22 July 2013

The Struggle for Normalcy

I live with Generalized Anxiety Disorder.

I don't blog about it too often because I don't want to dwell on this aspect of who I am.
The more I think about my anxiety, the worse it becomes.
It's a vicious cycle that I just prefer not to enter.

The past several months have been H.A.R.D!  Around the first of the year I started to notice that my medication wasn't working as effectively as it had for the past few years.  In conversation with my doctor, we started working to find a medication and a dosage that would keep the panic attacks and the irrational fears at bay.  The only way to do that is trial and error.  So for months I was in and out of her office every 2 weeks, discussing how I was feeling, side effects, manageability, and if it could be better.  By the time June rolled around, we were too close to our big trip to Florida for me to mess with it any more.  I was relatively stable (by no means in an ideal place!) and couldn't risk trying a medication that might not work at all, in hopes of finding one that perhaps would work better.

This process is exhausting!  For months I felt like a guinea pig.  For months I felt like I was living in someone else's skin.  The problem with a disorder that has been well managed in the past is that you know how good you CAN feel, but the only way to get there is through the time of trial and error - a period with no definitive end date (a lovely thing for the overly-anxious).

Chris and I struggled to be patient with one another; Ella suffered my frustration and short temper; I missed days at work to be at the doctor's office.  It's not the life I want to be living.

Then we went to Florida for 2 weeks.

It was all I could do most days to hang on to the last thread of normalcy I felt I had.  Most days I just wanted to scream at the top of my lungs in hopes of expelling the "demons" battling for control of my mind, my mood, and my vacation!  I took extra medications and controlled as much of my environment as possible.  One of the medications I take makes my temper pretty short so I was also battling trying to enjoy Ella being a child at the Most Magical Place on Earth instead of being frustrated with her for being a child.  Every day was a challenge.

And right by my side were my 2 favorite people.  I was honest with Ella for the first time ever about how my anxiety works.  I try to keep my struggles from her because I don't want her to worry about me (and she will); she's a child and it's not her issue.  But she needed to know how hard I was trying to find some normalcy.  I wanted her to know I wasn't upset or angry or not having fun - I wanted her to know that I was trying.  And she was wonderful!  She'd give me a hug and say, "Are you feeling nervous, momma?  It's ok."  (and then I'd cry!) 

Chris was the perfect husband.  On our last flight of the last day, I absolutely came unglued.  The joy of anxiety is that there's often not a rhyme or reason for it.  I'm not afraid a plane is going to crash; I've always enjoyed flying.  I even slept part of the first flight, I was so relaxed.  But on that plane with just 60 more minutes to home, I was literally struggling to breathe.  If I'd been able to peel my skin away, I may have tried it.  And he kept rubbing my back, looking into my eyes and repeating, "You're ok.  You're safe.  You can do this."  There was an intensity in his voice and his eyes I've never seen before.  It was as if he was willing his words to BE my mental state.  I've never had a panic attack as bad as that one and he never left me to manage it alone.

In the wake of a difficult two weeks, I was exhausted.  When the adrenaline rush stops, it's all I can do to keep my eyes open.  I slept hard that first night home.  But now the reality of my world has returned.

It's time to work at this again.

"Normal" is something I always took for granted before I was diagnosed.
"A good day" meant something entirely different than it does now.
"Peace" described my days more often than I prayed for it.
I want that back!

It's defeating to know that this won't go away.
Anxiety does not get cured.
Anxiety gets "managed" - like high blood pressure or diabetes or countless other ailments people battle.

Today, a dear friend wrote something on her blog that reminded me of another aspect of this disorder, though.

I've got it pretty good.

I have a great doctor, a wonderfully supportive family, friends with similar symptoms who help.
And it's not as severe as many people who live with this disease.
I can function in the world.
I can hold a full-time, sometimes stressful, job.
I have resources that allow me to seek treatment and second opinions and counseling and yoga classes - all of which are tools for managing this.
I have a God who speaks order into chaos - even the chaos of my anxiety struggles.

Sometimes my "worst case scenario days" are someone else's "good day."

The struggle for normalcy surrounding anxiety is hard!
It affects so many people, particularly women in their 20s and 30s.
And it gets stigmatized into "just don't worry about that."

So those of us who live with it don't talk about it much.
We're afraid people will think we're silly or crazy.
We know it's ridiculous to fear the things we do, but it's out of our control.
Which leaves us feeling defeated and helpless.

Hear me when I say:
You are not alone!
Don't be afraid to speak out about what you live with - I guarantee you someone not far from you is living with it, too.
And be honest with your doctor!
Tell her/him what you're feeling.
There are medications out there that can help.
They did once for me, and I have faith that we'll find the one that works for me now.
But none of them can work if you're too ashamed (or too afraid) to talk about it.

I don't want this disease.
But as long as I have it, I will continue to work to help others who are finally brave enough to own it, too.
You're safe.
You can do this.
You're going to be ok.


Anonymous said...

My friend. While I may not have the same illness that you have, I do have an illness of addiction to both alcohol and drugs. I have been clean and sober for 28 + years now, but the struggle remains. There are some days that are "normal" and others that are more of a struggle. What has helped during these 28 + years are the basic concepts of AA. I think, for me, the most important word of the 1st Step of AA is the word WE. 'We are powerless over alcohol and my life has become unmanageable. Putting my trust in a Higher Power, who I choose to call God, saves me on the worst of days and makes my "normal" days more enjoyable. I try, as the Big Book says, to turn my struggle/fears/anxiety/cravings/ etc. over to my High Power.

You are not alone, Erin. You have your God, your family and your friends who will walk this journey with you as best we can. Perhaps there is a support group for you, either in real time or on line, with whom you can scream, yell, laugh, cry with those who are on your similar journey. It helps me in times of struggle to be with those who are similar to myself. If you can't find a support group, use us.

With love and care for a friend in need, I will keep you in prayer.



Anonymous said...

Know that I am praying for you. Take comfort in knowing that you have found you soul mate in live. (Chris)

Love you DAD

Chrissy said...

I'm behind in my blog reading and I just now read this. You are an amazing woman! Thank you for sharing your heart.