This is my first post in over a year. A lot of what I’ve written in this post is a repeat of things I’ve written in the past, so bear with me. I’m a little rusty.
Back in the day, for what I’m sure was some really dorky reason, my friend Denise and I decided to watch the movie High Anxiety, starring Mel Brooks.
I don’t remember the plot. I don’t remember the jokes. I think I remember the nurse being really funny? Or scary? Or something? I’m not sure?
But I do remember Mel Brooks singing the lyrics contained within the title of my post. For real, sometimes you just gotta let anxiety win.
On this website, Daisy the Squirrel claims to be an expert in so many diagnoses (and she is), but one diagnosis that I, Pink Sweatpants, have mastered all by myself is anxiety–Severe Clinical Anxiety, to be exact. Now, I know what you’re thinking–who on this planet isn’t suffering from anxiety? It’s called Being an Adult. No arguing that fact!
But in the same way sadness is different from a clinical diagnosis of depression, being anxious is different from a diagnosis of severe clinical anxiety. Clinical anxiety requires treatment.
The curious thing I’ve discovered about clinical anxiety is that it’s quite the chameleon. It can fool you into believing it’s something else entirely. It’s tricky like that. For instance, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Chronic Fatigue is a very real thing, but I’ve never doubted there was a psychological element to the diagnosis. People who are experiencing chronic fatigue or who have received a diagnosis of CFS are not kidding around. It’s a horrible, debilitating condition for which I, myself, was treated. It’s not just about being tired; it involves pain. Real, actual pain. When my fatigue was keeping me in bed for hours on end, I called it Chronic Fatigue, the doctor called it Chronic Fatigue, but to me it really felt like a cop-out. It felt as if I was nothing more than a lazy, good-for-nothing mother who just wasn’t trying hard enough. Chronic Fatigue likes to eat away at both your energy and your self-esteem, simultaneously. What’s left is YOU, only an unrecognizable, broken version of YOU. Then, after years of strictly experiencing fatigue, the pain set in. Walking up just a few stairs would leave me breathless and wincing in pain. My legs and lungs would feel as if I’d just finished a marathon. It was the pain that convinced me Chronic Fatigue Syndrome was a real thing. I may have been a lazy piece of garbage, but I wasn’t imagining the pain. Another thing that convinced me that Chronic Fatigue was the real deal was the fact that my body responded to medication designed to treat Chronic Fatigue. Go figure. My pain completely disappeared. Unfortunately, it did nothing for the fatigue. In fact, my condition continued to worsen.
At my worst, I was in bed for 14-16 hours a day. I would classify that as “bedridden”. I didn’t have the energy to cook, I didn’t have the energy to clean, I could barely care for our son. Dave would bring home takeout for dinner every night. Otherwise, there would be no dinner. In addition to working full-time, Dave would do the grocery shopping, Dave would pick up the prescriptions, Dave would give Jack his medications and put him to bed at night. Near the end, Dave was doing everything while I lied in bed, hating myself.
Then, last October 24th, everything changed . . .
. . . I have now lived apart from my son and husband for 10 months. Within a few weeks of living away from home my Chronic Fatigue Syndrome magically disappeared. I no longer needed medication to treat it because there was nothing to treat. My fatigue was gone, my pain was gone. However, I began to experience another symptom–constant panic. You know that burning wave of panic you get in your stomach when you think someone has overheard you talking about them behind their back? And then that calming wave of relief you experience when you find out they didn’t hear you? Okay, jack up the former and take away the latter. That’s right, turn that burning wave up to an eleven and take away the relief. Voila! Clinical anxiety.
At long last, I had the energy to function properly, but no longer had the ability to function properly. My doctor started me out on a low dose of a non-Benzodiazepine anti-anxiety medication and continued to increase the dosage until that constant burning feeling went away. There’s a difference between anxiety that will alleviate itself by “taking a breather” and anxiety that feels so intense and uncontrollable that it causes changes in your personality and behavior. The purpose of the medication wasn’t to eliminate all of my anxiety; it was meant to decrease the anxiety to a level where I could control it on my own by “taking a breather”. Over time, it became apparent that in order for me to get out of bed every day and successfully hold down a job I required the maximum dosage of the medication. This particular medication is meant to be taken 3 times throughout the day, but my anxiety is so severe that if I don’t take a dose in the middle of the night there are extreme consequences the next morning. I cannot get out of bed and stand up without feeling dizzy and out of breath. I have nearly blacked out in the shower more times than I can count. Basically, the medication needs to be in my bloodstream at all times in order for me to function in any capacity.
In time, I came to appreciate the fact that I had those horrible experiences because I began to realize how eerily similar those symptoms felt to my Chronic Fatigue. In fact, they felt eerily similar because they had been the very same condition right from the start–Severe Clinical Anxiety. I was dumbfounded to discover that my fatigue was actually anxiety in disguise. Not even a year ago, anxiety had me bedridden and convinced my life wasn’t worth living. Now I could see it for what it was and I could treat it.
Of course, even though the medication has been nothing short of miraculous for me, I’m far from “all better”. I see a therapist. Weekly. I attend group therapy. Weekly. I’ve learned to set limits and respect those limits. There have been times that I’ve pushed myself beyond those limits and the outcome was never good. That’s basically setting myself up for failure. There have been times when I’ve been so incredibly ashamed by how little I could do or how little I could give, but as I continue to get stronger I see things differently. Now, I look back and I’m proud of myself for the small amount that I could accomplish or the little help that I could offer, because I know it truly was the best I could give at that time.
Anxiety continues to be a problem for me. A lot of times–including right now–anxiety has me feeling like a balloon, floating in the air, and I can’t pull myself back down to earth. It’s like a Katy Perry song, but worse.
I can feel myself losing control over my emotions and I get that sensation of wanting to jump out of my own skin. I guess I’d describe it as a silent, prolonged panic attack. All I can do is recognize it for what it is and wait for the feeling to pass, knowing that every feeling is temporary. But wow, does it feel awful when you’re in it.
I need to get to the gym. The medication is doing its part; now I’ve got to do mine. I know exercise would eliminate a lot of the anxiety that I’m continuing to experience, but it’s just a matter of getting to the gym.
And I don’t mean that in the “I know, I know. I’ve gotta make myself a priority!” sort of way. I mean it in the “Last week, we looked at residential facilities for our son that are 5 hours away from me, and tomorrow he’s having surgery at Children’s Hospital” sort of way. As in, “Can I just have a second to breathe before another major life event occurs? Please?”
For now, anxiety is winning. That’s okay. I’m going to let it win for a little bit while I try to catch my breath. I’ll just continue to float along until my feet hit solid ground. Which, they eventually will. Because they always have.