You know how sometimes I write personal posts on my blog? Yah...that's what's happening right now. If you just want to see pretty pictures of babies and bellies and brides and grooms and don't really feel the need to see into the depths of my tangled-up mind...turn back now. And come back in a couple days :)
I could count the times I've shared personal posts here on my photography blog on one hand. For the past 4 or 5 months, I've had these words churning around in my brain. And then I reach this point: I sit down at my computer to work, and realize I now need to spew these thoughts and feelings and sentences and paragraphs onto paper (or rather, onto my blog); until that's done, I'm no longer capable to doing anything else useful. FOR REAL. Like, right now for instance, I'm supposed to be working on a father's day session, an engagement session, head-shots, AND updating my blog with actual work instead of words. Instead I'm doing this because it's all that's occupying my brain.
*** Small disclaimer, please don't read too much into my headings on some of the sections. They were meant as a way to organize my own thoughts while writing, more than to give the reader actual insight into the content of that section.
There's one other thing I want to say, before I begin my ACTUAL story. Consider it a secondary prologue. I want you to know this is NOT easy for me to write (And I say was, because I'm writing THIS paragraph, now that I'm half finished of my actual story). I've always had a very over-active sense of empathy that presents itself, sometimes very annoyingly so, through my emotions. If I watch a movie or read a book where someone is going through something very intense or distressing, it makes me sick to my stomach, and I usually can't sleep afterwards. When I've had close friends go through really difficult days or situations, I find it hard to focus, and usually can't do anything but pray while my eyes leak like faucets. When my sister was in labour with her first, I spent the morning in the bathroom, completely nauseous and throwing up, feeling so anxious for her. I see a lot of this in my oldest daughter, as well...which makes me a little scared for her. From the time she was about 18 months old, she gets completely distraught, to the point of crying and almost hyperventilating, if she so much as sees a cartoon animal act scared or sad. I love that she's so empathetic...but I'm afraid of what forms of anxiety I may have passed on to her.
I want you to know I'm not writing this because it's fun, or to try and get you to "see me". It is HARD to write. Putting these words down, thinking through things I've been through, and how pathetic and weak I've felt at certain points isn't easy. It doesn't make me feel strong, or confident, or any kind of awesome. It makes me feel very, very small. And it doesn't at ALL fit with the kind of person I would seriously love for you all to think I am.
I want to look like as awesome mom. The kind who falls easily into her mothering role, and never gets overwhelmed or flustered. I want to be the friend who lets everyone drop their kids off at my house because having 20 kids doesn't get me overwhelmed, and I can watch the kids and do laundry and make supper all at once, even though my husband's work has kept him late for the billionth time and I'm not sure when to expect him home. I want to be able to move seamlessly from the role of photographer to supportive wife to mom-of-three without missing a beat.
Or, at the very least, I want to keep my anxious and overwhelmed mind locked within the walls of my own home, so I can put on the appearance of a calm and productive wife, mom, and business owner. And I think I did ok, for a number of years. But now I'm at the point where I am sincerely wondering how many more people there are like me. People who are finding ways to deal with a mind on the verge of breaking, who have been just "coping" for too long, and finally need to find help outside of themselves.
So here goes. and instead of telling you, my probably-very-bored reader what this is going to be about...I'm just going to start at the "beginning"...which, according to my therapist, seems to be High School (you're welcome).
Starting sometime around my mid-teens, I used to wake up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night. Often. Sometimes I'd yell, sometimes I'd jump out of bed and switch the lights on, positive that I was somehow going to die, smother, suffocate, if I didn't get light and air IMMEDIATELY. I would have insane hot flashes that my mom joked about, saying maybe we were going through menopause together. I was very much an "over-reader", meaning that after every conversation, every meeting, every glance, I was positive that I had somehow said the wrong thing, acted the wrong way, or otherwise somehow just offended someone. I also had some crazy claustrophobia issues: I can remember one night working at a Summer Camp, and on a Friday night after all the kids had gone home, all the staff decided to sleep in tents down by the cliffs. I ended up with my sleeping bag in a corner of the girl's tent, and in the middle of the night woke up in an absolute panic. I scrambled to the zippered tent flap, opened it like the crazy person I was, took a few gulps of the air that apparently didn't exist INSIDE of the ginormous tent, and then woke up one of my friends who was sleeping next to the door to trade places with me. I spent the rest of the night laying awake in my sleeping bag next to the tent door, with the opening unzipped just enough for me to see the sky and breathe "real air" (Seriously. COMPLETELY sane, right??)
At the time, I honestly didn't even give it much thought. I just avoided elevators and tents and too much darkness. It didn't have an real effect on my daily life, so I didn't really question what was going on.
Fast forward to 2004/2005. I was in University in Fredericton, and dating my now-husband Jamie. I was enjoying my University classes, had a super duper awesome boyfriend, and a great family, church family, and friends. I was really, REALLY happy.
Except for sometimes. Like, let's say we were driving somewhere with friends, and I had to climb into the backseat of a two-door car. I usually would just say I'd get car sick and ask to sit up front, but really, I knew that as soon as got into the back of the car my heart would start pounding, my neck would start to feel really hot, I'd get this insanely loud ringing in my ears, and I would have to literally bite my tongue to keep from screaming at the driver to STOP the car and let me out, because I felt like I was trapped and needed air immediately. Soon, this spread to being in a middle seat, or between two other people, or on a bus, or basically any situation where I was in a vehicle but not in immediate control of where we were going, how long we'd be there, the car's AC, and when I could leave. Don't I sound like a fun road trip buddy?
And there were other new issues, too. Sitting in a lecture, for instance, became torturous (which was KINDA a problem for someone getting her university degree). I was ok if I kept myself distracted with note taking. But the second there would be any sort of lull, my brain would immediately shift into panic mode. I would feel the incredibly intense need to escape; to get someplace where I could splash water on my face or wrists to cool down; to be ANYPLACE where there weren't so, so, so many people near me, probably watching me and knowing exactly what was going on my head, more than likely about to call me out on all my crazy. I mean seriously....here I was majoring in criminology and PSYCHOLOGY, and I refused to even analyze what was happening with my own mental health.
I also had growing problems with crowds of people. I would be excited to go places with groups of friends, and then within a few minutes of getting there I'd be fighting the urge to get away from everyone (now to be fair to myself, part of this is just my totally un-crazy, introverted self. And I'm fine with that.) Jamie would invite me over to hang out with his friends, and I'd find excuses to sneak away and go for a walk alone, or just find an empty room and hang out by myself there for awhile, until I felt I had the energy to go smile some more. Being introverted, and drawing your energy from time alone, is all fine and well. What's NOT fine and well is when the actual FEAR of those social situations makes you avoid them.
In any kind of social situation, I would second guess myself. For your reading pleasure, a non-exhaustive list of, "Things that have gone through Katie's Brain in Social Situations":
"Did my smile look weird? They probably think it was a fake smile and that I'm not happy to see them. It WAS a real smile. I wonder if it would seem strange if I ran back to tell them it was a real smile."
"Shoot...someone else just got up to go use the bathroom. Now if I get up, it'll look like I'm following them. I'll wait five minutes."
"Oh my word. The facebook message I sent the says it was read. They haven't messaged back. They're not evening TYPING a message back yet! I knew it. I said something offensive. I worded something wrong. Friendship, over."
So basically, this was my life. Me and Jamie were married in the Fall of 2006, and things continued on pretty much the same as they had been. I was having a hard time sitting through my classes, having a hard time being around groups of people, and having a hard time focusing on any single task because my brain always seemed to have about 7,576 tabs open. I lost 10lbs (presumably because I was so stressed...because I was still eating as much as always.) I would stay awake at night sick with dread knowing that I had to be someplace a large group of people the next day. I started to feel panic creeping in when there was a snow storm or rain storm...the prospect of losing power and lights made me absolutely PETRIFIED. I can actually remember staying awake all night almost crying during storms, certain that the power was about to go out...and also terrified that Jamie would wake up and see what a weakling he'd married. The fear of my husband, and everyone else, finding out the lengths I was going to to avoid "high-stress" (in Katie definitions) situations was creating a whole new level of anxiety for me, and still I somehow continued to think this was all manageable. What still amazes me is that I would be crippled with fear over the idea of the power going out, but a couple months after our wedding, when we lost our first apartment to a fire, I was totally fine (I mean it was awful and I think I cried at one point, but there was no panic attack, no heightened anxiety, no meltdown). I was fine in ACTUAL crisis, but a crumbling mess in the face of so many average, everyday situations.
In January 2008, after spending six months apart while Jamie was in Saskatchewan training with the RCMP, Jamie's job took him, and me, to Bell Island, NFLD. I had graduated University the year before, and found a job working for an amazing family on the "mainland", which meant roughly a 1.5 hour wait each morning before boarding the ferry, a 20-minute ride across...and then the reverse on the way home, every day. For a while, this wasn't so bad. I was managing all of my "brain issues" , and crossing my fingers that no one noticed. I had good days and bad days. Good days meant that I was able to control and manage my day in order to avoid all possible situations that may trigger a panic attack (although at that point I hadn't even labelled them panic attacks). A bad day could mean a variety of things. For instance, the day I finished work for the day, drove to Babies R Us to buy a baby shower gift for one of my closet friends before heading to her baby shower, and then sat in the Babies R Us parking lot for about 45 minutes before going in, with the AC cranked, in full panic mode and almost crying, certain that going into a store full of people was going to be too much for me, and I'd have a panic attack in public and be completely humiliated. I finally went in, bought a gift, and was an hour late to the shower.
The absolute dread of having some sort of panic or anxiety related attack in public was so overwhelming to me, that is would cause it's OWN panic attack. So then I'd have a panic attack that was triggered by the fear of having a panic attack. AWESOME, huh? Obviously this created new problems. I hated going anywhere without Jamie, unless it was someplace where I felt "safe" and "at home". Friends homes were ok because there was always a bathroom I could escape to if I felt panic creeping in. I didn't like to be anyplace where I couldn't get to a bathroom if I needed someplace to "cool down". At this point, I finally shared what was going on with Jamie. A few weeks after I did, I had what I think was my first panic attack in front of him. We had just taken the ferry over to St. John's for church on Sunday morning, and were a few minutes early. We were sitting out in the parking lot of Spruce Hills community church, the car turned off, and I felt my neck getting warm. This is usually the way it started...sometimes I wasn't even aware something had triggered my anxiety until it was too late. I asked Jamie to turn the car back on so I could have the AC. I blasted it in my face and turned off the radio so I could have quiet, and when Jamie reached over touch my back and ask what was wrong, I remember jerking away and telling him to just be quiet for a minute. Like usual, my hands and feet started losing feeling, and I started seeing stars and spots in front off my eyes. At that point full panic hit and I felt completely trapped in the car...I needed to get into the church building where I could get to a bathroom and splash water on my neck and my forehead. I remember flinging my door open and jumping out of the car...probably the smartest thing when can do when you feel like you're losing consciousness and feeling in your feet and legs! I think I made it about 5 steps before I collapsed. Thankfully Jamie is highly trained in dealing with people who are being completely ridiculous...and he was two steps ahead of me (figuratively AND literally) and caught me as I went down. He then had to carry me into the church, to the bathroom, where he rubbed my forehead with cold water and blew cold air on my neck until the panic subsided.
For someone as logical as my husband, I can't even imagine how hard this must've been for him to try and wrap his head around. I was happy, and physically healthy, and not going through anything extremely stressful that should be causing anxiety or panic. More than once, he would just logically say to me, "Well...what are you feeling anxious about?" As if it were that simple. We were trying to get pregnant at this point, and had been for a little while, and he would just tell me not to stress. "Just try not think about it. Just be positive and don't get overwhelmed." And as much as this made me want to scream, I can't hold this against him. Mental health issues were something completely foreign to him...to BOTH of us, really. For him to, "put himself in my shoes" was basically impossible, so he dealt with me and my brain as logically as he knew how, while still being so, SO patient with me. After this first time actually witnessing my anxiety come out through a full blown panic attack, he later told me he had sort of always thought I was exaggerating the actual physical symptoms. He said he had put his hand on my back, under my shirt, to try and cool me down and couldn't believe how quickly I had become completely soaked in sweat, and hot to the touch. I just stared at him and was like, "Um...yah. I KNOW."
I had been studying photography through online courses, programs, and tutorials for about a year at this point, and shooting a lot of free sessions for practice. I also had an actual job, and while I ADORED the family I was working for and the work I was doing, after two years of taking the ferry to and from work everyday, my anxiety got the best of me. I would spend my evenings and early morning filled with dread the boats were going to shut down (as they VERY often did, so not a completely unfounded fear), and that I was going to be unable to get to work, which I was sure would result in disappointment and schedule changes for my employers. Since I was born with an intense desire to never, never disappoint anyone...EVER...this didn't sit well with me. Then, once I made it to work each day, I'd spend the whole work day with a pit of anxiety in my stomach that the boats would close and I'd be stuck in town for the night, unable to get home to my house and my husband, the only place where I felt I could de-stress; unwind; be "safe". So, to summarize, I was a walking ball of anxiety pretty much 24/7. Eventually, this led to daily nausea on the ferry, which I interpreted as motion sickness. I ended up quitting my very-loved job, and decided to pursue photography full-time...in part, because this is what I wanted as my career, but also because I could control my hours. If I was planning to head to town for a session and was hit in the face with a ball of panic, I could reschedule on my own terms and hide under the covers for the day instead. Strangely enough, just KNOWING that I had control over my own hours and trips to town seemed to settle my anxious mind, and brought down the amount of panic attacks I was having surrounding trips on the ferry.
In 2011, two things happened. First, our post on Bell Island was up, and we made the decision for Jamie to request a transfer to Nain, in Northern Labrador. Nain is a beautiful, isolated, impossibly cold Inuit town where there is no access by road, you have to fly in your groceries unless you feel like spending an arm and a leg on things like toilet paper, frozen pizza, and fresh fruit, the roads go unplowed in the winters and so most everyone travels by snowmobile, and the people are the most welcoming, kind, and warm-hearted people you will literally ever meet.
Our transfer to Nain was officially granted in January 2011, and the second thing that happened that year, is that after two years of trying, we found out Nya was growing in my belly. Call it pregnancy hormones, or call it coincidence, but over the two years that we spent in Nain, I did not have one single panic attack. Ok, that's a slight exaggeration...I had one. But to be fair, it was while I was in an impossible small, jam-packed Twin Otter airplane, and my sudden and intense bout of claustrophobia seemed COMPLETELY understandable, and vanished immediately once the plane landed, the pilot opened the door, and I bolted out the plane ahead of the other, like, twelve passengers. Other than those moments, the only anxiety I felt was always controllable. We didn't have/need a vehicle, so any traffic or vehicle related anxiety simply failed to exist. There was no ferry. I was never far from my home. The office and other RCMP homes had generators, so I knew if there was a power outage (who are we kidding...IF there was a power outage? There were WEEKLY power outages!), I could simply go next door and have light again! Jamie worked in a town where we could literally walk everywhere, so I knew he was never far. My pregnancy hormones seemed to calm my heart, ease my mind, and bring peace to my hyper-vigilant sense of alertness. And for the next two years, that's how things remained. Our sweet Nya was born, and my pregnancy hormones were replaced by breastfeeding hormones. I never experienced any postpartum depression or even any form of "baby blues". Life was really, really good. Jamie worked a lot...a LOT.. but my days with Nya were peaceful and relaxed: things moved at whatever pace we needed them to, and nothing felt rushed or forced. There was no place I ever really NEEDED to be, so our days were filled with walks by the water, walks to the grocery store, walks to the post office...basically just a whole lot of walking. But it was relaxing, and calming, and wonderful. Nya had my full attention, and I got to spend my days completely wrapped up with her, with little else to do or see or schedule in. I loved my days, and I loved being her Momma, and for the first time since I was a teen I felt that just maybe, I had "grown into" myself and my brain, and hoped that my anxiety filled days and panic attacks were behind me. As it turned out, they really REALLY were not.
In late June 2013, when Nya was 18 months old and I was almost six months pregnant with Roman, we flew out from Nain, Labrador for the last time, and Jamie began work at his new post in Moncton, NB. We had requested a posting in New Brunswick, and with the majority of both sides of our families all living in either PEI or Fredericton, we were thrilled to be moving to such a nice "half way point" between our family members. On top of this, Newfoundland and then Labrador had given me a great starting point with my first 4-ish years in photography, but I was excited to finally be in a bigger area that would allow me the opportunity to grow my business. I worked through the Summer and Fall, and we welcomed Roman into our family in October of 2013. Things were busy with Jamie's work, my part-time work, a newborn and a toddler, but my brain still felt good and we loved our new home and being closer to our families. Winter went by, Spring came...and then it was June 4th, 2014. June 4th, and the days and weeks and months that followed brought new anxieties and fears and stresses that had probably always been there in my mind but now were pushed more to the forefront. The world seemed so much more frightening, and I felt myself having a harder time going places with my kids, without Jamie. I think we had spent so much time in isolation, with only him for me to lean on, that I had become very, very dependent on knowing I could usually reach him if possible. He was never further than a few miles away, and in both our previous postings his office was a stone's throw from our house. In Nain, our living room window looked out on his detachment, and on Bell Island the two were side-by-side. Now, in Moncton, I knew that texts wouldn't always reach him. He no longer was able to drop in for lunches or suppers, and I no longer felt the protection and support of an army of other RCMP families living in the homes surrounding mine. Somehow, here in the largest city I'd ever lived in, I felt more isolated than ever before.
By Fall 2014, my anxiety (as I had finally named it) was back to being a daily problem. I DREADED Jamie leaving for work, when I knew I'd be alone. I had such a strong fear that something would happen to one of my babies or me, and I'd be incapable of taking care of them. I was making myself physically sick with the overwhelming and irrational thoughts that I was an incapable mother, wife and basic human being. I felt scared, discouraged, and very, very defeated. And since I wasn't talking to anyone about any of this, I also felt completely alone in the way I was feeling.
Looking back at myself, at the way things were almost three years ago, I see one huge truth: that one of the biggest lies we tell ourselves is that we're ALONE in what we're going through; that no one else has ever felt like this; that we're weaker and less capable than anyone else. For me, this made me completely defeated, thinking that what I was feeling was beyond help. It also made me feel so isolated (which I WAS, but because I was CHOOSING to be). I didn't feel that anyone would understand what I was going through, and that sharing what I was feeling would make me look like a horrible mother and wife, and a weak and whiny human being. I was so afraid to seem like I was trying use my anxiety to draw attention to myself; after all, I had friends going through so, so much worse: I had a loving husband and two healthy kiddos. I had absolutely nothing to be overwhelmed about, right? So this is what I kept telling myself. I really, REALLY believed that if I just kept telling myself I was fine, and reminding myself that strong, healthy Christians could work through anything if their faith was strong enough, that I'd be able to handle my feelings all on my own.
And then, very quickly, it was clear I couldn't. In fall 2014, Jamie packed his overnight bag for a training course a couple hours away. He was only going to be gone for a week, but about 30 minutes before he left, I broke. Panic clawed it's way into my mind and completely took hold, and reciting my calming bible verses and telling myself I was fine did absolutely nothing. I ended up on the bathroom floor, in a cold sweat, crying. My mind was filled with everything that could, and WOULD, go completely wrong while he was gone, and I was in a state of complete panic. I was almost blacking out, my hands and feet went completely numb, and breathing was difficult. I honestly felt that I was actually going to die if my immediate situation didn't change. I don't know if you've ever experience a panic attack. I really hope you haven't, and never do. For people for strong, calm minds, it probably sounds like something very silly and manageable. I promise you it's not. If it was completely manageable, I assure you that no one would ever choose to have one.
Panic attacks are horrible. They happen so suddenly and often without any rational or perceivable trigger. For me, they begin with a sudden and strong "hollowness" in the pit of my stomach: my insides flip, and I feel a quick moment of dread, but usually have absolutely no idea what's caused it. That's all it takes, and something in my brain has shifted. I feel a slow heat creeping up my neck and through my chest and arms, even up into my scalp and face. And then I feel the very strong urge to run, to escape whatever situation I'm in, become I know that I'm going to feel immediately sick, dizzy, or lightheaded, and need a bathroom or cool water or some way to cool down.
Panic attacks feel like an emptying out of all my strength, and my capability, and my levelheadedness. They leave my drained, and shaky, and overwhelmed at the thought of completing even the smallest task that might be placed in front of me.
They are not chosen. They are not controllable. They are something I hate about myself, something that make me feel small, and weak, and and completely defeated.
When I was pregnant with Roman, and we found out he was a boy, we figured we were done having kids. Or at least, Jamie did. We didn't take any "permanent steps" to keep our family at 4, I think because I wondered if maybe, years down the road, when my brain was magically healed and Nya and Roman were, say, 8 and 10 years old, we might decide to try again.
This brings me to January/February 2015. To say I was not doing well is putting it lightly. I was terribly anxious , of pretty much everything, all the time. I DREADED leaving the house; even more so if I had the kids with me. I was so sure I would have a panic attack out in public, and would be unable to care for my kids, and leave them scared and confused , while embarrassing myself. At the same time, I couldn't get past my disgust for my own brain: I felt like this should be something I should be able to "fix" if I could just concentrate on being more grateful; more calm; more patient. I felt that I was barely holding it together.
And then, surprise: in early February 2015, two little pink lines.
I cried. A lot. I was so excited for this tiny life growing inside of me...but so, so angry at my anxious brain, and why it was choosing to be so stubborn and not simply get better on it's own. I felt that I was barely keeping my head above water already, and was scared for how I would manage with this new little person. I had never suffered from post-partum depression before, and one of my HUGE fears in my pregnancy with Zoe was that this time around, I would. So the month after I found out I was pregnant with Zoe (who, at the time, was a BOY, according to the doctor!!) I did something I should've done a decade before: I found a therapist. A wonderful, patient, Christian woman who prayed with me and for me during every session, and equipped me with tools to talk myself down from a panic attack, and reminded me of the importance of praying God's word over my life. Zoe was born in October 2015, and brought a whole new level of joy to our family. I remained in therapy, and while my sessions were helping me to manage my panic attacks on a day-to-day basis, I needed more. I wanted to be able to look ahead to the future and not be filled with immediate terror over all that could go wrong. I wanted to see small decisions and jobs for what they were, instead of as impossible and overwhelming. I wanted to be able to enjoy my days with my kiddos, instead of having my brain completely maxed out with simply trying to avoid anxious situations and thoughts, leaving me exhausted and making even the smallest of tasks seem insurmountable.
During one session with my therapist, she had me write out a list of things, situations, or even just THOUGHTS of situations. that I felt acted as my "triggers" to either a panic attack, or a heightened level of anxiety that would interfere with my day in a major way. I'm going to list them here, so you can see just how long this list had grown:
1] Losing power in my home, specifically the lights
2] Any situation where I might be very warm, and have no ac/fan/cold water to cool myself down (my panic attack always involved hot flashes, and this sort of circled back in on itself in my mind, making me think that being hot would CAUSE a panic attack.
3] Traffic and red lights. I was so ridiculously terrified about being stopped in traffic that I would avoid driving at certain times of the day, and certain routes. The idea of being stopped in construction on the confederation bridge brought me to tears. Driving in multiple lanes, I would always make sure I was in the furthest lane to the right...so that I could "escape" if I needed to. I was PETRIFIED of parking someplace where I could possibly become blocked in. Parking garages? LOL....absolutely no way.
4} Being alone. At first I thought it was just being alone with the kids, but soon came to realize it was ANY sort of being alone. It was manageable if I knew when Jamie was going to be back, and that he was always able to be reached on his cell. The only problem? With his job, I DON'T always know when he'll be home, and he's NOT always able to be reached on his cell. I had always actually made it a point to never call his cell while he was at work. If I needed something, I'd text: I held out on actually calling, so that if there was ever an emergency, he'd know it by the fact that I was calling him ;) Once, I even said, "What would I do if there was a real emergency with one of the kids, and you couldn't answer your cell!?!!" And of course he answered with his annoyingly logical brain, "Um, you know you can call 911, right? For emergencies? And they would let me know because, you know...I'm the police...?" Sigh. Rational thinking is super irritating.
This one also became an issue with anything Jamie wanted to do that would take him away from home overnight. If he was gone, and my brother Nathan (was works in Moncton and lives with us) were both gone, I would basically work myself into a frenzy or panic, thinking that while I was alone something would happen to myself or one of my kids that I wouldn't be able to take care of. I just felt very, very incapable as a mom, and as a human being in general. Thankfully, I did have some relief: I had a couple people who knew everything that was going on, and who had basically told me I could call day or night if I needed anything or felt myself panicking. I never had to; I think just knowing this gave me a sense of calm in the moments when I needed it the most.
5] Feeling "trapped" anywhere. This one covers a multitude of general situations, including some I already listed above. I felt trapped in too much traffic. Around large groups of people. In any room where I was expected to stay for any amount of time. Being alone. Being in social situations. In darkness. In places with no AC. In small enclosed spaces (raise your hand if you despise Twin Otter planes and elevators. I KNOW this one isn't that rare!!!!) Most of all I felt trapped in my own mind; in my own irrational thoughts and fears.
Please keep in mind that this is a condensed but still non-exhaustive list. When I read this out to my therapist, I think there were probably 10 or so different points. I remember her saying it was a lot, and I remember feeling a little embarrassed but also a little proud of my ability to pinpoint my own triggers. I mean come on. I'm a psychology major....which means I can diagnose and fix myself. Also, if I was going to be in therapy for an anxiety disorder, I was going to be the BEST patient this therapist had ever seen. I was going to make all the lists, and do all the homework, and fix ALL of my brain. I needed this to work. I wasn't completely against the idea of medication, but I was still breastfeeding Zoe and knew I couldn't do both. On top of this, I don't think I believed it would do anything. I had never been on any kind of medication or antibiotics. Twice before, I'd been prescribed painkillers: the first time, they made me vomit and then black out...the second time I'd only kept them down about 2 minutes. Me and pills just didn't work well together, and I really felt like if I tried medication I would either get sick, or my body would have some sort of unprecedented tolerance to them. Again....LOGICAL.
This brings me to Summer 2016. I had been seeing my therapist for over a year. I was doing all the homework, using every self-help skill she'd taught to me, and things were...manageable. I could sit in traffic and blast the AC and remember to keep breathing, and I could talk myself down from a panic attack. Jamie could leave the house and I could keep myself from a panic attack by reading my favourite and most calming scriptures, and using breathing techniques and self-talk. The only way I can really describe it is that I felt like I was barely keeping my head above water. You know how people say to just "take one day at a time"? I give that a big old NOPE. I highly recommend taking just one HOUR at a time.
And that is how I was getting through my days. I was dividing my days into hours, and managing to survive the ones "alone" by looking ahead to the moment someone else would be there with me. I was living most of my days in this hyper-alert, anxious state, and when another adult would walk through my front door it was like an absolute sedative to my brain. I would immediate calm and relax, knowing that whatever crisis was surely just around the corner, there was another grown-up person there to help.
In September, with help my therapist and my husband and my Momma, I finally realized it wasn't enough. All the self-help tools were keeping me somewhat functional...but it hadn't brought me to where I wanted to be. I didn't want to talk myself down from a panic attack; I wanted to be in a situation and not even have first rumbling of panic attack. I wanted the possibility of a panic attack to be non-existent. I didn't know if that was even possible or not, and I still felt as though if there was anyone who medication wouldn't work on, it would be me (because, you know...Murphy's Law ;) ). But I decided to try it. Worst case scenario, it didn't work, and I would stop it.
I got a prescription, and decided to start it as soon as I had stopped nursing Zoe. I had nursed my other two babes until they were 12 months, and that was the goal I had in mind with Zoe. However, I knew Zoe was my last. And if you're a Momma and you loved breastfeeding, then you KNOW how hard it is to think that it will be your last time ever nursing. Zoe was and is my little snuggle baby, and she loved nursing, and I felt like a horrible, selfish Momma for weaning her when she still was so happy to nurse (overwhelming and unnecessary feelings of guilt...another SUPER fun, over-the-top symptom of my anxiety). So I kept going a little past the one year mark. Zoe turned one in early October, and I nursed her for the last time in mid-november: I remember the day, and what time of day it was, and I actually have a picture of her nursing that morning because she was so sweet and snuggly. I figured I would wait about a week, to make sure she was completely weaned, before starting the medication.
I started December 1st, 2016. My doctor told me it would take about 2 weeks before I'd notice any difference...so it felt like a very long two weeks. The day I took the first dose felt like a big deal. I like to be in control of things. I like to have a plan, and know all the details, and be well-prepared. I don't like last-minute plan changes, or surprise parties, or any situation where I can't control the conditions. I know there are a lot bigger things in life...but for me, this felt big, and scary, and unknown. I told Jamie not to mention any changes to me until I noticed them myself, and so I waited. On the 11th day, when I was going to bed, I thought back on my day...and that was the first time I noticed anything different. I realized how much calmer I had felt all day; how much more in control I felt, and not terrified that there was a certain crisis around every corner. And, the biggest part: I realized that there had been certain, specific, triggers for my anxiety scattered throughout my day, that I had barely even registered. Things that would normally stress me out to the point of over-thinking, over-planning, and becoming overwhelmed to the point of panic. Instead, I had been relaxed. I had just looked at the day in front of us, and I had ENJOYED. I felt calm, and I felt control, and for the first time I felt the hope that things might really work.
Today, we're going to go to church, and I'll sit through the whole sermon without being attacked by claustrophobia, causing me to leave the sanctuary about three times. And I'm looking forward to that.
Last week I drove to PEI to cover a wedding. I was stopped in construction traffic outside Moncton for about 10 minutes. There were no panic attacks (only normal annoyance ;) ).
For the last 8 months, my brain has felt normal. Completely normal, everyday events, like Jamie leaving for work, FEEL like normal, everyday events. I don't need to talk myself down from panic attacks, because my brain seems to now recognize that these everyday things DON'T mean impending crisis.
I'm enjoying each day with my Tiny Humans. Yes, they are loud and crazy and life is very, very hectic...but the absence of anxiety and panic casting a shadow over my every thought has opened up so much space for me to just ENJOY. I'm finding so much joy in moments that used to be brimming with anxiety, leaving me unable to even see anything else.
I feel capable now. Tasks that used to seem completely insurmountable now just feel like everyday tasks. And beyond that, I can recognize the fact that sometimes, I might need a support system, and that doesn't overwhelm me with guilt. There are days when I know I need an extra set of hands, or even an hour alone where I'm not with my kids OR working, and that no longer makes me feel like I'm an entitled, selfish Mom.
About 7 months ago, I drove to Fredericton to meet my sister for a little baby shower/dinner with some friends (You know...because she was having her FIFTH baby!!!) I met up with her about an hour before we needed to be at the restaurant, and while we were at Costco, she looked over at me and says, "Awww...look at you, in this big crowd of people, just shopping like a big girl!!!" It was really, really funny but also really sad. Then she asked if I wanted to go park in a parking garage next. I told her I wasn't quite "there" yet ;)
So this is the story of my brain. And why, if you've known me a long time, you've probably seen me give an excuse, at some point in time, as to you I can't drive in your car with you/go out to eat tomorrow night/hang out with a giant crowd of people/drive to the mall when I know there's traffic/hop on that elevator/SO MUCH ETC. And if we're being honest, there's still much of this I'll never enjoy. I'm never going to want to go to a concert, or some other giant gathering of people. I will never choose the elevator if there are stairs available. I'm always going to need time away from everyone else to recharge. And there is a pretty solid chance that I am never, EVER going to park in a parking garage. But I've learned that being an introvert, and not "liking" crowds, and not enjoying small confined spaces, is fine. Everyone has their preferences; things they're more and less comfortable with. What's not ok if when the situations go from being least preferred, to being irrationally feared. When your daily life is being planned around avoiding those situations at all costs, out of terror and panic.
Please know this: this blog isn't a plug for medication, or anything of the sort. I'm a firm believer that everyone is so different...everyone's situations are so different, and everyone's path to feeling strong, and capable, and peaceful is completely unique. This is simply my story, and what I've experienced, and what's worked for me. I've heard people say that they don't like the idea of medication for mental health issues. Ummm, yah, neither do I!!!!! Trust me, NO one does. I would so much rather not have to take medication to have the ability to greet each new day feeling strong and capable and level-headed! I tried so many other things, and while everything else helped to some degree, it just wasn't enough. And I'm so, SO thankful that I had people in my life who encouraged me to step beyond what I "wanted" to try, and helped me realize that there is no shame in seeking help for yourself.
"Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." -Philippians 4: 6-7 (NIV)