The first of many...
I have been struggling with anxiety for as long as I can remember. No, that’s a lie, because I distinctly remember what life was like before this, and I know exactly when this all started, when life as I knew it changed forever. The 8th grade. I was 14. The time before this began is not gone, but temporarily absent, only to return on occasion when I am feeling strong.
Anxiety, particularly when manifested as a panic attack, is unlike anything else I have experienced in life thus far. It is the culmination of all social and personal horrors in one seemingly never ending episode. These episodes play at will, sometimes unexpected, for an indeterminate amount of time, with seemingly unknown outcomes.
They haunted me at school, then when I was with my friends, finally at home. Stealing my sleep, my dreams, my only escape. I broke down when this occurred and that’s when a doctor placed me on medication. Looking back it seems like the decision to change my life forever was made with little to no thought. It almost felt like I went to a vending machine, hit the right combination of buttons, and out popped a prescription for Zoloft. First in small doses, then larger, and larger, and finally when I could not take any more, a change was made to both my doctor and my prescription. So, Lexapro, first generic, and then brand name, in larger and larger doses.
I do not remember much about the first 2 years of high school. High school is awkward to be sure, but it is a lot more awkward when you are zombie, which I was. I was alone in my head and, for the majority of time, in the outside world as well. I had a very hard time making any meaningful bonds with people because meaning did not exist much for me. Every day was a calculation of whether or not the drugs would work and what I would do then. Relatively speaking though, I was happy. Panic attacks crush me and I would rather feel nothing than feel despair.
My last two years of high school were much better. I began to actually engage with the world. I dated, made friends, lost friends, and was relatively normal. How that happened I am still not sure. I thought I just grew out of it.
When I finally graduated and began attending university I was immediately informed by my body that I had not grown out of it. However after four prior years of hell, I was battle hardened.
So my response? I stopped taking my medication. I decided that my health was in my own hands both physical and mental.
My body’s response? Venous varix.
What is that? There are days when I do not think even the doctors know. In short my body decided to create a venous highway to nowhere, with a design that I can only describe as “a reflection of the chaos that are my thoughts”. It was not an easy, simple, or cheap road getting to that diagnosis. Doctor 1 thought it might be cancer. Doctor 2, at first pass, told me I may have blood clots that could kill me. Finally, we rested on “you’re safe but you will be in pain unless you undergo this expensive and not entirely safe or effective treatment”. To be honest, at this point I don’t know how much it matters. Why?
I know I am strong. I know I have been through a lot. However, through every twist and turn of my adolescence, every pill, every attack, every ruined date, maybe I knew deep down that the only thing at stake was comfort and social relations, nothing more. With my head ached, chest crushed, and stomach churned maybe I knew it would pass and I would be no worse for the wear.
But now that’s gone.
I have given my irrational fears something rational. Something tangible. That pain in your neck? That’s a vessel about to burst. That tightening in your chest? That is an embolism about to stop your heart. That pain in your head? That’s the aneurysm the doctors missed.
Good luck kid.
So here I am, taking each day at a time and fighting like hell. Fighting the “serpents in my mind” to quote an artist I adore.
We make our own hell, whether the outside world acknowledges it or not does not matter much to those stuck inside. Make no mistake, whether you have justification or not for your fears does not matter. The battle is the same…but you are not alone.