Finding hope

STAND IT FOR ANOTHER MINUTE. I GRABBED MY BOOKS AND BOLTED. I WAS TREMBLING WITH FEAR AS I DUCKED INTO A LADIES ROOM AND HID IN ONE OF THE STALLS. Something was terribly wrong. I was sweating, dizzy and nauseated. I felt I was going to die, and the thought terrified me. “Get a grip,” I said to myself but instead, it was I in the grip of something new and horrible.

When at last I was able to talk myself into leaving
the restroom, I was so shaken that I drove straight home, cut the rest of my classes and hid out at home, trying to understand the sudden panic that had overwhelmed me.

I was sure that whatever had just happened to me,
it would happen again. And it did. It went from happening at school to hitting out of the blue wherever I was – at the grocery store, in a friend’s car and then even in my own bedroom. I dropped out of school and felt utterly lost.

It was 1978, and I had never heard of a panic
attack. I didn’t know anyone else had ever experienced what I had. Ironically, I had never known fear before. I was always leading the charge, ready to try anything, a real tomboy. Now anxiety was with me all the time. It consumed me. It ruined my young life.

One day at a bookstore, I stumbled on a book
about anxiety. I bought it, raced home and began to read the book that would change my life. As I read I cried, because the book was describing me so perfectly. I learned that I was having a “fight or flight” experience, a desperate attempt to survive. I learned not to run from my fear but to accept it. When I stopped trying to flee from my feelings and allow myself to feel the fear, it lessened. After a few short weeks, I was blessedly anxiety free.

But not always. As the next few years passed, I was
usually the same, happy-go-lucky girl who loved life that I had once been. But in the back of my mind was a nagging concern because of what I had been through. Certain situations triggered some of those feelings, but I was equipped to deal with them. I was managing, or so I thought. Then came a truly traumatic day. I was engaged tobe married, but my fiancé broke it off. I was devastat- ed. All of those old feelings came back to me. This time, I couldn’t shake them, even though I knew what was happening to me. I tried to use the skills I had learned but to no avail. I lost weight, a lot of weight. In three weeks I went from 115 to 98 pounds. I couldn’t eat. I was depressed. It was back. I was in the grip of anxiety again.

For years after that I suffered from anxiety. I saw
many medical doctors and went to one counselor after another. But I never got better until I saw a psychiatrist and started taking medicine.

When I look back on my life with anxiety, I don’t
know how I ever managed to get as far as I did. I went back to school and received my college degree; I got married and had a daughter; I got a good job and have been steadily employed for 20 years. However, what I learned is this: because my anxiety disorder went on for so many years, it got worse. It turned into panic disorder.

If I wasn’t having a panic attack, I would feel some sort of anxiety almost every day. When I think back on it, I don’t know what kept me alive. The pain of these attacks was so unbearable that only a person who suffers them would understand.

I went to many counselors, always with the same
diagnosis. They told me that there was nothing wrong with me physically, and they prescribed books, lots of books. Self-help books and tapes and diaries for me to keep. They never prescribed medicine because they cannot; they are not medical doctors.

They meant well, but I feel I was done an injustice. I
was told that anxiety is a psychological illness: it was all in my head. But it wasn’t in my head, and I knew it. I was reaching out, but no one could help me. I suffered and my family suffered. I could go from calm to furious in a matter of minutes. I couldn’t stop yelling. It would go on and on. It was horrible. I felt ashamed of being a terrible mother, a bitch of a wife. Somewhere inside myself, I was kind and sweet, but that part of me would get lost. It was a vicious cycle that consumed me and the people I loved. I finally reached a breaking point – I was only getting worse, and I knew I had to try something different. I called another counselor and began an intense, two-year treatment with him. I grew as a person and as a parent, but the anxiety was still there.

That was when I knew I had to see a psychiatrist.
The very word scared me. If anyone found out I was seeing a psychiatrist, they would surely think I was crazy, but it no longer mattered. I had to get help. I met my psychiatrist and immediately felt a sense of relief. He didn’t make me feel like I was crazy. I explained all my fears, all my phobias, all my deepest feelings and cried out for help. He prescribed an antidepressant.

I was doubtful; actually, I was more than doubtful. I
had tried everything, and nothing had helped. I was certain that I would have to live my life in this vicious cycle. I was sure medicine wouldn’t work, but I had to try. Fearing that the drug would make me worse, I started by taking only one-quarter of a pill at a time. Then something surprising happened: I started to feel better.

The anxiety started to go away. I couldn’t believe it.
I couldn’t believe that a little pill could help so much. For the first time, I heard the words I longed to hear: “Anxiety in not ‘in your head.’ It is a physical condition.” The doctor explained that the chemical in the pill leveled out the serotonin in my brain. “If the problem were not chemical in origin,” he said, “a chemical could not correct it.”

I have been 90% anxiety free for almost three
years. On rare occasions, I still get little attacks, but that is all they are – little. I can cope with life now. I can react to hardships without panic, but by thinking them through, something I could not do before. I can handle scary things rather than run from them. Without the medicine, I could not.

The biggest blessing in my life has been the medicine. It has returned the precious gift of joy to me and
allowed me to become a great mother and wife. It has allowed me to enjoy myself and the people around me. After all these years, I have escaped the vise grip of anxiety. A little pill has given my life back to me, my wonderful life.