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What Anxiety Taught Me

I never gave a thought to anxiety until maybe 25 years ago when a friend of mine told me how tightly wound up I was. What? I swear up until that point I didn’t think of myself as anxious at all. Depressed? Yes, of course. I’ve been depressed since my late teens. Anxious? No. The word anxious brought to mind people who were hyper and nervous all the time. I, on the other hand, was more lethargic and pensive.

But as time went on I started to see just how anxious I really was. Looking back on it I feel like anxiety sort of snuck up behind me. Or maybe it just progressed to a point where it became incredibly obvious. For years my anxiety could be tied to certain social situations or when I took on too many projects at the same time. Then about 4 years ago I did something which I now realize was incredible stupid. I was in a really good place in life, incredibly happy and feeling fulfilled artistically, and I started thinking that after all this time maybe, just maybe I no longer needed to be on antidepressants. I know it was a dumb thought but part of me has always wished to be “normal.” My younger, wounded self, the one that felt angry and bitter at being different, jumped at the idea of leaving depression and medication behind me. I’d been on meds for almost 30 years, and honestly I didn’t think after all this time I needed them. Of course, it was wishful thinking; like anyone who takes medication to deal with an ongoing illness, as soon as I stopped I got ill again. I was used to depression but not this crippling anxiety. It started having a major effect on my life. I was terrified of everything. I couldn’t even drive or ride mass transit. Sometimes when I was on the bus home I would call my husband convinced that it was going way too fast and was going to crash. When we were on a family vacation at Disney World I was petrified the entire time; I kept thinking there was going to be a suicide bomber or mass shooter in the park. Every person I saw was a potential killer. I was so worked up I was barely able to make it through “It’s A Small World” and refused to even get on the “People Mover.” I was a complete mess and the worst part was that my daughter saw me at my lowest. I was so ashamed of my behavior. I wish I could say things got better when I got home, but they didn’t. Then all of a sudden I began experiencing terrible separation anxiety. Every night I sat awake thinking about what would happen if my daughter were to get into an accident. At night I would lay awake imagining how I wouldn’t be able to live if something happened to her. I couldn’t shake the sadness and doom that I felt imagining her gone. When she walked out the door for school in the morning I would cry. It was incredibly painful and I couldn’t find a way to make those horrible thoughts and feelings go away.

My bout of anxiety lasted through the summer. By September I couldn't take it anymore. I guess I’m lucky because once again, I knew I needed help and I wasn’t afraid to ask for it. I walked into my first psychiatrist appointment praying for a miracle. And thank goodness, in about 4 to 6 weeks after making some adjustments to my medication, I was back to my normal self again.

Here are some things that I want to stress:

  • Never ever stop taking antidepressants cold turkey. You have to talk to your doctor and make decisions together. It’s dangerous to alter your medication treatment plan on your own.

  • I found it interesting that when I started taking meds again, my doctor prescribed an additional antidepressant that I had never taken in the past. I’d been taking the same drug for almost 30 years, but adding this new one really made a difference.

  • If you experience deep depression and/or anxiety, seek help. Keeping your illness a secret is not going to help you get better; sometimes you do need to bring a doctor into the situation.

  • There is nothing to be ashamed of by taking medication to treat your mental illness. If you were a diabetic would you refuse to take medication to treat your diabetes? When my doctor asked me that, it put things in perspective. If you suffer from depression and anxiety there is nothing shameful in dealing with it. In fact, it would be stupid if you didn’t. If you fear that people will judge you, ask yourself this: Do you care that much about criticism (which could be unfounded) that you would sacrifice your happiness and your health? The answer should be a definite NO.

I now know the things I have to do to keep my mind healthy. Only you have the power to do so. If we want to be healthy and happy we must make self-care a priority. Our mental health is most important, and the one responsibility we can’t ignore. Believe me, your life will change when you take care of your mind.

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