"Gary, what's to be afraid of? Just think mind over matter. Don't let this fear grab ahold of you. Man up!" my dad told me.
I was a sophomore at The University of Alabama when I had my first breakdown. A nasty bout with the flu had led to another bout with depression and anxiety. Since I was too weak to make the 700-mile road trip home, Dad had flown down from Maryland and driven me and my '65 Mustang back. Somewhere in Tennessee, a rainstorm started to pelt the windshield. When my dad turned on the wipers they didn't move. Even though I acted surprised, he didn't buy my flimsy response. I knew they hadn't worked for the last few months, but I had been too anxious and fearful to do much of anything, let alone maintain a car.
When we returned to Maryland, within days I was admitted to Suburban Hospital in Bethesda, MD. For several days I was feed IV fluids until I finally was able to eat on my own and hold down the measly bit of food that seemed to churn in my stomach 24/7. On my discharge from the hospital I remember the doctor telling my mom that I was "severely underweight at 165 pounds." He thought maybe what I needed was some home cooked food and "a little valium, before things go awry again."
This started my dance with an innumerable amount of partners from the miracles of modern chemistry. Through the years they all have touched my lips: Celexa, Paxil, Zoloft, Effexor, Welbutrin, Elavil, and for a short period of time, a lithium cocktail was recommended as I was misdiagnosed with bipolar disorder. For now, I am on Lexapro and a little Xanax (only if I need it for travel).
When I am not on medication, I get this feeling inside of me sometimes that feels like all my insides are going to burst out of my chest and onto the floor in front of me. It starts slowly, first with a weird body vibration, followed by a cold sweat. Then a million ghoulish thoughts come running into my head like commuter cars funneling into one highway. I can't control their speed. All of them are trying to merge into one lane, kicking up my anxiety even more. My heart is pounding so hard I can hear it in my ears. What's so odd about this disorder is that sometimes there is no trigger. I can be sitting comfortably watching TV when the thought occurs to me that I might just get so nervous I'll have to run out of the room.
Loud noises and sudden movements caught out of the corner of my eye scare me too. A motorcycle revved its engine at an outside cafe no less than 10 feet away from where I was sitting. Within seconds, I felt like my body was floating above me. The friend with me didn't notice, but that gave me something to worry about for the next few hours. It seems that there's always something bad that's going to happen in the future. It's also true that if things are going well for me, it won't last long. Much of my life has been like this, but I don't talk it about much because it makes me sound like a baby.
Frankly, I'm sick of it and I don't want to be like this anymore. My psychiatrist calls it generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). She tells me to exercise and then prescribes drugs which I am expected to take at certain times of the day. I take the drugs, and I exercise, but despite my best efforts to put a minimal amount of stress on my plate, I find that things happen that are out of my control. It is at these times that instead of ending up with a neat plate of things parceled out evenly, I end up with a big mess on my plate. It's the one that nobody wants to be served.
This summer there has been a turnaround. Like many people, I have a recurring dream of something or someone chasing me. I have no idea what or who is after me. I never see what it is, but I'm terrified. I usually wake up before something awful happens and realize it's a dream. But this year, I have started to look at my anxiety differently, and for the life of me, I don't know why this has taken me so long. The dream is changing. Instead of running away, I turn around and confront my tormentor. I try to yell and roar, and even though only a peep comes out, I don't back down. When I turn around and look, all I see is fog. I fight to keep my eyes open, but I can't get a clear picture of whatever it is that's chasing me. Then the oppressor in my dream starts to fade away just as quickly as it appeared. I am awake, and even though my heart is racing I feel okay.
My sense of self tells me that that this could be a milestone. I am confronting the demons in my dreams, and I'm wondering if I am my own oppressor. Am I the monster in the fog?
According to NIMH website:
Anxiety Disorders affect about 40 million American adults age 18 years and older (about 18 percent) in a given year, causing them to be filled with fearfulness and uncertainty. Unlike the relatively mild, brief anxiety caused by a stressful event (such as speaking in public or a first date), anxiety disorders last at least six months and can get worse if they are not treated...
Effective therapies for anxiety disorders are available, and research is uncovering new treatments that can help most people with anxiety disorders lead productive, fulfilling lives. If you think you have an anxiety disorder, you should seek information and treatment right away.
I know that my dad meant well and that the doctor who treated me was trying to be helpful. In retrospect though, they were clueless. I know now that dealing with anxiety is a lifelong challenge, and at least now I feel like I'm coming out of the fog and finally facing the monster.
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Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.