At the beginning of this year I made a decision to start taking medication for my anxiety again.
This is part 1 in a series about making this decision and its impact. About mistaken beliefs and new starts. About shame and truth and hope.
I started to write about this in January, but everything was too new and raw.
It was too much to write about it, let alone share it.
But I’m ready now.
Last July I wrote a post (you can read it here) about a panic attack I experienced that was terrifying and humiliating and probably in my top 5 panic attacks of all time (because you rate them after a while).
From this point on, I battled with anxiety almost every day.
The ‘fight or flight’ mega-dose of adrenaline that had been activated on that day, simply never went away. I don’t know how these things work exactly, but it felt as though someone had jammed it permanently in the ‘ON’ position. Hyper-vigilance and the heart-racing, hand-shaking that goes with it, became the norm.
For the rest of the year I was in the situation that I refer to as, circling the pool.
When I experience panic where none is necessary (in a supermarket or a restaurant, when out for a walk with the kids or even when I’m in the shower) I lose my footing with the real world, and I get pulled into a whirlpool of dread. My thoughts race. Chasing each other in a frantic dance. Connecting ideas and images leading me to the worst case scenario, to anxiety-central. And I fall, unable to stop, unable to come up for air, spiralling down and down into the abyss. I lose touch with reality, seeing everything as if from underwater, or through a smeared mirror. I cannot connect with anyone. I am lost. Nothing is what it seems.
Even though my logical brain is still present and trying to tell me I am fine, I am well, I am loved, I belong, the racing heart tells a different story. It whispers to me of danger around every corner, it suggests disaster is imminent.
It promises me I can give up on hope, because I will always be this weak, this frail, this much of a burden.
After the panic attack in July, I didn’t fall into the pool every day, but often, regularly even, I found myself circling the pool.
The swirling water was always there. The threat of it ever-present.
For someone living with an anxiety disorder, even good days can be tiring. The mental strength to remind myself of the truth, the vigilance needed to stay strong, to keep my feet firmly planted on the ground, could take every last drop of willpower.
I would often find myself standing at the edge of the pool. Willing myself not to fall. Focussing on my breathing, trying to take it easy.
Sometimes managing it and not falling in. But the energy used to stay on the bank, safe and dry, was great. It was exhausting.
And the days when I did fall… they were awful.
Impossible to adequately describe.
I was doing my best.
I had been fighting with all my energy, doing all the things that can help. I had been meditating and getting out for walks. I had pretty much cut out alcohol and limited my caffeine. I had been going to bed early and not overdoing it.
I was doing my best.
But nothing was changing.
I saw my counsellor at the beginning of the year, on a cold January morning. After chatting about family and life and Christmas, I told her about the pool. About how it was always there, ever present. About how much energy it took not to fall in, about how tired I was.
Without thinking, I said, ‘I wish there was a pill I could take to make it all go away’.
And she looked at me. And I looked at her.
And I cried.
I cried because I felt like I hadn’t managed to do it by myself. I cried with frustration.
And I cried with relief.
I had been holding myself together for so long. But hope had slowly been ebbing away. I had started to believe that this was my lot, this was how it would always be. I had almost forgotten what it felt like to live a day without anxiety.
And although shame was shouting loudly at me, telling me that I was weak and that I was giving up, hope started to rise within me.
And the song it sang told me there was a chance it might be okay, there was a possibility things might change.
Writing this is challenging because a part of me still doesn’t like the idea that I need medication. I am a liberal reading, anti ‘big Pharma’, health and well-being-without-the-drugs, kind of gal. I’d rather be vigilant about preventing the circumstances that can contribute towards depression and anxiety than be held hostage to chemically induced stability.
Accepting my need for medication has been a humbling process, and yet another way for me to learn that life is outside of my control. Another prompt that I need to keep changing and being open. Life is not static.
I am sure anti-depressants are over-prescribed and in certain cases therapy and lifestyle changes are enough; they can heal you.
But I am also learning that sometimes, with all the good will and hard work in the world, medication can be necessary.
For me, right now, it is.
And I am continually reminding myself that this is okay.
In fact, it is more than okay. It is good.
(Of course, this is just the beginning of the story. Part 2 to follow)