I know I’ve been promising a post about anxiety for a while now. Like…oh….probably about a year. Sorry for the delay. As you can imagine, it’s not exactly my favourite topic, so I guess I’ve been procrastinating. But I fee that it’s a topic that definitely warrants discussing. So here we go…
I’ll start with my story.
I’ve had trouble with anxiety for a very long time. I even remember experiences at a very early age that I now connect to anxiety. For example, laying in the coat room of my kindergarten classroom with unexplained stomach cramps so bad that I couldn’t sit in my chair.
I remember episodes of anxiety happening more frequently as a teenager – feeling dizzy and nauseous getting ready for school in the morning.
But anxiety hit me the hardest after university, when I went through a very stressful time of life. I was living on my own, studying for my Chartered Accountant designation (that’s the Canadian equivalent of a CPA, for those of you Americans who are curious), and working long hours in my articling job at a CA firm. All I did was work, study and sleep. And I was alone…and diabetic.
I’d never lived alone before this, and in all honesty I’m really not an “alone” type of person. Even without diabetes I think I would have found it stressful, but having diabetes just added that extra layer of worry: What if I go too low? What if I get too sick?….What if I need help and can’t get it?
My anxiety tended to centre around my ability (or lack thereof) to control my body…to take care of myself physically….to survive. Low bloodsugar scared me a lot at that time, but the thing that scared me most was throwing up. I realize that sounds a bit crazy, but as a diabetic, being unable to ingest (and retain) food is a scary thing. I rely on food to keep my bloodsugar from dropping too low. But in addition to that, I rely on food to allow me to take insulin…and without insulin I can experience a very dangerous and toxic condition called ketoacidosis.
Long story short, I was afraid to puke. Because I was afraid to puke, I was afraid to be nauseous. This started to branch out into other fears: afraid to be too tired, afraid to drink too much alcohol, afraid to eat even remotely undercooked meat, afraid to be around someone who had been around someone who might have possibly had the flu…. etc. My desire to be in control of my body left me controlled by my fears.
I experienced a lot of anxiety attacks during those years. As irony would have it, instead of the “I can’t breathe” type of anxiety attack that a lot of people get, I would have the “I’m going to puke” type of anxiety attack – sometimes to the point of throwing up. It was a cruel joke my mind played on my body. I would start to get anxious, then I’d start to breathe more shallowly, then my stomach would constrict and twist and I’d start to feel nauseous, and then I’d typically end up with a bad case of the shakes. This would last anywhere from 30-60 minutes generally, but sometimes longer. It sucked – especially when it would happen at night when I’d want to be asleep.
When I’d had about enough, I took my doctor up on her offer for a prescription for an antidepressant: Effexor. The dose she prescribed was really low, but it made a big difference for me. The first few days getting used to it were weird – my head was mighty screwed up. I had trouble listening to people talk to me and I’d get start to fixate on some weird detail (e.g. “That sweater totally looks like it would eat my skin.”)…but within a few days the meds had a nice dulling effect and everything seemed okay.
I went for quite a while with no anxiety attacks and was really happy about that. In retrospect, I suspect this was another mind game I played on myself – the placebo effect. Since I knew the drugs were supposed to make me better, I simply let them do just that. But then I started to have anxeity attacks again from time to time. Not nearly as often as previously, but they did start to happen again.
When I finished the CA program and left that job for a new one with a much better work-life balance, I found that I was able to handle the anxiety attacks as they came, but they did keep coming. Part of my management of them involved avoiding the things that made me more likely to experience anxiety – e.g. drinking, staying up late, being around sick people, etc. The anxiety was having less of an impact, but it was still in control.
Then my husband (who married me in the midst of this) and I started to think about starting a family, and I knew I wanted to get off of the Effexor. I also knew I’d need help doing that.
I started seeing a wonderful counsellor at the Youville Diabetes Centre who helped me develop a plan for managing the transition off of Effexor, as well as my new antidepressant-free life. She helped me deal with the issues that were at the core of the anxiety I was experiencing, and gave me techniques to use when I was struggling as well as the confidence to realize that I didn’t need the meds anymore.
So I went cold-turkey. There are different methods of withdrawal for different meds, and there are two schools of thought for Effexor withdrawal: slow and gentle or hard and fast. I opted for hard and fast. It sucked, but only for a few days and then I was done. At first I noticed that things seemed “sharper” – good things seemed better and bad things seemed worse. I remember eating dinner one of those first days and saying to my husband (mid-chew), “This is sooo good! This tastes so damn good!!” And eventually things kind of evened out and I carried on with my life.
Before having a baby, I saw my counsellor quite a bit. One of the things that we decided to try for my anxiety was hypnotherapy. To be clear, she didn’t dangle a watch in front of my eyes until they got spirals in them, and she didn’t say, “You are getting sleeeeeepy…..” The type of hypnotherapy she did is different from the “hypnosis” that most people think of. With this type I was awake, but it in a deeply relaxed state, with both my conscious and subconscious mind engaged. This process proved to be quite successful for me and has actually made a big difference in my mind’s initial responses to anxiety-inducing situations.
And then we had an amazing little girl. We had a lot of challenges with the pregnancy, and we’ve had a lot of challenges since, but I’ve become a lot better at managing my anxiety. To an extent, this still involves me controlling the situation I’m in when I can (e.g. when my body tells me I’m too tired to stay up any later, I listen to it and go to bed instead of pushing myself), but it’s not running the show anymore. My anxiety isn’t gone, and I doubt it ever will be, but now it’s just a small part of my life – like the fact that I don’t like hotdogs, or my inability to keep my desk tidy, or the way I can’t stand the sound of a metal spoon scraping out a metal pot.
And hopefully it will become a smaller and smaller part of me as I find and cling to the things that ground me – yoga, laughing with a good friend (that’s you, Meem), my husband’s support, the rhythmic breathing of my sleeping daughter…
…the things that matter.
To be continued…