Warning: This post is not about a crafts or a home improvement project or decorating! There are no pretty photos. There are no photos at all! It’s a post about an issue that I have been dealing with most of my life, and the impact it has had on nearly every aspect of it. It has been my greatest challenge, and I wanted to share it with you. It’s honest and raw and sometimes not very pretty. So, if your not interested in reading about my struggle, you might want to skip this post and check out some of the posts under the” Gallery” heading on the menu up top. I won’t be upset–promise!
I’m taking a leap of faith here and baring my soul and giving you a look at a side of me that I don’t usually share with people-other than those I am very close to–even they don’t know the full extent. To be honest, I don’t know for sure that anyone really knows what panic/anxiety and depression do to a person. How it changes you and effects even the smallest choices you make. Lately, I have been thinking about my life and how this issue has molded it into what it is today. I have so much that I am grateful for. My amazing husband, who has stood right beside me through all of this, never once making me feel like “less” of a person. My daughters, son-in-law and beautiful grandchildren and my family and close friends. They have all supported and loved me through this and continue till this day. But, I suspect that even they don’t know the depth of my struggle with his.
Sometimes I wonder what our life would be like if I didn’t have this issue. Usually I don’t dwell on it, because it does cause an awful amount of guilt and that starts a whole “beat myself up” cycle that does nothing good for anyone, especially me. But I wonder — would I have completed college? Would we have gone on a honeymoon, taken vacations, or moved someplace else? Would I have been able to hold a real job, instead of working from home and struggling to make ends meet? We made a lot of sacrifices in that respect. Who would I be, what would I be doing. It’s silly, but I was thinking about when I was 13 I was offered an opportunity to become a model in one of the big agencies in New York. Our neighbor was a model and she said I should, I didn’t go–I was “scared”. Later, I was offered a job as a buyer by the owner of Melanie Shops, I worked for their clothing store as a teen and they offered to have me come to New York and live with their family while I was trained. Nope didn’t go there either. On one hand I just don’t think those were the “things” for me, on the other the anxiety that ensued with each offer was a huge part of the deciding factor. I remember I didn’t tell my family because I was afraid they would want me to go!
One of my biggest regrets is that I have not pulled my weight financially. It’s hard to struggle and to know that people are looking and wondering “why doesn’t she get her butt out and work”. Nothing would make me happier than to add to our finances. Nobody knows how much I struggle and beat myself up about this, its something that, in itself, is a huge source of anxiety for me. Now, that said, the obvious solution would be to find a job and make money and contribute–simple solution–problem solved right? You would think so. I thought so too and have tried many many times over the years. I start off ok, but it never lasts, the anxiety becomes too much and I leave. Sometimes in a day, sometimes in a year. Give me anything to do at home and I’m great. It’s just the way it is.
Admittedly, I have started this post dozens of times, but was too afraid to hit publish. Something is pushing me do to it now. Hold on, its a bumpy road. I apologize in advance if this post jumps all over the place. Re-editing over and over can only be done so many times and only delays the inevitable. I admit, I’m scared of the judgement, but in reality, the only judgement that matters is from the people I love so here goes.
In 1977, when this problem started to intensify, there was no name for it, people didn’t acknowledge it. There were no WebMD sites or computers to log in on and try to figure out what was going on. It was incredibly frightening and, hard and complicated.
I was always the anxious child. I clearly remember being terrified of “nothing” as small as 2 years old. It manifested differently over the years and was reasonably manageable through my teens. When I was little it was a very real sense of fear that I couldn’t explain. If I was away from my parents or if either one of them went somewhere without the other I remember being absolutely sure that they were going to die. When school started for me I remember throwing up every single morning before (and sometimes on) the bus and feeling like I just wanted to be home. Everyone thought it was just being carsick, but it wasn’t–it was the result of intense anxiety. I didn’t know what to call it, but I never felt safe unless I was with my family or near them. It changed as I got older. There was always an underlying nervousness, but most times it would fade a bit and I could deal with it. If I was with friends as a teen and the anxiety started I would just go home or call my mom to come and get me. I had a threshold and when the anxiety reached it, I would just go home to my safe place and deal with it. Still, I was able to enjoy high school, work part time and do most other things teens do. I was generally happy.
My father passed away when I was 15-he was only 41 and had a heart attack. You would think it would have put me in a tailspin–I adored him–but I was ok. I was heartbroken, but handling it. Actually when I look back it was surreal. To be honest I was more scared for my Mom. She was only 36 years old and had me, my 13 year old brother, my 11 year old sister and our baby brother who had just turned 1. I didn’t cry, because I didn’t want to make anybody else sad, they were sad enough already. My grandparents moved in with us and life was different, and sometimes sad, but I felt safe and secure. Our house was always filled with love and laughter and lots of family–before and after we lost Daddy.
I met my husband just before my father died, but we didn’t start dating until months later. We got engaged when I was 18. I was going to go to local college but I just couldn’t–I tried, but only lasted 2 months and those two months were hell. I was a mess and I didn’t know why. Just getting ready to go I was a mess. My perception was that I was a disappointment if I didn’t do what was expected, so I hid my struggle and tried. Honestly, I couldn’t even describe what I was feeling. When I finally tried to explain what was happening to my mom and grandparents–they were less than supportive and basically told me to “grow up and get over it”. I had always been the “model” child, good grades, worked, never a bit of trouble and felt that their expectations of me were high. I don’t think they were trying to be mean, I think they didn’t understand, and maybe were a little scared. Either way, all their response did was make me try harder to hide what I was feeling and do what I was supposed to do. It did not go very well. I dropped out of college and got a job as a secretary to one of the vice presidents in a bank. It was awful-I struggled with doing the job and constant anxiety for months. Finally I got pneumonia and they let me go because I “took off work during an interest period”–nobody took off for anything during an interest period (I still don’t get that, I wasn’t a teller and never dealt with customers!) It was a hard time, and I didn’t understand what was happening to me. The one thing I did know was that I was in love with Joe, and wanted to spend my life with him. He knew something was going on but we figured it would all work out. We married on May 28th, 1977 (I was 20) and it was the first day in a very long time that I was anxiety free and completely happy. On a funny note, my mom had a line up on the kitchen counter of Pepto Bismol and a mild tranquilizer in case I got panicky–I didn’t need them. I was so happy (still love my man). I had it all!
The anxiety changed radically when I became pregnant with my first child. Not only was I hit with severe hyperemesis (24 hours a day severe morning sickness that caused a huge weight loss and dehydration), I was having anxiety and panic attacks that would come in waves. The doctor thought maybe it was the hormone changes. Then I miscarried. It was awful, but when I went back for a recheck they informed me I was still pregnant and that I had miscarried a twin! I didn’t know it was even possible to lose ONE twin. It was surreal–I was so sad to lose one baby and so happy and grateful to still have a baby. The hyperemesis progressed and I was hospitalized for dehydration for a week or so. After that everything seemed to be getting a little better. I prayed that all would be well. Thankfully the rest of the pregnancy itself was uneventful–except for the anxiety. I hoped that whatever was going on would work itself out when the pregnancy was over. I delivered a beautiful daughter and was over the moon happy. But the anxiety didn’t go away. I chalked it up to postpartum hormonal changes, I was always dealing with low level anxiety, but I was so happy with my husband and baby and I was sure if I gave it a little time, whatever was causing the anxiety would work itself out. Life continued, we bought a home a block away, we were blessed with another beautiful daughter and the anxiety continued to build.
It didn’t get better. It got worse. I vividly remember how intense the fear was. It was never fear for myself, but that something awful was going to happen to my husband or baby or family. I couldn’t watch the news it would put me into a full fledged panic attack. Everything was terrifying, I was constantly in a state of fear and terrified that I was literally losing my mind. It was horrible, I hated it and I was not going to let it continue. I’m practical, if something isn’t working, change it or fix it. I took myself off to the doctor. Mind you, the only time I had ever been to this doctor was when I was physically sick. I had never mentioned my nervousness. It was never this bad before. I went in and calmly explained to him what I had been feeling. I was calm, rational and not emotional. I was sure he would say something helpful, or suggest something constructive. He stood quietly looking at my chart and then he turned, looked at me and said “You’re neurotic” ! I was shocked, and crushed. I just stared at him. Then he offered me valium. I told him I had a baby at home and wasn’t comfortable taking a tranquilizer and he told me that was the standard treatment. I left there devastated and angry. He did, however, send me for blood work which came back normal and then offered me tranquilizers again. Again I refused and found a new doctor. I tried a few more MD’s with similar results (although nobody ever called me neurotic after the first one). Finally one of them suggested a psychiatrist. If that would fix the problem, fine with me. Let’s get on with it. I was totally, 100% honest and forthcoming in answering all their questions. I went to one, and then another, and then another over the course of a few years (and countless dollars) with no results and all of them saying a variation of the same thing “Karen, you’re a perfectly well adjusted young woman.” They all felt there was a physical cause for the anxiety”. I was happy to hear it, sort of! I mean, I had already been to a quite few medical doctors and they had done the traditional blood work, etc. and it was all normal. If it wasn’t an emotional issue and it wasn’t a physical issue, what was it?
I went to the library–a feat in itself (no computers then)–and did research. Going anywhere was becoming increasingly harder. I would get lightheaded, my vision would get weird, when people spoke to me I would have difficulty (the waa waa Charlie Brown’s teacher thing) and inevitably the cramping would start and I would wind up in the bathroom wherever I was. (TMI–sorry–on a bright note is did keep me at a svelte 120 lbs at 5′ 8″ tall). I went to countless doctors–because I spent literally 15 years trying to figure this out! Over the years I tried acupuncture, biofeedback, hypnosis, special diets, eliminating foods, vitamins, minerals–you name it. Nothing helped. I tried really, really hard to do every single thing suggested. I was diagnosed with hypoglycemia and didn’t eat any more than one slice of whole wheat bread a day and had not one single solitary grain of sugar for over 5 years. I wanted to be rid of this desperately. Imagine spending 15 years of your life suffering from such severe anxiety that it was sometimes impossible to go to your mailbox (at the end of your 20 foot long driveway), being unable to stand in line at a store, or to be anywhere that you felt you couldn’t leave. Or, couldn’t leave without embarrassing yourself or drawing attention to yourself. My children’s doctor and dentist appointments, school functions were a living hell. And I hid it! Imagine having such intense anxiety that you couldn’t go three blocks to you mom’s house without becoming physically sick and spending most of the visit in the bathroom. Yea, toilets–if you get my drift–were a place I spent a lot of time. I actually missed most of my cousins wedding reception in a bathroom–and that was after biting the bullet and taking half of a tranquilizer that my mom gave me so I could make the trip up north to attend. It was so difficult to go anywhere and absolutely took the joy out of attending anything. I remember walking my babies halfway down the block and having to come home. I do have to say, that there were brief periods, where the anxiety was at a low level, but it always returned with a vengeance.
Being home wasn’t much better. Imaging doing something as relaxing as reading a book or playing with your children, rocking a baby or folding laundry and being hit with such overwhelming anxiety that you were white-knuckling just to function. Funny thing, I never felt like I was going to die, which I understand to be pretty common. It was so frustrating. I started noting when the anxiety would get bad–there was no rhyme or reason. It was free floating, punctuated by severe panic attacks. Nobody saw them, I would hide in the bathroom till they passed. I had a wonderful, supportive husband who never made me feel bad about my issues. My children and my husband were the light of my life and I lived with a fear that he would leave me. I didn’t know why this was happening. I refused to be drugged and not able to care for my children and I secretly had a terrible fear of someone finding out what I was hiding and the girls being taken away from me.
So I tried to cope and my world became smaller and smaller. Any place that anxiety hit became off limits-church, stores, movies, parks, the beach, visiting friends and family. My world shrunk until I barely left my house and yard for nearly 5 years. My children were in school and I was home with the anxiety attacks. Driving was impossible when the anxiety hit, I was afraid to take the girls anywhere for fear that I would pass out and someone would walk off with them or worse, crash. It was incredibly hard and I was terrified of what was coming next.
I struggled for a very long time and it did take it’s toll. I had zero self confidence. Outside I was calm and capable, even appeared self assured. Inside I was a trembling, anxious mess. It was exhausting. I hid my problem with lies and excuses. I was ashamed and embarrassed. I felt humiliated. My family’s response and that doctor’s opinion were never far from my mind– I wasn’t about to tell anybody what was going on. I was a phony. I looked perfectly normal, had a beautiful family and was a disaster on the inside. So I lied about why I “couldn’t go somewhere, or do something”. My anxiety was in charge. It determined everything. You have to remember in the early 70’s there was no such thing as anxiety/panic disorder. You were crazy or sane! The ONLY people I talked to about it for a very long time was my husband and my amazing mother-in-law. Were it not for the two of them, and my fierce love for my daughters, I am not entirely sure I would still be here.
I finally got to the point where I had no choice but to tell the people closest to me what was going on, or risk having them hate me because I was being dishonest with all of them. I had to fess up. I laid it all out and basically told them that they needed to find someone who could actually participate in life. I told them that I didn’t expect them to understand, but that they had to accept me the way I was or move on. (I really expected them to go–most didn’t Thank God!) I couldn’t be that person that did lunch, or went out for drinks or shopping. Hell, I couldn’t even grocery shop for my family. I pulled away from everyone except the people who came to me and even that was hard–my anxiety didn’t care where I was or who I was with. In one way telling people was a relief. I stopped fighting it. I had limitations and decided that if I had to be like this I would not put myself in a position that made it worse and if they couldn’t accept that, I would completely understand if they felt the need to walk away. (I now realize how defensive that sounds, but I was a mess) It was easier. I was embarrassed and ashamed and relieved. My confidence in myself was done-gone. I didn’t have to lie or cover up any more. I pretended to be like everyone else for a very long time, but I just could not do it one more minute! It was exhausting. Holding it together on a daily basis was a horrendous way to live. I remember my sister telling me years later that she just thought I didn’t like her or want to do anything with her. I was so stuck in my hell, that I really hadn’t considered that I might be hurting people. I was just trying to survive and be a good mother and wife. Thankfully, my family and husband made sure the kids didn’t miss out on anything. They just thought I had a stomach problem and if I was unable to go somewhere they were ok. They swear that they never knew about the anxiety until they were grown and I told them.
The thing that amazes me the most is that I was able to hide it so well. Not one person ever noticed that I was a mess–not one! They saw no signs of it and to be honest, even though it is much improved, they still don’t. I just try to deal with it as best I can. I’m not afraid of it anymore, but it does sometimes make things very difficult. Maybe, I should have been an actress, right? Not so much!
Sometime during the early “80’s my mother in law called me very excited. She is an amazing woman. She has loved and supported me unconditionally since the day I met her. She is a gift from God and has been my greatest support besides my husband. She said “Oprah is talking about you!” Not really me, but talking about panic and anxiety disorders. I turned on the show and was mesmerized. IT HAD A NAME, other people suffered just like me and best of all I WASN’T CRAZY!. It’s a real thing, and it’s caused by an imbalance in chemicals in the body! Oprah Winfrey diagnosed me! I was so excited. Now all I had to do was find a doctor who could treat it. Not so easy. I spent the next 15 years or so searching for a doctor who knew how to treat it. None of the recommended ones were anywhere near New Jersey and I wasn’t about to get on a plane, plus they were out of my reach financially. During that time I met another Angel on Earth. Her name is Jeannie and she was an NLP practitioner. NLP stands for neuro-linguistic programming. Sounds ominous but really in a nutshell, its behavior modification. It helped me with the dialog that was constantly running through my head and all the learned behaviors that were coping mechanisms that I had developed after so many years of hell. These internal dialogues and fears had reduced my world drastically. I was agoraphobic (fear of leaving the house) and so exhausted dealing with it that I had totally given in and decided that “If I can’t go and do without anxiety then I would just live within my limitations. I only did my “have to’s”. NLP changed one thing–I didn’t FEAR the anxiety as much as before and learned some coping techniques. I knew it would never get any worse than it already was–it removed that fear. I had survived all this time with this level of anxiety and I believed it had reached it’s highest level and I survived it. It was a life changer. I use those techniques even now, 25 years later. In the past a major anxiety attack would put me in the house for months before I could bring myself to try again, now I could try again in a couple of days. It was huge. But it didn’t get rid of the anxiety and panic.
By now, I’m 35 years old. It had been nearly 15 years of debilitating anxiety. I had also been diagnosed with depression too. I don’t know why I was so surprised. I didn’t feel depressed, but in hindsight, I was. Feeling like a failure for such a long time was depressing. Struggling on a daily basis was depressing. I just had been in it for so long that I didn’t know it was possible to feel any different. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t curled up in a ball in bed. I functioned. I was a good mom and wife, I cooked, my house was immaculate, I sewed, crafted, did yard work, diy projects, I had fun (when I wasn’t panicking). I did it all and I did it well. I had a loving relationship with my husband and children and family and friends. On the outside I was freaking amazing. Inside was another story. I was the perfect wife and mother, just don’t ask me to leave my home. Yea, that bad. Thankfully, I was rarely alone, our house was the “go to” place, everyone was welcome any time and it was always filled with fun (even if I was hiding in the bathroom at times while the fun was happening). I made sure my children didn’t know. I was terrified they would wind up like me.
Anyway, around 1994 a close relative began with similar symptoms at about the same age I was when it got bad. She had access to some pretty awesome medical doctors and because she had the “typical” symptoms that appeared to be heart related, she happened onto a heart doctor who had been doing research into treating panic/anxiety disorder too. It was a miracle! Needless to say, she relayed the information to me, I borrowed a valium from my mom (it was more than an hour away and that may as well have been China for me) and my husband took me to see him. I remember riding up the parkway talking to God in my head, clutching my husband’s hand as if it was my lifeline begging God to let this be the doctor who could help me. I was hopeful and a nervous wreck. My husband was by my side as always.
To be perfectly honest I barely remember what the doctor said, but I know that he told me it ran in families, it was related to imbalances of serotonin (and later they found dopamine as well). He prescribed Prozac and within one week there was a huge change. It wasn’t totally gone, but the difference was amazing and kind of weird. I actually called the doctor and said I thought something was wrong. He, of course assumed I was talking about an adverse reaction. I explained that the inner “vibrating or trembling” was gone and wanted to know if that was bad. I was scared. Maybe something bad was happening. You see, I always felt like my insides were trembling. I now know it was a racing feeling–like you overdosed on a gallon of caffeine. My body did that all the time before the medication. Explains why everything I ate went right through me and how I managed to stay at a nice 120 lbs at 5′ 8″ tall while eating everything in sight. For the first time that I could, remember my body was peaceful. It was foreign to me, but I liked it once I was assured I was not slowly going to die, LOL. For the first time in years I felt there was a light at the end of the tunnel.
I have been on an array of medications since 1994, all have helped for a period of time. Each one has been swapped out for something different as they became less effective and new medications replace them. Some work well, others don’t. It’s a crapshoot. I don’t care. I feel that this is no different than any other disease. Diabetics sometimes require insulin–I require this. I’m ok with it. I don’t have the freedoms that I want, but I have much more than before. I accept that. There are still things I am extremely uncomfortable doing and that still cause an unmanageable amount of anxiety. But I have never gone back to the intensity of those early years. I admit, I hoped it would be gone, cured, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.
These days (I will be 59 in April) are much better. I am still on medication and will probably always be. That’s ok. I have a life (pretty much) . At 55 years old I took my first “big trip” to my brother-in-laws house 3 hours away. Ok, I didn’t drive, but I got there and stayed for a week and had a great time. It was huge for me. I know how silly that sounds and I am a little embarassed to admit that what seems like a walk in the park to someone else is such a monumental feat for me. I also still have anxiety and depression, but not the mind numbing, white knuckle kind. Most of the time it’s manageable although, since my Mom passed away in May I have been having a hard time. I feel like anxiety is rearing its ugly head more than usual. I feel myself falling back into old habits of staying home and have to make myself continue to go and do the things I normally do. I hope its a temporary reaction to the loss of my mom and that things will get back to my normal soon. One foot in front of the other for now. I don’t ask why anymore. It is what it is, and I do the best I can.
I still have limitations and find myself wondering if that will ever change. I have never been on a plane, haven’t traveled more than 3 hours away from home and never by myself. We have never gone on a vacation. My issues have imposed limits on my husband life and I feel incredibly guilty for that. Since I was replaced by a typing service in India, I no longer earn the kind of money I had when doing transcription work at home. I have tried working out of the house, but the anxiety becomes unmanageable and I ultimately leave the postion. I have failed tremendously in that respect and right now my anxiety is in a place that I can’t even consider it. Hopefully that will ease up in the near future. If not, back to the doctor for me.
I am so lucky to have my husband and his support all of these years and the support of my children and family. I love my family, friends. My life is far from perfect, but it rarely is for anyone. We all have our struggles and there are a lot of people who have it much harder than I do. I’m grateful for the life I have, anxiety and depression cannot take that away. I am determined to be content with what I have and where I am now. Hopefully, this blog will very soon provide an income and help ease our finances. I am working really hard. I still have dreams.
If you’re still here and still reading this, I thank you. This was incredibly hard to write. I shed some tears and had a great deal of anxiety writing this, but at the same time, my fingers literally flew across the keys and each sentence left me feeling that I was doing the right thing putting this down for all to read. I know this is the part where there should be some great words of wisdom or the “moral to the story” or that Happy Ending! There isn’t one! I am grateful, to the people who have stood beside me in this journey. I hope that by being so transparent I haven’t change anyone’s opinion of me. Anxiety and depression are not who I am any more than any medical condition defines anyone. I needed to share my story however disjointed and poorly written it is!
Enough editing, just push publish woman!
Thank you from the bottom of my heart for muddling through this novel,
CLICK HERE TO READ THE FEB 2017 UPDATE ON THIS POST WITH SOME VERY COOL INFORMATION!
The post” My Journey with Anxiety & Depression” was first seen on The Decorated Nest and is the property of Karen L Ploransky.