I was only diagnosed with anxiety quite recently(February of this year), but after my psychologist heard my life story she suspected that I'd been suffering it off and on from the time I was six years old. I'm 23 now.
Before the age of 22 the attacks were really only something that would happen out of the blue and were more like extreme panic. I'd have to lie down, read a book, play a computer game or watch some TV for an hour, breathing very rapidly, sweating, freaking out. They'd pass in about
an hour and a half. That all changed last October when I was up late on a very rainy night working on a computer program. It was about
10:30, and suddenly I felt like I'd been broadsided by a MACK truck. I immediately started to feel nauseous, sweaty and my mind started racing faster than it ever had before. A few hours later it had passed by, or so I thought. For the next three weeks I dealt with severe anxiety which seemed to peak in the second week and then improve however, I was in such a state by the middle of the second week that I was barely functioning. I'd sleep for six hours and wake up and it would be impossible to go back to bed. No more sleeping in. I constantly felt nauseous and cut my eating down to one meal a day(not healthy for a guy who's 5'9" and only weighs about
130lbs to begin with), and even then I'd have to force it down. I constantly drank water and iced tea as I felt dehydrated 24/7. I finally plucked up the courage to go to my doctor on Election Day and felt rather insulted at the reaction: "Here, take these and see if you feel better in a week. Have a good day." He'd prescribed me Xanax. I didn't touch the pills as I was a bit afraid of them. Fortunately during that bout, my friends and family rallied round and I pulled myself together. It also helped that Christmas was coming down the pike and it meant I'd be spending a lot of time with family. I didn't feel anxious again until the beginning of my last semester at college.
I can barely remember the beginning of my last semester. I seem to recall a blur of classes, sitting in my room late at night crying and trying to get myself to sleep and trying to hide my problem from my supervisor at work. Finally I bottomed out and announced to my parents(who by this time were very concerned about
their constantly-weeping son), that I was going to seek counseling at the school's student assistance and development offices. It was the best move I ever made. From the start of the very first session, the psychologist I was assigned to identified my problem and she suggested while participating in therapy I should also be prescribed a low dosage of an SSRI. I was prescribed 10mg of Lexapro daily, and while the drug messed with both my mind(it actually made me more anxious the first few days, which is a common side effect), and my GI tract, after about
two weeks my body had adjusted and I began to feel a little more relaxed. During this time the therapy continued and my psychologist had me walk back through my life, identified the separation anxiety and confirmed what I'd suspected for many years: it never really went away. She also had me think back to that fateful night in October when the anxiety really started, and she asked me what I'd been thinking about
at the time. After about
ten minutes of explanation, I realized myself that several extreme stressors in my life had combined all at the same time and it had been enough to bring on my first real bout of anxiety. At the time I was dealing with school stress, two of my best friends had left an organization we'd all been with for many years, I was worried about
my mother as she was concerned about
being laid off and as graduation was closing on me fast I was beginning to hit the quarter-life crisis stage.
Now, these posts are supposed to be about
victories and successes, and all I've done so far is give you my own tale of doom and gloom. However, I'm pleased to report that I continued my therapy all the way up until a week before my graduation date, and I'm glad I did. I graduated from college at the end of May this year and was quickly hired to a new job which I've been having a great time with so far. By the time I reached graduation, I was relaxed enough through therapy and medication that I enjoyed it, and had a heck of a summer with friends.
Some small pieces of advice I'll dole out, and take 'em or leave 'em. I know what worked for me will be completely different for someone else.
1) Explain to your family and friends what's going on with you. I can only imagine how I appeared to my friends and parents before my psychologist suggested that I just level with them. Once I did explain, they were all extremely supportive and began offering help any way they could. While some of the things they suggested I'd already tried, other things were wonderful, and it felt great just to know I had such a large group of people rallying around to get me through. If you have true friends, you won't be ridiculed. You'll be embraced.
2) If you're comfortable with it, tell your supervisor. I was a student worker in February when I had my last shot of anxiety, and I knew my work was suffering as a result. I finally leveled with my boss and explained what was going on, and his response completely surprised me. I thought he'd simply tell me to take time off if I thought I couldn't do my job, but he understood that I knew I COULD do my job, I was just being debilitated by worry all the time. He went to my other supervisor, explained what was going on, and they both suggested coming into work at my own pace, and when I was there they'd assign me fairly complex projects as they knew work would take my mind off things. To my surprise, my quality of work actually IMPROVED during this period as I was concentrating so hard on the projects.
3) Do not be afraid to seek professional assistance. Both my sister and I have had our share of mental issues, and both of us have had positive experiences with therapy. It does help and it's nothing to be ashamed of. Getting other perspectives on why we're feeling the way we do and what we can try to calm ourselves down is how we learn to cope.
Another small success: My anxiety has actually ratcheted up in the last couple of days as I'm moving out of my parents' house and into an apartment by myself. Change is not something I deal with very gracefully and it often causes feelings of unease. My anxiety this morning was quite bad however, I forced myself to face my fear and went 'round to my still very empty apartment today to clean and get my internet set up and move in some more furniture. After an hour in there, I was feeling more relaxed.
I know it's a rough road and anxiety can hit you quicker than a snap of the fingers and turn you into a complete basket case, but it DOES get better with time, support and understanding. Don't try to run from it, face it. You'll be glad you did.