In 1996, I left England to return to the United States. I was back for only a few months when I was in a car accident. It was just a fender bender. I was so stressed out by it, that I started to have panic attacks again. This time with the dry heaves. That was hard. When I would have those reactions it was hard to stop. I would try to find little tricks to make these attacks more bearable. I would carry soda or gum/mints with me wherever I went. Not being able to take a drink beyond the airport gates is a nightmare for me.
I spent a year living in the Upper Midwest getting a second degree. After a year the panic attacks got so bad I had to leave my second degree. It took me two years of attempts to return before I was finally able to resume my studies. The two years I spent at home with my parents were awful. They were not terribly supportive. The conversations about what a failure I was didn’t help either. I felt all alone in trying to figure out how to deal with it. I ended up feeling defective and burden. It hurts so much when you realize you are a big disappointment to your parents. Actions speak louder than words. Now they say that wasn’t true but history says otherwise. I envy those of you that get a long with your family.
My life went downhill so quickly. It felt I had failed at everything. Going out of the house was hard. I tried to push myself as hard as I could. Sometimes I would succeed, sometimes not. I made it back up to school once, but had to turn around and come home within a day. I felt weak, a failure and pretty damn worthless. In all honesty, do you remember that song “Loser” by Beck? It was the soundtrack my mind would play to me in my head.
This time, after all these years, I agreed to medication. I had been taught both at home and in pop culture that needing medication was a weakness. It meant I was crazy. I was one of those people that families quietly spoke about in hushed tones. I should after all be able to push past it. I felt like a fucking loser. This was not my plan. I had things to do. Anxiety was always ruining things for me. I hated it and myself. Often today, I will read on message boards that parents want to try essential oils with their kids or meditation. Can those work? In my personal opinion, only if you have normal, average, everyday person anxiety. Not the debilitating kind that so many people have. The mental illness. My lovely genetic legacy. Thanks Dad. You really need the guidance of a medical professional. Other treatments may help comfort you or make you relax but a person with true anxiety and depression needs professional help.
I have to say going on medication was the best decision I ever made. I wish I had done it earlier. Much earlier. What a difference it made in my life. I was fortunate. I am able to use a variety of medications to effectively treat my anxiety. I’ve only changed medications when l have changed doctors. Every doctor seems to have their favorite.
I was so busy blaming myself for being weak in my inability to over come it that I hadn’t even considered that something else could help. Medication is not some miracle pill. You don’t take it and poof everything is rosy. How I wish that were true.
I wish my family had treated my mental illness as a disease instead of a character flaw. It didn’t help that I found out later that my father took Valium or Lithium (I can’t remember which) to help him. I was furious. Not only had I lost years to my life that I can never get back, but all those days of being yelled at, pushed beyond my limits, and forced to run stairs or other drills was pointless. It hurt. It still does. One of the many reasons our relationship is not a good one.
Anxiety affects relationships in a variety of ways. You can loose friends because you have to leave places you just arrived at or are unable to go at all. They don’t understand. “Why can’t you go to the beach?” they wonder. “You could before. What are you afraid of? Nothing bad happened at the beach.” The thing is, for people who have panic attacks and Anxiety Disorder you sometimes really don’t know. The thing that causes me the worst anxiety now is driving. I have always hated to drive. Even as a teenager. Since I have started to drive my son to his new school which is several towns away, during rush hour traffic. Depending on traffic and weather can take a minimum of a half an hour one way to over an hour one way.
My son’s own anxiety and depression also increases and causes mine to reappear. It’s hard to see him struggle. The stress from trying to help him, and the help not seeming to work is awful. I also get chest pain and acid reflux almost daily which increases my stress as well. Your anxiety triggers can remain the same over time or you can add new ones. That is what sucks. Mine change over time and sometimes day to day too. At this point, I want to say that sometimes panic attacks for some people are cause specific or last for a short period of time and never return. There is no rhyme or reason towards it.
I was finally able to complete my second degree after several years off. Even now over twenty years later it still seems like I’ve missed out on so much in my life that I can never get back. It feeds my depression a lot.
The next difficult period was when I met my future husband. Dating when you have a mental illness isn’t easy. Especially when you hid it from the world for fear of being found out. I will talk about it next time.