Have you ever been getting over an illness and suddenly realized just how very sick you were? Over the past few weeks, as I've been climbing out of a black hole I fell into, I realized that I fell into it almost a year ago. I realized that I was just going through the motions on many days and simply getting by.
Since last fall I've felt that my paxil had stopped working for me. My psychiatrist increased the dose (I think that was in December) and then again in the spring. Sometime in early fall my daughter's dance teacher asked us not to change in the bathroom and to use the changing room, so that others could access the bathroom. We'd been using the bathroom since she was halfway taking her clothing off to use the toilet so I had figured that it was just quicker. The teacher's request was totally reasonable, but I nearly burst into tears and had an awful, stung sensation in my core. I think it is related to the first grade incident I talked about the other day. Ordinarily, with the help of therapy and my medication, I've been able to shake off this feeling and go on with life. I noticed that I still felt stung and shamed the next day. I continued to feel unwell mentally as both my sister and sister-in-law talked about moving further away from where I live. My wonderful therapist helped a lot, but often I would wonder how on earth she could tell me I was doing so well when I felt so awful. I was so tired of feeling bad, and wondered if the only way to stop it was to end my life.
Sometime this spring my therapist said that I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and most likely have since I was a young child (like four or five years old). I've been in therapy on and off since college. I've been taking paxil for a number of years now, but that was the first time anyone ever mentioned GAD. I've always known I was tense, high strung, and a worrywort. But this, this was such a relief! Things started making sense, although it has still been a long journey.
At the end of the school year I would climb into bed and practice "benign neglect" of my children. Except I don't think it was completely benign. I don't believe in always entertaining my kids, but when I look back at those last six weeks of school I really didn't interact with them much. My husband put them to sleep most of the time. I did no crafts with them, didn't read with them. I don't mean that I was completely isolated from them. We had snuggles of course, and I did a lot of things with them over the summer. However I really did take to bed as much as possible. And in order to avoid the things that were upsetting me, I spent huge amounts of time on the internet.
Despite feeling so trapped by the anxiety, I did do a lot this summer; I'm amazed looking back. I volunteered at one of my kids' summer camps, I took the lactation exam, attended a conference where I had a lot of responsibilities to fulfill. And finally, I saw the psychiatrist again. Since I've been able to look at my symptoms under the lens of anxiety (and not depression, which is what I'd always thought was my primary problem), I described to her the physical symptoms that dog me--intense butterflies in my stomach, an anxious feeling in my chest, tingling in my arms. She peered at me from over the top of her glasses and said " You are having Way Too Many physical symptoms and medicine can help with that. I'm going to increase your prescription again. Most people would have been on this dose two years ago." I felt so relieved to hear this--I can't think of a time when I haven't experienced these symptoms more days than not! I sat in the car after the appointment, and told my husband, crying tears of relief.
I've been on the increased dose for a few weeks now. About two weeks ago I could tell that it was helping, because I did some things that I haven't been able to do for the past six months--I cleaned the bathrooms. I've attacked clutter in the family and living rooms (clutter is a huge trigger for me). My heart races far less. When I am feeling anxious, one or two deep breaths, along with reminding myself that everything is ok, calms me down.
I keep finding myself thinking about the past year, and shaking my head. I don't know how it got so awful. Even though I knew what to do to help myself, it was nearly impossible to do those things (get a good night's sleep, eat well, exercise). It astonishes me that it has taken nearly a year to feel like myself again. (There are small voices whispering in my ear that others have suffered far worse years, and I feel like erasing everything I've written here. I'm going to resist that though.)
It is such a relief to have energy, to realize that small steps in removing clutter or doing dishes or working on projects *does* do some good. I am sure I will have bad days sprinkled among the good ones, but I'm so glad to be living more fully again, and I'm excited to dream some dreams and go after them.