My Deep Dark Secret
Please don't get too close to the edge.
Please don't sit on top of the ledge.
Why is that plane flying so low and so fast?
Please don't choke.
Should I even bother going? I won't know anyone; it's a room full of strangers.
Please don't tailgate so closely.
Why is the house such a mess? Why can't it ever stay clean?
What was that noise? Is someone in the house? Could they have cut the alarm system and broken in?
We're going to be late. We can't be late. We have to be on time.
These are thoughts I have on an almost daily basis. Thoughts I have had on a daily basis for as long as I can remember. Thoughts that usually are accompanied by a feeling of utter chaos, a racing pulse, adrenaline coursing through my body, and a slight feeling of being sick to my stomach. I've always been a "Type A" person, someone who has to be in control, even as a kid. I have been told so many times by teachers, my parents, and even employers that I'm incredibly too wound up and I need to relax. The thing is though I can't relax. As soon as one of these thoughts invades my brain my body goes into overdrive and I feel like things swirl out of control seemingly in an instant.
I'd say in the last two or three years the thoughts and the feeling of being completely overwhelmed have gotten progressively worse. A messy house makes me twitch; things not in their "correct" spot make me twitch. I drive incredibly too fast (and even walk too fast) to ensure that I'm on time or early to appointments and events. I can't look at a lengthy report at work and just do what I can do during the course of my work day; instead I work myself into a frenzy trying to complete it before the end of the day because things cannot be left unfinished. Watching Sophia attempt to chew a larger piece of food makes me cringe and want to pull it out of her mouth and chop it up into tiny bites for her. I hesitate to join in on social events because the thought of only knowing one or two people intimidates me (this includes things in my blogging/internet realm as well).
I understand that this is not normal behavior; that I can't have a spotless house every second of every day; that there are things that will prohibit me from being on time all the time; that I can't do every single task assigned to our department especially given our current situation; that I can't take food out of my daughter's mouth while she's chewing it unless it's spiked with poison. I understand that someone leaning over the railing of the deck does not mean they will fall over the edge and plummet to the ground but that doesn't stop the image from playing out in my head. I also realize that the possibility is very slim that someone is actually in my home without me detecting them and the noise I hear is most likely the cats. I have known for a long time that my thoughts aren't centered…that I'm just slightly off.
While I recognized that all of this isn't normal I didn't really do anything about it. I did a cursory Google search for tips on coping with anxiety and found recommendations for exercise and herbal supplements; neither of which were really up my alley so I continue to do nothing. It wasn't until Sophia was about five months old and we started looking for a sitter to watch her during the day did I realize that I needed some help calming down because suspecting that every possible sitter was a child snatcher was again not normal. I knew I needed to see my doctor but even the thought of that sent me into a tailspin. I didn't want him to think I was in there just for drugs but I also didn't want just a recommendation for a therapist so I could talk about why I'm such a hot mess and instruct me to find my happy place when I felt myself seizing up. I also wondered if I was really as bad as I thought I was. I finally caved and made an appointment when I saw how hesitant Sophia can be when attempting certain tasks like pulling up and walking. I didn't know if it was just her nature to be caution or if I was modeling overly cautious behavior that bordered on neurosis. I think a lot of my anxiety stems from seeing my dad model his anxiety as I was growing up and I don't want to continue that cycle for Sophia.
When I finally got in to see the doctor I casually said I thought I needed help with managing my anxiety. "Tell me about your anxiety," he said. And I did…just like I did at the beginning of this post. I told him I've been putting off social events, that my heart races if I or anyone gets too close to an edge, that I can't watch my kid eat a meal without being on the edge of my seat ready to jump up and perform the Heimlich, that I can barely stand being a passenger in a car, that I'm not so secretly afraid there is someone in the house ready to do harm to us. When he asked how long this had been going on I told him about two or three years and he just looked at me with a "you've got to be kidding" face (as an aside, me and the good doctor have an awesome relationship; I expected nothing less than this reaction).
Describing all of this told him what I already suspected; that I have generalized anxiety disorder. In my very "Type A" way, having a label for my behavior and knowing I'm not "crazy" was another huge burden off my chest. He wrote me a prescription for an anti-anxiety med and we talked about a type of therapy called Cognitive Behavior Therapy. I've been on the medication for just over a month and what a huge difference it makes. It removes the physical responses to stress so that I can rationally sort out a solution and talk myself down from whatever is about to key me up. I haven't been sold on attending therapy yet because I'm finding my ability to rationalize and calm myself improving now that I don't need to focus on the physical responses. Our goal is to have me on it for a short amount of time (under a year). This will hopefully be enough time for me to learn alternate ways to respond to stressful or perceived stressful situations. If I'm not doing well I may need to go back on it and medication maybe a longer term solution for me.
Whatever solution comes my way I'm just relieved I finally did something about it.