Friday, April 3, 2015

My Struggle With Anxiety and How the SMITH Book Inspired me to Share My Story

I felt very privileged to be asked to read the ARC (preview) of the book Surviving Mental Illness Through Humor. The purpose of the book is to remove the stigma of mental illness. My sister as well as some fellow blogger friends of mine are contributors of this book. I really did not realize going in how inspiring this book would be for me. I was floored that these very successful people had something taboo to admit in common with me - mental illness. It seems like it is everyone's dirty little secret and we are in the position to change that. I doesn't need to be kept quiet, all we need to do is talk about it and it will become an acceptable thing.

I was so moved, in fact, that I decided to share my own struggle here, in hopes that many will follow suit.

This is my story.

Growing up after about age 10 I tended to worry a lot and got a bad feeling in my stomach whenever I was uncomfortable. I suppose this was the beginning, but I was not aware of that fact. I thought I was just reacting to my father's death the previous year and that the feelings would eventually go away. They never did, so I just assumed everyone must have them.

Fast forward-age 24

I went to the doctor to find out what I could do about a neck injury from a car accident. I timidly asked what I needed to do and how to do it. I got very worked up and confused. I was hysterical and acting abnormally under this circumstance. The doctor referred me to physical therapy for my neck then he gently mentioned that he thought I could have an anxiety disorder and asked me to please make an appointment with Mental Health. I was actually very pissed, thinking "nothing is fucking wrong with me" but I trusted him so I went.

The diagnosis was social anxiety. I was put on an anti-depressant and continued therapy for a year. In that time I learned coping strategies while symptoms were being controlled by medication. I learned by repetitively doing things that used to bother me that nothing bad happened when I did them.

I stopped medication to have children and did fairly well with minor episodes. Then around the time I was pregnant with my twins, my anxiety came back in full force. It was different though. This time it was excessive worry over the children's health and well being. I became obsessed with germs and sickness. Then it was obsession with keeping things neat and orderly, no missing toys. I would spend hours looking for a missing puzzle piece. I remember one time when my twins were two weeks old, screaming like a banshee over a missing toy, and I refused to feed a hungry wailing infant until I found it. It was only 15 minutes, but really, who does that? It was out of control.

Since I have been home for 12 years with kids I get nervous about going anywhere out of the ordinary. Stores and sports are fine, just not things that are not routine, such as doctor or dentist appointments. Even fun activities seem like more work than fun because of all it takes mentally for me to do them.

The thing is, when the symptoms start I act irrational and sometimes do not even realize what is happening until after the fact. My symptoms are: GI issues, sweating, shaking, rapid breathing and heart rate, and dizziness. I worry and always go to Worst Case Scenario in my head. I just have an overwhelming feeling of dread.

I yell, go into panic mode, can not sit still, sometimes I scrub things just to get rid of the ick. If it is a thing I can't do a thing about right this minute, I pace and count, or I pick my scalp and face. Yes, I know, gross. I agree. Some of these behaviors started when I was a teen but I did not know why I did them.

I found out those behaviors are an OCD component of my anxiety disorder. It is my way of having some kind of control of a situation.

Whenever I have an outburst people tell me to chill out, relax, take a pill, get over it, knock it off, get a grip, you are being irrational, stop freaking out, you're acting crazy or worse. The thing is, it is very hard to just snap out of it and those statements only make things worse. Better would be to remain calm and gentle, and, after it is over with, offer help.

The Anxiety is the cause, not an excuse, just an explanation. I want people to be understanding of my struggle, at the same time I admit that my behavior was wrong and I apologize to whoever I decided to go off on.

I feel like I am still learning, but that I am able to control my outbursts to a point, even though it is a struggle for me. If I want to scream at someone I disconnect and find a distraction (Candy Crush anyone). If I am dealing with some incompetent person on the phone I try to talk to myself in my head in a rational way. If I am worrying about what could happen I think logically instead of panicking. I also gave up keeping track of toys because if I do not know they are gone I won't make myself nuts looking for them. I guess missing toys are the kids' problem now. If there is something that can not be dealt with now (such as a place I need to call during business hours) and it is nighttime, I forget about it and watch TV or have a snack to take my mind off it.

I am seriously hoping everyone reads this book. I hope this book will help you feel less alone in your struggle if you suffer with mental illness, and if you do not, I hope it will help you to understand those living among you that suffer with mental illness.

I am living proof that this book is accomplishing what it set out to do and it is not even for sale yet! I would not have shared my story had I not read this book! Just think of the difference it will make! Please join me in helping to remove the stigma of mental illness and share your story, but first buy this book! You won't regret it! Find it on Amazon starting on April 7th!

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