Thursday, November 7, 2013

Answers, part 2

I love that two people asked questions in my "ask me" post. After I made that post I realized that I was going to feel silly if no one had any questions, lol.

So yay for questions! Thanks for giving me a new topic to write about. Coming up with something daily is tricky.

Today's question is this:

Can I ask how you are doing with your anxiety? I have horrible medical-induced anxiety and really connected with you and what you go through. I seriously have the exact symptoms/issues and have been able to be symptom free since about April. Do you take medication? Therapy? How have you been dealing with it? I have been able to deal with mine through some acupuncture and some herbs. I have been sleeping better too! Have you been symptom free lately? You haven't posted about it for awhile.

Thank you for the question! I'm so happy to hear that your anxiety is doing better! I've always wondered about acupuncture. I might have to look into that! And thank you for reminding me to update that story! Anxiety is a topic that I could write a lot more about than I have. 
So to give some back story, a few years ago I started having issues with anxiety. I've always been a bit high strung at times, but not like that. I started having panic attacks and all sorts of weird physical symptoms that at first were extremely scary because I didn't know what they were. 
It was like a viscous cycle. The anxiety made me feel weird, which made me worry something was seriously wrong with me, which made me more anxious, which made me feel worse and the cycle continued. 
So I started going to the doctor, convinced that something was really wrong with me. I had all sorts of weird symptoms. Random pains, my limbs would go numb, I was having debilitating heart palpitations that made me feel like it was having a heart attack all day every day. It was awful. My biggest anxiety triggers are health related. Feeling like you're dying all the time is an awful way to live. 
So the doctor ran a million tests, nothing was wrong that he could find, but I still felt terrible. After a million trips to the doctor and many miserable months, he decided it was anxiety and depression and gave me medication.
Well the medication had side effects that made me feel worse. So they tried different medication and more medication. And when I had side effects to that he gave me more medication to counteract the effects of the other medication. 
I was unhappy, I was highly medicated and all of the stress of that just made my anxiety worse.
One night I was getting ready for bed and taking my medication and I looked down and I was taking TEN different medications. A few of them are things I take for asthma and allergies, but I also had one for depression, one for anxiety, one to sleep because the other pills kept me awake, one for heartburn because the stress I was under caused severe acid was ridiculous. I had a moment of clarity where I realized that this was absolutely not how I wanted to live my life. Something had to change. 
So I went back to the doctor and told him I was going off the pills and he referred me to a therapist. 
Here's what kind of makes me mad to this day. It took side effects from a million medications and many many miserable months before the word therapy was ever mentioned. I wish the medical community wasn't that way. I wish society wasn't that way. I wish I had known better. I know that medications have their place. I'm married to a pharmacist. Medications pay our bills. I absolutely believe that there are some people who need to be medicated, and for them I am grateful for modern medicine. But for me, medication was not the answer. It never was. I wish that I hadn't gone through all those miserable months to figure that out. I wish that doctors would mention therapy first and not as a last resort. If there's one thing that I want people to take out of this story is that there are other options besides medication. 
So I went to therapy. That was hard for me at first and embarrassing to admit. I would pop pills that made me miserable like it was nothing, but actually going to someone and admitting that I was so anxious and stressed that I couldn't function was extremely hard for me. Again, I wish in society it was the opposite. I wish there wasn't such a stigma about to going to therapy. After going through it myself, I think everyone could use a little therapy every now and then. 
So I went and my therapist was great. Some days we talked about ways to handle my anxiety and some days we talked about my life. I can be an intense person at times. That's not news to anyone. I'm an introvert, there is always something big going in my head. When I'm in the shower in the morning I'm analyzing where my college plans went wrong in the 90's. When I'm vacuuming I'm contemplating why I'm not close with my sister and what's up with my family disfunction. While I'm driving Clarissa to preschool I'm planning Josh's college plans, tying to figure out how much Matthews orthodontic work is going to cost, wondering if we have enough saved for retirement, mentally beating myself up for a stupid thing I said three years ago and debating with myself about things that happened twenty years ago.
It's kind of exhausting to be me, lol.
So that's what I discussed with my therapist. Ways to chill the heck out, lol. I did cognitive behavioral therapy, which is basically retraining your thoughts. It's hard at first, but it's effective if you work at it. I learned a lot about myself through therapy. I talked some things out. I let go of some hurt that had been festering. I learned that you can't control what other people do, you can only control how you react it it and that sometimes it's necessary and OK to take a step back from people who make you unhappy. He told me to try yoga. He encouraged me to get out of the house and do something fun. 
That led to the year of adventure and to my bike riding and running. Bike riding and running did wonders for me. I did all my life analyzing while I exercised. I worked my body and my brain so hard that I was mentally and physically exhausted every day when I was done. But I found that I was able to leave all my thoughts and worries in that work out session. I did all my stressing and worrying and self analyzing in that hour a day and my brain was free to focus on other things the rest of the day. It sounds silly but it helped tremendously. 
Am I 100% anxiety free today? No. But I'm almost medication free (I still take a very tiny dose of one anxiety medication on an as needed basis) and I'm not having panic attacks, daily heart palpitations or a hundred other crazy symptoms that make me feel like I'm dying. 
I will probably always have anxiety to some extent, but these days it's pretty mild. If I get heavy exercise every single day, like a long bike ride or running on the treadmill, the anxiety is almost 100% gone. Unfortunately I'm on and off the wagon with that. I'm trying. More often than not these days I fail, but I continue to try. Next year Clarissa goes off to Kindergarten and I have big plans to kick the exercise back into gear when that happens. It will just be easier to be consistent when I have some daily alone time. Right now I struggle fitting it into my day with a toddler to juggle. People do it, I know. I could do it if I got myself better organized. But I'm struggling with it. But I do know that exercise does wonders for anxiety. Getting on my bike every day last summer did more for my anxiety than any pill I ever took. 
Our year of adventure also really helped. I realized that at some point I became so busy worrying about sending my kids to college and planning our retirement and worrying about my extended family and rehashing every single thing I ever did wrong in my entire life since birth that I forgot to chill out and have fun. Remembering how to have fun again really helped. 
Sometimes I catch myself falling into old habits. I still analyze my life in the shower every morning, lol. I get some great deep thinking done while I blow dry my hair. :) But I have tools I used in therapy to keep me on track. I take time to do things for myself. Painting my nails has been oddly therapeutic. It's like my little happy place. It's something I do just for me. 
I learned a lot about myself from that journey. I think it made me stronger as a person. I used to be embarrassed to admit that I have anxiety or that I went to therapy. Now, it's just a fact about my life. It's just part of my story. I found myself in a dark place and I reached down deep and pulled myself out of it. I'm better now. Go me. :)

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