For those of you who have been following my little blog for awhile, you may (or may not) have noticed a few long absences. I never intended on fully and completely honestly disclosing why I was radio silent for so long but I’ve come to realize what I’ve been dealing with is nothing to be ashamed of. If sharing my experience can connect with just one person and let them know they aren’t alone that would make any lingering embarrassment I still feel completely worthwhile. So here goes…recently I have been diagnosed with panic disorder. My first reaction besides feeling like any hope of a normal life was over was to not tell anyone, this was something that needed to be covered over and hidden. I basically threatened my husband’s life and made him swear not to tell a soul including his own immediate family. But too late I have realized I could have gotten the help I needed much sooner if I merely was honest with myself and honest with those closest to me. I would have saved myself and those I love a whole lot of heartache. I hated myself so much for not being able to control what was happening to me that I shut out everyone who was close to me for fear they would hate me too. Because of that I reached a place where I was never more alone or scared in my life in spite of being surrounded by loving family and friends. A place so dark it absolutely terrified me, a place I hope I never go again.
Just before I was properly diagnosed I was so confused and felt completely helpless. None of what was happening made any logical sense. Everything had been going so well. I had a great life. I was adjusting well to being a mom, my life finally felt complete and I felt whole and so incredibly happy. We had just purchased a new home and now, besides having always been an incredible partner and my very best friend, my husband was now the most wonderful, attentive, and loving father that I could have ever hoped for. I was the mom who never used a bottle, who made her own baby food, whose toddler never had one bite of processed food but now, suddenly, microwaving a pizza seemed overwhelming and was enough to induce a panic attack. I have always suffered from abnormal levels of anxiety off and on and at times it could be pretty intense but NOTHING like this. I could barely function. No. That is an understatement. I could not function at any level. I wasn’t sleeping. At all. Sometimes going as long as 5 days straight without even one second of sleep, something I didn’t even know was humanly possible. I was in a constant state of panic. I could barely remember that happy girl I used to be not that long ago. That girl that was so full of life and love. She seemed like a very distant memory, one that was slipping further and further away with every passing day. Now I found myself wondering if my husband and son might be better off without me in their lives. That…that was rock bottom.
I wanted it to be medical so badly and went that route at first. Finally after seeing my primary doctor several times over a few months I called her, this time absolutely hysterical, after a five day stretch without any sleep whatsoever. She gently told me she wasn’t sure what else she could do for me and that she felt I really needed to get a psychiatric evaluation. She gave me a number to call and with a sinking heart I hung up the phone. I knew she was right but partly because of the stigmas that still surround mental disorders and because of my own ignorant and misinformed beliefs about them I was completely devastated and felt as if I’d been handed a death sentence. We made the appointment and I’ve never been more ashamed and hopeless as when I walked into those doors. I’m not exactly sure what happened in those 45 minutes that changed me but something did. Maybe it was the fact that I now knew I wasn’t alone, that I wasn’t a freak. Maybe it was just my deep stubborn streak refusing to wean my son cold turkey to get started on several heavy narcotics but whatever happened turned everything around. I chose NOT be a victim anymore. I now knew that help was available and I was going to accept it and find a way to deal with this unexpected hand life had dealt me. But most of all I knew I was going to fight, that I would not let this control me and take over my life and that I would do whatever it took to get back the person I’d lost. The wife, the mother, the friend, the daughter, the human being.
It’s been months since those terrifyingly dark days. Thru therapy, opening up to friends and family, healthy diet and exercise, focusing on my spirituality and on helping others I am slowly getting back to my old self. On some days I can feel the panic resurfacing but instead of giving in to the fear and letting it completely take over I use the techniques I’ve learned to face it, calmly and logically countering negative thoughts and emotions with more realistic and positive ones. On some days I’m even able to enjoy life with far less anxiety and with more peace than I’ve ever felt my entire life. At first, being diagnosed with panic disorder made me feel like a terrible mother, wife and friend and I was devastated that I couldn’t be the perfect mom that I so desperately wanted to be. But that’s ok. Instead of trying to do everything exactly “right” and getting it all “perfect” I’m simply doing the best I possibly can, every day, with whatever my given circumstances may be. One day at a time. Some days my best will be spent fighting a battle no one else sees. A battle whose weapons are words no else hears, dark thoughts attacking from every side, a battle where I am the only one fighting on either side. a battle that I continue to fight far after I’ve exhausted all my physical and mental strength. A battle that I fight because I have to, because I don’t want to be this way. One that I fight to be better, to be stronger…one that I fight until I think I can’t quite possibly hold on another second…and then I do….for another second, and then another and then yet another.. hanging on for those I love, for those I need and who need me, and for myself.
Thru this experience I’ve been completely overwhelmed by the amount of love I’ve been shown. First for my dear friends who have been there thru this dark time (you know who you are) there are no words to express my gratitude for you. That you are part of my life. I only hope someday to be able to repay the favor. As for my family…I really don’t know what I can say. I couldn’t have made it without you. All of you were there to hold me, to cry with me, to share my fears and to hold my hand when I needed you to. Thank you for being there for my son and being there to support my husband at a time when I could not do those things myself. As for my husband….. you went above and beyond doing whatever you could to get me thru this and to help me help myself. I’ll never understand how you were able to take care of our son and myself and care for us financially while I was such a non-functional mess. But you did and not only did you just simply “get us thru it” but you did so with such an amazing amount of love, grace and compassion. Even though you couldn’t personally understand or relate to what I was feeling. I know I tested your limits to the very extreme and I was waiting for you to break at any moment but you didn’t. When we were dating you promised me you would always be there for me no matter what happened. I didn’t believe that someone could love me that much but now I do. Thank you for loving me thru the bad times and the good and I promise to always do the same for you. Our life isn’t all fairy tales, romance and rainbows but it’s these moments. These moments when you are all hanging on for dear life that really test every fiber of your relationship. And after coming thru something like that and standing on the other side of it together it truly makes you feel like you can face anything. Its those trials that make you a real family, a strong family, one that proves their unconditional love for each other again and again and again. So once again thank you, thank you, thank you. To my husband, to my family and my friends. Thank you for believing in me when I couldn’t believe in myself and for loving me when I couldn’t see what there was to love. Thank you for giving me my reason to be, my reason to fight, my reason the live. To really live.
For those of you who have dealt with anxiety or a mental disorder of any kind my heart goes out to you. The battle you fight is a silent one but so very painful. Please remember you are never alone even though that is exactly how you may feel. Approximately 1 in 4 Americans suffer from some type of mental disorder. Next time you are in a group of people remember there are others in the very same room as you sharing this secret and silent battle with you. Please know that you have nothing to be ashamed of and please don’t believe the way you feel about yourself is the way others feel about you. Never let that shame or guilt or whatever else you might be feeling be an excuse to hold you back from reaching out to people, to getting help. No matter how hopeless you may feel know that it CAN get better. There is so much help out there all you have to do is ask. There is one book in particular that has absolutely changed my life and forever changed my perspective on things. It’s called The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook by Dr. Edmund Bourne and you can purchase it here. Since reading it I’ve successfully been able to use the techniques and mental exercises in it to avoid going into a full blown panic attack and so far it’s also kept my insomnia at bay. After months of having panic attacks almost every day this is nothing short of miraculous for me. If you have suffered from an anxiety disorder in some form, panic attacks, or phobias it is definitely worth checking out.
For those of you who have made it this far and are actually still reading this…..congratulations you have successfully almost completed what will hopefully be the longest and wordiest post I will ever write. Thank you for humoring me. For those of you who can identify with this I am so sorry for what you have gone thru and continue to battle. I hope in some small way this post has been helpful. If you can’t relate to any of this I hope this has been informative and will maybe change some preconceived ideas you may have had about mental disorders. For me, in the past, I honestly had the tendency to be judgmental and insensitive toward those who suffered with these disorders because I didn’t personally understand what they were feeling. Unfortunately it took experiencing this myself for me to learn to be more compassionate and understanding. I hope I won’t make that mistake again. We all have our secret battles and inner struggles whether they be mental, physical, or whatever else. Lets all be more resolved to be more loving, more compassionate and more aware of each other. It’s that unconditional love from my friends and family, some of which didn’t personally understand but they didn’t allow that to stop them from being there and it literally made all the difference in the world to me. I hope to follow their example and not allow the inability to understand someone prevent me from reaching out to help them, to love them and I hope that it won’t stop you.