The dream started back in high school the night before a major exam. Specifically, the night before any math test. It was the same dream every time; I would try endlessly to call my mom, but when I tried to dial the final number, my fingers would freeze and I would press the wrong number repeatedly. This dream would go on for what felt like hours and every time I woke up my heart would be racing and I'd have shortness of breath. The frequency of the dreams died down when I graduated high school, but occasionally, it would sneak its way back into my psyche. The intensity was less and throughout the next decade it their frequency was periodic at best, but then, in 2008, I moved to Israel for a year. This little sabbatical from everyday life was one of the best years of my life however, living in a country under constant threat of terror attacks brought the dreams back with a vengeance. Because this year was the year before I started my Master's program in Social Work, I wasn't able to pick up on the obvious signs of what I know now was a diagnosable anxiety disorder.
The symptoms of GAD, or Generalized Anxiety Disorder, can often be shrugged off as situational and therefore, assumed they will "just go away." Symptoms, ranging from sleeplessness, irritability, shortness of breath, headaches and nausea, just to name a few, are not always present, which is why a lot of people with GAD do not seek continual treatment and I was one of them. I learned how to survive with a constant presence of anxiety in my life. I thought that as a woman, a Jewish woman no less, that this was my lot in life and the only person it was directly affecting was me. Then, in late 2011, I discovered I was pregnant.
As soon as I saw that little pink plus sign, I called my therapist. One thing I learned in social work school was when to recognize the difference between a "typical" amount of anxiety and when the frequency and intensity of anxiety meant it was time to seek help. For me, that little pink plus sign kick started an upsurge of my symptoms -- sleeplessness, obsessive thoughts, shortness of breath and the big one: self-soothing via shopping.
I started seeing a therapist regularly until my baby was born. During this time, I worked on mindful practice and meditation to keep presence of mind. I recorded and tracked situations that would cause an upsurge in obsessive thoughts, and, of course, co-mingled all of that with traditional talk therapy. My anxiety was under control. My husband and I were in a very good place. We were excited. We were at peace. I felt at peace. Then our baby was born.
The first three months of my child's life weren't the fairy tale I thought they would be. I was more exhausted then I had ever been and I was also sad. I didn't feel pure joy. I remember pure fear. Just as I was beginning to find some sort of routine in my maternity leave, I went back to my full-time job as a school counselor. For over a year, I juggled parenthood with my job while ignoring the fact that my anxiety was taking over my life. I stayed awake at night trying to make plans of how I was going to find the time to do little things like get a haircut or go grocery shopping. I was picking fights with my husband and found that I was extremely quick to anger. Finally, it all came to a head two months ago on a trip to LA. I traveled there to find an apartment and to do an office visit, as I had recently accepted a position at a school in LA. Though this job is a huge step for me in my career and in providing for my family, it also means that I am going to be a single parent for a year while my husband stays in Miami to finish his PhD. During this particular trip, I didn't sleep for roughly 48 hours straight. I was experiencing dizzy spells and increased shortness of breath. How was I going to be a full-time, temporary single mom AND full-time employee? It had all become too much to bear. So I did the thing I had put off for two years. I called a psychiatrist and made an appointment to get on meds.
I always prided myself on not needing meds. I had never regularly taken anything in my life (except for coffee; my sweet, sweet coffee) and I had a hang up about needing and taking meds. I had a hang up about meds that I couldn't put my finger on but it seemed like a "dirty" thing. A "thing" our society has decided folks should be ashamed of, like using an epideral during childbirth or watching Keeping Up with the Kardashians. It's a thing a lot of people do but no one really talks about. I couldn't ignore that I was out of positive coping skills and that I was sinking into an extremely deep hole of which I feared I was not going to be able to get out. Within two days of starting the meds (10mg of Lexapro), I felt a noticeable difference. Heck, even my husband felt a positive difference. The biggest change I immediately felt was in my interactions with my almost-2-year-old daughter. I can be present now. I have patience. I know when and how to take deep breaths and restart. We have actual fun together again and, the kicker? The frequency and intensity of her tantrums cut in half. She is picking up the vibe of a calmer, more relaxed mom. I will continue my therapeutic treatment and one day I hope to be off of medication but for the time being, I am a proud and healthy mom on meds.