Wednesday, January 16, 2008

"a" is for....

...anxiety.


the last resort
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In my early 20's, I worked at a very stressful job. One day out of the blue, I was at work, and I thought I was having a heart attack. I went into the urgent care clinic. I was told it was anxiety, and they sent me on my merry way with a little pamphlet about it. I didn't have a recurrence, in part, I believe, because I quit that job a few weeks later.

After a little thinking, and not much research (pamphlet reading), I formed a pretty strong opinion about people who suffer from anxiety. I decided that people with anxiety just need to get over themselves. Go to therapy. Go do some yoga. Go meditate. Take a chill pill. Do something, and it will go away. Sit there and do nothing, and it won't. Therefore, if you have anxiety for any extended period of time, you are a slacker. I pretty much decided that I will have compassion for you in the early stages of your stress and anxiety, but by god, don't ramble on and on to me about your anxiety 2 years later....because, hellooooo...you should be over it by now. I can tell you that I even ended a friendship with someone who had anxiety, because...well...I just don't like to surround myself with people who can't process their shit.

I held this belief system from my early 20's up until a few years ago (I did a lot of stupid things in my 20's, and I spent most of my 30's being a little cocky).

Well, here I am today.
40 and anxious.

After the car accident, well okay -- after coming down off the oodles of pain meds -- I started having flashbacks about the moments right after impact (when I was stuck in the car for 2 hours). Post traumatic stress, and anxiety.
Whee! Yay me! I have labels.

Of course, I tried therapy and yoga and meditation and chill pills and a few other things. And you know what?? I have anxiety managed. I have it managed quite well, actually.

But 4 years later?? Hellooooo....it is only managed. I still have it.

My anxiety crops up at the oddest of times. It happens less frequently, but there still is no rhyme or reason to what triggers it. I swear, it is in my body in some way, like some sort of version of muscle memory, but on a more cellular level. I can usually feel coming on, when it is in it's very early stages, and if I catch it, I know what I need to do for myself to nip it in the bud so it doesn't escalate. I also know what to do if it does escalate. And I also know how long I am alright just allowing myself to sit with anxiety, as I sometimes do in attempt to not avoid my feelings. But I have learned the hard way, that if I sit for too long (after about 5 days), my anxiety will spiral into something that looks more like depression.

For a long time, the medical community wanted to treat my depression, but not my anxiety. I have always refused. In fact, here's a funny story: when I was in the hospital recovering from the accident, one day they tried adding anti-anxiety meds to my little tray of other pills, without consulting me. When I asked why, the doctor told me that it was presumed I would become depressed (being an amputee is so awfully depressing, apparently) and they were just trying to head it off at the pass. WTF???!!!!!!! I refused to take it.

Anyhow, point is....if I ever sink into a brief little pit, which I do from time to time, for ME, that means I need to deal with my anxiety. For ME, my depression is a SYMPTOM of my anxiety. Or maybe it's just a bad hair day.

The most difficult part of dealing with my anxiety has been undoing all of my judgments about it, and also about the people who have it. It has been most difficult, because I am now one of them. I had to undo judgments of MYSELF. I hated myself for a good long while, and I even went a few rounds of beating myself up for not being able to "get over it", and it only made me more anxious.
As I sit here today, I can report that I am accepting of the fact that anxiety lives in me, and I have tools so I can live with it.

This is not the only thing in my life that I have judged people about that has eventually come my way. It's an interesting karmic thing, I think. It seems like if I've ever looked down on a person for some reason, chances are, I will become afflicted with that very thing.

Sometimes I think this is my path in this life.
To walk a mile in someone else's shoes.
Maybe because I only have one shoe I have to do it for longer.

11 comments:

Lorena said...

Thank you. I ... celebrate? appreciate? the way you make me think about things, see things, in a way I haven't previously.

Cara said...

Having suffered with anxiety and panic pretty much my entire life - it never goes away.

My brain is hard wired differently than others. I would've been FANTASTIC in dinosaur times. Outlived you all. ;-)

I manage my anxiety daily - and it's true - some days are much better than others. I wish you all the best with yours.

Stitchin Seminarian said...

Hey, I want to thank you for your post too. They diagnosed my depression first, but the meds only made me worse. I went to therapy, did the yoga, read the books all unmedicated. Then after a year of that, I landed in the ER with a panic attack and they gave me anti-anxiety PRN. PRANG!! The perfect mix of talking it out once a week and the meds when I need it make me feel like I'm not just spinning my wheels but actually moving forward in my life.

Gray said...

That was a nicely nuanced post. A close friend I have known for 30 years has always experienced bouts of extreme anxiety that well up at seemingly random times, only slightly connected to things going on in his life.

I was struck by how both of you talk about it the same way, as something that can be managed but does not go away. I have seen how powerful those feelings can be, and have a lot of admiration for people who have developed their own effective tools for managing it.

jane said...

after years of chronic depression, now at bay through therapy, medication (stopped long ago) and a more satisfying personal life, i really am a different person, yet there are still moments when it rears its ugly dormant head and scares the hell out of me because i know i cannot go back to that pit. worrying that it is coming back to stay makes me anxious, but i too have learned to manage it but reassuring myself that it's just a patch, not permanent, blah blah blah and you know - that cognitive self therapy helps me.

sending good thoughts your way.
jane

TheAmpuT said...

lorena ~ You are so welcome :-)

cara ~ Yes, I have read some of your posts about anxiety, and yes to dinosaur times! I totally get that, because for me, when I am in it, it is so so very fight or flight. Even though there isn't anything to fight or flee from most the time.

stitchin ~ heehee "PRANG!" Yeah, I agree. Once I figured out that was what was really going on, it DID make that noise! LOL

gray ~ thank you.

jane ~ and I am sending good thoughts back!

Anonymous said...

I am a professional artist working in "a" industry and anxiety and depression landmines are everywhere for me to step on. What makes it bad is being a creative person and being paid to be a creative person, sometimes my happiness depends on how work is received. I have grown accustomed to the grueling critiques which can blow me off the high wire i feel that i walk on sometimes.

But i have lived through what happend when i "let go of my conscience-self" and got the involuntary 72 hour psych hold.
I did not try to kill myself, but luckily the police found me when they did.

It took years to get back to my normal self which was barely normal at all. Back to a point where i can look back and realize that i really needed that vacation away from myself. No meds, just tons of reading and reflecting on that which got me there, work.
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I once wrote to you about the color blue and health. Love your blog.

pete

Attack Anxiety said...

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TheAmpuT said...

pete ~ thanks for stopping by, and thanks for sharing. Some of my anxiety gets kicked up around performance time (I'm a dancer).

attack anxiety ~ ummmmm....

Suzanne said...

Kudos for writing about it. I have sporadic issues with anxiety, the parting gift my ex husband triggered.

Now that I know what my triggers are, I have a rare attack. Mine is when I sense that I have no control over a situation.

It's sad that the medical community, for the most part, would rather skate around the fact that yes, people DO have anxiety and it needs intervention!

I'm glad you have medication and are treating it. I've said many times that I wouldn't wish an anxiety attack on my worst enemy.

Hang in there. I am fortunate that my attacks are few and far between. I'm sorry that you're still dealing with them.

TheAmpuT said...

Suzanne ~ thanks for commenting, and thanks too, as now I want to think some about how things line up with that feeling of having no control.