Friday, June 27, 2014

Crawling Out Of The Darkness

I know I disappeared there for a little while. Ok, for a long while. And not because of the kids, or a big family tragedy, or some other great excuse to explain why I have let my blog go by the wayside. 

There is a much less glamorous excuse for my absence. One that most people don't talk about. 

Mental illness. 

There, I said it. 

It is a stigma that is not spoken of much of the time for fear of people thinking you are crazy. Or weak. Or making up excuses to not have to deal with life's stresses.

I started having panic attacks last August. I didn't know what they were at the time. I didn't talk to my husband about it. Which in hindsight was stupid, because he has suffered from them for years and would have shed some light on what I was feeling.  

Life wasn't necessarily very stressful at the time. In fact, it had calmed down to a manageable level for the first time in like 2 years. Both boys were in good programs and therapies at school. My husband was healthy after having surgery and was doing better than he had in years. I had free time on my hands for the first time. 

After meeting with a therapist a couple months ago....she informed me that many times this is what happens with people like me. People who thrive on the chaos of life and work best when on the go all the time. Life was finally slowing down and I hit a wall. With no IEP's to fight or husband to care for, my mind didn't have anything particular to focus on.  

I not only started having major anxiety, I was also physically sick for weeks. Stomach pains daily. Headaches. Exhaustion. 

The worst was the worrisome thoughts. I have always been a worrier. I mean, with our life....who wouldn't be? But it was getting out of control. I would wake up in the night with racing thoughts about bad things happening to the kids that were out of my control. I wasn't sleeping. 

During the day I couldn't get anything done....even though my body felt like I was going a mile a minute. Like I had 10 cups of coffee even though I hadn't had any. There is nothing worse than that jittery feeling when you can't sit still and at the same time can't complete a task because you have no focus. 

Thankfully, in February I finally decided that I needed to get some help. I went to my primary care doctor and she administered some tests. My psychological stress/depression/anxiety scale was so far off the chart, that they sent me to Psychiatry immediately. I guess it was worse than I thought. 

After assessing all of my symptoms with a therapist and psychiatrist, I was diagnosed with severe GAD (Generalized Anxiety Disorder). The most poignant thing I learned about anxiety was the high rate of alcohol abuse among those who suffer from it. As you know from my history, this was a problem for me off and on for years in the past until I got sober. This made me realize even more how important it was for me to take this seriously. The last thing that I wanted to risk was a relapse. And I had honestly been battling the desire to drink for some time up to this point. 

I was asked if I would like to try a medication, or go on a strict exercise regime to deal with the anxiety. I opted for the exercise 6 days a week. Which worked for a month or so. Sort of. The anxiety was a bit better....but not the irritation and severe mood swings. I would go from fine to yelling at the kids for something so minimal. Not my finest moment for sure.

Those of you who know me know that I am not a fan of medication. I have no problem with other people taking medication....but it wasn't for me. I could deal with anything without western medicine. If there was a supplement or diet change I could make to fix something.....I would do that. 

Two months after trying the exercise regime, I had to admit defeat. It just wasn't enough. I went back to my therapist and told them that I needed to try medication. It was so hard for me to come to grips with. I have a serious problem with what I perceive to be weakness. And me admitting that I couldn't make myself well on my own was a tough pill to swallow. Literally. I was so anxious just going to that appointment. But I knew that the person I had become was not me. That I needed help to be able to function like I used to. Most of all, I wasn't being a good mother. 

I tried a medication called Buspirone for almost 2 months that unfortunately did not address my issues. And the side effects were difficult to handle. I was hopeful that it would work because it was supposed to be the medication with the least side effects.

Enter Zoloft. It has only been a week and a half, but the sun is coming out already. My anxiety is minimal and my worrisome thoughts are practically non-existent. I am sleeping much more soundly. Even my husband has noticed that I don't toss and turn at night anymore. 

My biggest irrational fear about taking an SSRI was that my personality would become all blah. Instead, I am just more even keel. I don't get angry at the drop of a hat anymore. I process what is going on, and I deal with it. I am not perfect by any means. I just feel more in control.

I haven't noticed any real side effects to speak of. I am still not at the full therapeutic dose. And I shouldn't feel the full effects of the medicine until I have been on it for at least 4 to 6 weeks. But so far so good, and I am grateful for some much needed relief. 

I learned a very real lesson through this. Medication is necessary and can be a life saver for so many. I never believed it for me, but now I see it within my own mind. I hope that medication along with therapy will continue to put me on the path to healing. 

This life will always be stressful. It will throw me for a loop now and then. But hopefully now I have the right tools to help me with the difficulties we face everyday.