I suffer with general anxiety disorder, PTSD and have panic attacks.
I was first diagnosed after my brother was murdered in 1996 but I had been suffering from it for years before. Maybe I was always anxious, I don’t really know who to ask because nearly everyone is dead.
There are these little things that I have done when I am anxious that people close to me may notice. I twirl my hair. Normally with my left hand. This may be because I was a thumb sucker and I sucked my left thumb. After I quit that I became a hair twirler. Then a picker. I have scars on my body from picking at my skin or scratching until I bled. Then I would pick the scab off over and over and over again. There are several places on my body, some visible, some not, that show these scars. I also pulled out my hair from various parts of my body. Usually hair by hair, until I could tolerate the pain. Then I would quit. I also burned myself. Mostly with a curling iron which was easy to disguise as an accident.
I did most of these things as a teen and young adult. I didn’t do it all the time. Just sometimes. When I would get really stressed out, frustrated in a way I could not express myself or have feelings of loss of control. And this wasn’t the worst I did. The worst was not eating. Either just not consuming food, throwing it up – sometimes by force, sometimes because I would be too upset to hold it down, or sometimes just eating really small amounts of food then working out several times a day until I was physically exhausted.
When you have anxiety your instinct is to control – so you control what you can and these were the things I could control. The older I got, the more coping skills *I* believed I had, the less I did these things. The truth is, anxiety can manifest in various other ways – like trying to control your surroundings and other people, being hostile to others, having compulsions over cleaning or animals or checking to see if the door is locked over and over again. Many people with anxiety disorders self medicate with drugs, alcohol, smoking, eating, and/or shopping.
It wasn’t until after I had my oldest child in 1997 that I began to have full blown panic attacks. I had a horrific surgical birth and bad post partum depression. My mother was also dying of terminal cancer at the time too and having treatments and surgeries back to back. Feeling crazy would be an understatement. I was crazy. My thought processes were not rational, I heard voices, and I had obsessive thoughts over something horrible happening to my baby. I had social anxiety. I’m not sure how I made it through to the other side after all of this except maybe to suppress it because we were too poor for me to get any help, not to mention some people just equated my nutty behavior to just “being Kim”.
Through the years I learned to control the crazy to some extent and I have taken medication on and off after having babies. I have faced fears and challenged myself to get over certain things to rid myself of what I call “the demons”. Not spiritual demons spoken about by religious folks, but the demons of anxiety that have haunted me it seems my entire life.
I have my own little rituals, private to only me, that help keep the anxiety to a minimum. I have this soft, green hoodie from Old Navy that I wear when I feel like I might crawl out of my skin. I still twirl my hair. Instead of starving myself, I’ve eaten more food than I should consume. I’ve distracted myself with use of the Internet and with the playing of music that tends to soothe my soul. But these things don’t always work and that is why 18 months ago I began taking Cymbalta.
It changed my life. Even though I sometimes still had anxiety it was no longer crippling me. I was a better, more productive mother. I was less angry and agitated. I seemed to have clarity over issues that came up that I had not had before. People say I am less on edge, nicer, and less bitchy. I’m pretty sure they are right because anxiety makes you this irritable, bundle of nerves that makes you want to either crawl in a hole or lash out. The word stabby could easily describe me pre-Cymbalta.
In the last eight weeks my life has been turned upside down and even though we are doing everything to turn our lives right side up all those things I thought I had control of – I no longer have control over. My life has exceeded my medication and my coping skills to deal with anxiety attacks that vary in severity. Heart racing, blood pumping, crawl out of your skin, feel like I might drop dead panic attacks have become a part of my life once again. I sometimes cry hysterically and vomit. I scratch at my skin and pull at my hair. It is the worse kind of feeling.
So, these days I am on some major medication to control these panic attacks and to keep the anxiety at a minimum. I started off with Klonopin. Let me say this stuff will knock you clear on your ass but you will not have to worry about having anxiety or panic attacks on it. It is quick acting and stays in your system a good bit. At first I took it as prescribed but being a zombie doesn’t exactly fit into my lifestyle, so then I took as needed or half doses. Besides it breaking your give a damn it is also highly addictive. So they do not want you taking it long term. Evidently the dosage I was on to start with was to prevent what some thought would be the inevitable nervous breakdown I would have. I guess it worked because I have not had to be committed, though there were a few days it sounded like a good idea.
The psychiatrist now has me on Ativan. I wish it worked like Klonopin but it is just not as effective for me, but it does the trick and keeps me from having major meltdowns. I do sleep better on Ativan and it also breaks my give a damn when those anxiety filled moments happen. It takes a longer time to work if you begin to have a panic attack but if you take the maximum dose your psychiatrist allows you will forget that it took a long time to work due to its amnesia like qualities. On Ativan you may also have some great sex you don’t remember and also be this really cool, funny mom that acts all a fool and the kids who are aware of your medication taking will say “Mom we think you need your meds” when they notice any inkling of tension in the house. Ativan is also addictive but not as addictive as Klonopin and I can take it for a longer period of time so it seems like a good choice for now.
I can’t begin to express or put into words how much I HATE being like this. I hate taking the medication, but I know without it I am a non-functioning, feel like I might die crazy person. And that I hate more. The lesser of two evils and all. I decided to openly blog about this because mental illness, and this is mental illness, is still such a taboo subject. A lot of people suffer with anxiety and fail to get it treated, which can lead to other mental health issues like depression and obsessive compulsive disorders or worse. There is this idea that if you have mental health issues that you are less of a person and so therefor people forgo getting treatment and getting therapy. That couldn’t be farther from the truth.
I don’t know how long this will last. I wish I could predict. With psychiatric help and therapy, not to mention medication, I hope not long. I am always going to suffer with anxiety and will have to manage it – whether that be with diet, exercise, meditation, hormone replacement therapy or other tools I have used through the years. I just know that there is no shame in getting treatment and being open with people about it.
**3-21-2013 I am back on Klonopin but do not take it as much as I did in the beginning. I had an uncommon allergic reaction to Ativan and had to stop taking it. The Klonopin has become much more user friendly than it was before, because I do not take as much and my body has become used to it. I can also go whole days without needing it.
*In case people read this and think OMG – SHE DRIVES! I will be clear and say that I do not take these meds and drive. I am extremely cautious about taking them.