I talked in my last post about my depression and how that came a head in 2011. As I battled to keep myself alive, my anxiety slowly started to rise as well. In 2011, I didn’t realize that the constant state of fear I was living in was something not everyone goes through. I legitimately thought everyone else experienced the same debilitating panic that often presented itself to me at the most inocuous times.
In 2013, I was able to put together that the panic attacks and constant dread weren’t standard issue to everybody, so I went to see my doctor and was eventually diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. He prescribed me two different medications, and told me I would likely need them for the rest of my life in order to feel “normal.” I trusted his advice, and took them regularly for a couple of years. The problem was that I lost part of myself when I took those meds; when I was on them, I couldn’t show any emotion. Good, bad, or somewhere in between… I didn’t feel like I had the ability to express anything. I was in a perpetual fog. I didn’t panic, but that was because I couldn’t feel any emotion whatsoever.
In late 2015 I decided I didn’t want to take the meds anymore. I stopped taking them cold turkey, which is not something I recommend. My doctor told me not to do it that way, but what can I say? I’m not always great at following directions. I’d just had enough of feeling like a shell of myself and wasn’t patient enough to wean myself off of them like I should have. #whoops.
I’ve never looked back on that decision, though I should probably apologize to the people who were in my life at that point. I can’t imagine dealing with me as I detoxed from those meds was easy. I was an absolute mess for a long time. I’ve found other ways to deal since then: I write a lot, I found some breathing techniques to help bring my heart rate down when I start to panic, and fidget spinners and cubes are a godsend in my life when I can’t immediately escape a situation or release my nervous energy.
The funny thing about all of this is that only those who are closest to me seem to know just how anxious I am in my day to day life. I’ve been told more than once that I don’t -seem- anxious or like someone who panics at all, much less regularly. “You stay so calm under pressure! You can’t have anxiety!” Ha. If only they knew.
What they don’t see is the exhausting amount of work I put into being the confident, outgoing human they seem to think I am. I work every day to make people believe that I know what I’m doing, and that I’m not internally screaming (spoiler alert: I’m -always- internally screaming). I worry constantly. I fear everything. Worst case scenarios are all my brain can fathom.
As you can likely imagine, this takes its toll on me. When I start to break down and can’t keep myself together any longer, I always find myself at the beach. It’s my happy place. The ocean is big, and it’s scary, and it’s full of all sorts of unknowns. But it’s also full of hope and the promise of new beginnings. It makes my biggest problems seem a little bit smaller. It’s the place I go when I need to calm my overly stressed brain. The sound of the waves crashing on the sand quiets the ever-racing thoughts in my head.
I’m not going to lie and say that everything is all fine and dandy right now. I’ve made more “emergency” visits to the beach in the last several months than I did all of last year. I will likely visit frequently in the next little bit, as I try and sort out the absolute mess that is my brain right now. I battle every day to be okay enough to do the most basic of things: get up, get dressed, go to work, etc. Daily tasks have started to feel like impossible mountains to climb. I don’t truly know why I am so anxious all the time right now. The changes I am dealing with currently aren’t even remotely as scary as transitioning was.. but I also don’t feel like I can talk about those changes yet, so maybe the feeling of unease comes from not being able to speak about it openly. I’m working on identifying the cause and until then, I’ll just continue through.
Last night I went to the ocean. I stood and watched the waves for fifteen minutes with some of my best friends nearby, and then we went home. The smallest bit of time worked wonders; I don’t feel quite as overwhelmed by life as I did yesterday, and I like to think that I’m in a better spot mentally as I start my morning. The mountains of struggle today feel a little more managable. Not smaller, necessarily, but as if I now have the right gear to climb the mountain. Where yesterday I was climbing with flippers and an inner tube, today I am climbing with hiking boots and a backpack full of supplies.
My advice is that you find the place that brings you back down to earth. Whether it’s the ocean, or a quiet spot in the woods, or a park in the middle of your town. Anywhere. Find a spot that calms you like no other place can, and hold onto it. Never let that feeling go. And most importantly, don’t give up.
It’s worth it to find the other side.