Earlier today I was scrolling through Facebook and came across a meme that said something along the lines of “Antidepressants cause suicide so why would anybody take them?” It really pissed me off. The amount of stigma and misinformation surrounding mental health is astounding. I feel like people love to come out against medications that treat mental illness because people truly believe that mental illness isn’t real. Even worse are the people who believe that we can all “cure” ourselves through diet and exercise, a common thread in the comments below the image. People stated (without any scientific evidence) that medication is prescribed too often and unnecessarily. Do these people stop to think that perhaps any increase in the amount of people on medication is a result of more people seeking treatment? More people being on medication is not necessarily a bad thing.  (There were also people who seemed to be from the all medications are evil and so are vaccines camp but that’s a whole other can of worms.)

Whenever I see comments along the lines of “I know so and so who changed their diet and lifestyle and achieved xyz.” I am equal parts happy for them and skeptical. Whenever people want to make a point they will cite weak anecdotal evidence that supports their argument. People are all different and what works for one person may not work for another. We also can’t rule out the placebo effect. If you truly believe that your depression will get better through diet and exercise it could work for you.  And for some a lifestyle change might actually be useful in managing depression etc but that doesn’t mean that the same is true for other patients. Besides, that line of thinking assumes a lot about a person and puts blame on the person for their illness. It’s almost like saying “If you would eat the right foods and exercise more you wouldn’t be depressed.”

All medications come with risks and while it’s true that some medications can cause suicidal thoughts that does not mean that those same medicines can’t be life-saving or that they result in suicide all of the time. In fact, a study found that the FDA-issued suicide risk warning for these medications decreased the number of prescriptions while also increasing the number of suicides. What ended up happening was that doctors became less inclined to prescribe medication while at the same time patients did not receive more therapy which resulted in patients going untreated.

In its article, Teen suicide tries increased after FDA toughened antidepressant warning, the Harvard Health Blog  writes, “If medication is needed, an SSRI is an excellent first choice. But it’s important to heed the message from the BMJ study, and what should have been the message from the original FDA warnings: Anyone with a new diagnosis of depression, and his or her family, need to be alerted to the possibility of suicidal thoughts—even if no drug therapy is started—and to report such thoughts right away.”

And that is the purpose of these black box warnings on SSRIs, to make the consumer and medical professional aware and vigilant. Further, the population affected most by these side effects are children and young adults, which makes blanket statements such as the one in the meme I saw intellectually dishonest at best and irresponsible at worst.

People who suffer from depression can find relief in different ways. Discrediting and shaming those who rely on pharmaceuticals is bullshit.

I woke up this morning wondering how to best get out of taking my son to his swim lesson. I was deep into the self loathing that comes when we fail. I lay in bed for a while feeling equal parts anxious and fed up. Surely I can do this for myself? Not for my son, or my husband, but for me. I need this. 

I resigned myself to go ahead with my plans no matter what. I showered, got dressed and got my son ready. As I packed a tote with a towel, diapers and a change of clothes I felt my shoulders begin to tighten. My chest felt heavy. It’s the anxiety I reminded myself, and I will pay it no mind. 

The drive to the pool was tense. For my shoulders and back. I tried not to focus on all the physical sensations that were coming back one by one. I thought about giving up and turning around and returning home where my symptoms would lessen and I could relax. But what’s the sense in that? I pushed through and made it to class. 

Miraculously the swimming pool area was not hot or damp as it usually is. It was actually pleasant in there and for whatever reason a lot of kids skipped class today so my son had an instructor to himself. 

My anxiety levels remained relatively low. It remained in the background and I did manage to relax. I secretly celebrated my victory in my head. 

After class I stopped at the drug store for a browse. I did it! And I survived. And I WILL continue to do shit that scares me, that triggers my anxiety and invites panic attacks in because I have found that doing so benefits me. 

I would never advocate that everyone push themselves as I do. We all have limits and only you know your own. Baby steps are better than no steps and I have learned through the years that being ready is important but that feeling ready is relative and sometimes it works out to just jump in and go all the way. 

Now I’m tired. Mentally exhausted from the worry and stress. I’m also happy and thrilled that I did what I set out to do. 

Tomorrow I’m taking my son to swim class. By myself. It kills me that to most people this is nothing. It’s not an issue. But I’m feeling nervous about it and it’s self-sabotage. I am walking right into giving myself a panic attack tomorrow. I can already see it happening, how it will sneak up on me.

The pool we go to is indoors and it’s very humid and warm in there. Those two things are not a good mix. Being hot usually leads to anxiety and panic attacks for me. I can’t really explain why but it just does. Going there has actually served as a sort of therapy for me because I am forced to deal with this noxious stimuli for at least 30 minutes every Sunday. I believe he has had 4 or 5 classes already.

So while I feel that I’ve gotten better at dealing with that environment the fact that I will be on my own without my husband as my support throws a new obstacle in my way. I’m always worried about losing control while I’m with my son but I already KNOW that I can deal with whatever happens. I need to remind myself that everything will be okay. I will get through tomorrow even though I have the option of not taking him. However, I do NOT want to be codependent and therefore me taking him to this class is important. It will be a huge victory for me and I am determined to reach that finish line.

I plan on going prepared with plenty of ice cold water and something to fan myself with. I know what triggers me and I know that it is a good idea to mitigate these triggers. If I am able to keep myself cool and comfortable I will be able to stave off any anxiety I might feel. On the other hand I might be worrying for nothing (as usual) and I’ll be able to go and return without incident.

I know that I can do this and that I will be able to build upon it. I try not to lament the fact that 8 years ago this would have been a piece of cake for me. I wouldn’t have thought anything of it but right now it is Mount Everest rising before me and I am scared. And that’s okay. Anxiety sucks. It is a scourge upon my life and I will deal with it. That boo is still locked away and everyday I am reinforcing his cage. I don’t know that I want to befriend it. I want to tame it. I am the Alpha.

It’s unbelievable to me that I am still pretty much anxiety free. I have had moments where I feel the panic rising, threatening to spill over but I’ve managed to squash it down and move on. My boo is locked up in a cage and he’s trying to escape. He’s rattling the cage. I am not giving in. I am fighting to keep him locked away for as long as I can.

I am not sure how things will change once my son starts pre-school. I am thinking of enrolling him this fall or possibly next January but either way I will have two days a week where I will be able to work. And based on how that goes and if I find something that offers more hours and pays well enough for me to afford to enroll him full time I might do that.

Going back to work scares me because I’ve been out of it for so long. I no longer know how to deal with my anxiety in a work setting. I was a pro at this before my pregnancy. Even though I feel like my anxiety is not as intense was it was back then I feel like it will manifest itself under that new environment. I am probably overthinking things as I really can’t cross that bridge until I get to it but I am steeling myself to the possibility of finally seeking medication if I can’t hack it. And I’m ok with that. I don’t have anything against meds aside from my phobia of them and their side effects.

Working again does appeal to me even though it scares me. Having a little extra income will be nice and saving up once again will benefit our family. We get by just fine on my husband’s income but a little extra wouldn’t hurt. Ideally I would love to work from home. I have a neighbor that told me to come to her once I was ready to get back to work as she currently works from home and thinks I would be a good fit. Fingers crossed that works out because I would really love to be able to do that!

Where did my anxiety go?

I posted this on my main blog but I wanted to share this here as well. In fact, this is a post I would generally post here anyway. 

The past week or so has been taken out of a dream. My constant companion for the past eight years has seemingly packed its bags and left. Now, I am not superstitious so I don’t have any reservations about sharing my good fortune and I have experienced this before. Living with mental illness is exhausting. I hate having anxiety. I hate experiencing panic attacks. There is nothing about suffering from those two things that anybody enjoys. When I am not feeling anxious I am usually thinking about the next time I will be anxious and so the cycle continues.

Any sort of trip causes me a lot of anxiety. Being away from home (my home base) sends my heart rate soaring. New places are difficult for me to navigate because when I am home and I am feeling like the world is about to end I can somehow grab onto my reality to anchor my mind and settle my thoughts. It is difficult for me to do this on the go. Difficult, but not impossible. This past weekend we took a trip to Orlando for a wedding. Orlando is familiar. It’s far from home but I’ve been there enough times that I can’t justify classifying it as a new location. Weddings involve crowds of people, which I am not fond of but I can manage. Still, I was nervous and worried that my anxiety would rear its ugly head.

I can’t say what has changed over the past week. I haven’t done anything differently. I haven’t started taking medication. All I have been doing is what I have always done: following Dr. Liebgold’s book and holding on to hope that every episode of anxiety/panic attack will be the last one. I have been challenging myself more. Going out more and doing one thing that scares me daily. For me, it’s doing one thing that triggers my anxiety every day. I have been more diligent, more consistent and it has payed off.

This weekend I felt like myself. The way I felt when I was 22 and not yet suffering from mental health issues. It was glorious and I went with it. Did my boo try to crash my party? Yes, he did. He is an asshole after all. But I kept him at bay and enjoyed my vacation. I was present. I was not caught up in my own mind wrestling thoughts and worries about anxiety.

The thing about anxiety (and mental illness in general) is that it is not visible. Anxiety happens internally. Somebody can be having the worst panic attack of their lives and you’d be non-the-wiser standing next to them. Anxiety can take over your life and render you unable to function. I know that I am not magically cured. Anxiety is something I will always live with but anxiety can be managed and even though there will likely be set backs I know that I will be okay. And I will use these blog posts as reminders that there is respite. That I CAN and WILL feel much better than I do when my anxiety is at its worst.

I write about my anxiety because it is infinitely helpful to record and celebrate the victories no matter how small they are. It is also important to give a face and voice to these illnesses that are still so often stigmatized by society. It is important for me to be open about what I feel and how I am feeling. I don’t want the curtain to fall on me. I have a support system by design. I make sure to speak up and seek help when I need it. I have been to therapy and I am always actively combating my anxiety. I am not currently seeing a therapist but it is something I think of doing again eventually because I find it very helpful. I am fortunate in that I have the access and the means to do so.

If you have somebody in your life who suffers from anxiety or another disorder and are wondering how to help them just ask them how they’re doing. A sympathetic ear that seeks to listen without judgment or paternalistic advice is invaluable. If you are suffering from mental illness yourself, seek help. Talk to a friend. Don’t give up on yourself.

Getting shit done

I’ve often written about the limits that anxiety imposes on me and how my goal is to do away with them. In the past few weeks I have been going out on my own more. Today I went out truly alone as I did not have my son with me. This was equally liberating and worrying to me as he often distracts me when my thoughts start straying towards anxiety/panic inducing territory. Even though I enjoy going shopping with my son (he’s two and a half) it was a different experience to go without him. The store was less charming and wondrous but I did like not having to worry about him. I felt carefree knowing he was home with his dad while I got to browse as much as I wanted without worrying that I was keeping him buckled into a shopping cart for too long.

My husband wanted me to pick up dinner for him on my way home and I can’t lie and say that I didn’t consider going straight home after the grocery store. I felt that I had pushed myself enough for one day and that pain in my chest was threatening to bloom. I said fuck it! I am going to do this thing and do it all the way. I’ve been letting my anxiety win for far too long. (That’s how I look at it but I am by no means making some sort of blanket statement that blames myself or other sufferers of mental illness for their plight.) I managed to do that as well with a relatively low level of anxiety. The one thing I wish I had been able to do is to not think about it all together but THAT is almost impossible for me at the present time.

Challenging myself is always fruitful but I am cognizant of the fact that it has to be well timed. If I am already feeling panicky before leaving the house I set myself up to fail. I know when I need to pull back and I am more interested in making long term progress than accomplishing something at the cost of my future attempts. The more I am able to do the more like myself I feel. I have glimpses of her sometimes and it brings tears to my eyes because it gives me hope that the fearless me is buried deep inside and like an archaeologist uncovering a fossil I am slowly but surely brushing away the sediment that obscures her.

This weekend we are going to a wedding. We also have plans to visit a friend. Both of these events cause me some form of social anxiety (which is different to my other anxiety but it contributes to it). Whenever I am in a situation where I meet lost of new people (like at the wedding) I am always anxious about my appearance and how I will come across to people. These social events are the ones that make me loathe my current weight, my fat rolls, grey hairs, the size of my breasts. There is an endless list of crap that all of a sudden matters to me because these social gatherings are everything I would rather not partake in. It makes me want to disappear. I don’t like being in a large crowd of people. Especially people who are interested in meeting my son for the first time, which means by default I have a lot of interactions coming my way. I know that it will all be all right but knowing that doesn’t mean that I won’t dread it. Or that I won’t want to hide out in a quiet corner for a while. Socializing drains me. I am much better suited for a quiet evening sitting around with a handful of friends. Nevertheless I am actually looking forward to the weekend, especially seeing my friend. It makes no sense I know!

If you’re reading this and you also suffer from anxiety, panic attacks or any other mental health issue please know that you aren’t alone. If you need someone to talk to please count on me as a friend.

 

-Abby

 

 

What would you if you weren’t afraid? We’ve probably all heard this question. I ask myself this very thing a lot. My answer is always: live. Not that I am not living now, but I would live even more. Anxiety holds me back. It’s true. I often catch myself thinking of things in terms of the potential anxiety I might experience. It’s what my brain thinks of as self preservation. Avoiding noxious things seems like a good idea, except that with anxiety that’s not necessarily true. Sometimes we need to face our fears in order to move forward.

I advocate in favor of self care. We all need it. I know that big gatherings of people wear me out. They make me anxious for one, but I also feel that socializing a lot takes a toll on me. I still participate but I know that I need some time to decompress. I need time to relax, to be away from people. I know that if I don’t do that I become ill. I experience anxiety attacks and panic attacks that leave me feeling even worse.

I do best in small quiet settings. A glass of wine and conversation with a handful of friends is my idea of a good time. A big music festival is not. This has always been the case with me, even before my anxiety crept in. That’s just what I like and that’s ok. There isn’t a rule somewhere that says that we all have to enjoy big gatherings. It’s okay to prefer quiet.

I don’t really know where I am going with this post. These are just random thoughts. I’ve had good days recently. Feeling quite calm but again with that vigilance over my next bout of anxiety. I am working on becoming more carefree. It’s difficult but like I’ve said before it’s a journey.