my own. I do not rely solely on Cipralex, mainly because there IS no miracle drug that can take mental disorders away, and I know that I have to work with it and harmonize with it if I'm going to keep my head above the surface. This SSRI gives me the capability of dealing and with feeling just a bit like I'm a normal person.

Some days I can hardly leave the bed. Some days I just want to give up. Some days I just avoid living, and I barely function at all.

I am not posting this to garner sympathy. I only wish that my friends and family will gain a better understanding of "my problems", because I need your understanding and support. To further understand, I hope to keep posting about how I live with anxiety and depression, a chronicle of sorts. It's an ongoing battle, one I will contend with for the rest of my life to some degree. I know that I will never be 100% healed, but baby steps to recovery matter greatly.


Jenny said...

It's really important that people start understanding anxiety better. You said it really well and I hope the people in your life were able to hear it! I am sorry for your struggles with these incredibly difficult aspects of life and wish you the best.

Pam Lambky said...

Hi Mary. People have a hard time understanding what kind of control severe depression and anxiety disorders (I have had some bad ones) takes on a person's life. I have been where your at, thankfully I did snap out of it in about a year. I had a lot of the same symptoms, but mine just kinda hit me all of a sudden. Sometimes pain of any sort is hard to deal with by others. I have several family members who have suffered as yourself, including my son, who is now taking medicine to treat his depression. (He's 21 years old)Anyway, I am proud that you are speaking out about this because so many others are suffering as yourself and they may stumble upon your blog and maybe they won't feel like this is only happening to them. Good luck Mary and God Bless! hugs:) Pam