How finally admitting to myself that I needed professional help, changed my life for the better.
The claim I most often made as to why I was being a jerk last night, or why I seem so gosh darn unempathetic and outright cruel at times, is that I can’t control myself when I feeling anxious and that it wasn’t really a big deal. Jeez.
I was wrong. When I say anxious, I mean heartbeat pounding on my ear drums, choking on my own throat, with lots of heat building in my forehead type of anxiety. I’m the worst right before, during, and after a panic attack. I don’t give a shit about your feelings when I feel like my world is crumbling around me. And it’s taken me 29 years, and 4 failed loves to realize that. The only way I’ve been able to loosen the grip of anxiety’s chains on me was to tell myself it’s not my fault. Eventually I told myself that I don’t have to react that way anymore as well. My ex-partners knew this all along, but golly they couldn’t articulate it. Or if they could I wasn’t have been able to hear them.
I don’t always have to have a panic attack to behave this way though. I could just start feeling what I call the precursors to them, and still act like a helpless, scared, snappy little monster. The worst was after both of my parents died. The poor treatment even extended to my closest friends, who despite their faults or lack of experience with grief, were trying to help me. I lashed out often.
The last panic attack I had was at the end of a mediocre yet important feeling vacation with my most recent ex. I finally felt like I loved her, and more importantly I could feel that she loved me too. The panic came over me our way to the airport. I realized that this moment was bitterly temporary, and that things were soon to fall apart between us. It was absolutely devastating, and she couldn’t even begin to help me. The only way I could figure to fix it was drastically altering my brain chemistry as best I could given my resources. I got drunk at the airport bar.
Though she didn’t realize it, she experiences terrible bouts of anxiety too, she just works really hard through them and goes for a lot of runs, and tells herself that she’s high functioning. But yeah, I get it, I’m overwhelming. This isn’t the point to this story though. I experience what clinical therapist describe a combination of shutting down and overcompensating. Usually people lean towards one side of the spectrum more than another, they’re loud or silent. Like when a star dies, I simultaneously implode and explode. And boy is it confusing. How can one be so debilitated? Yet so angry at the same time?
As I write this I am celebrating the one year mark of finally admitting to myself that I need help. It was really hard for me to admit to myself, that no I’m not smart enough or equipped enough to deal with “it” on my own. It had been getting worse as my stress levels increased. Within the job I had once loved and then loathed panic attacks were happening weekly.
Finally I sought out professional help. I found a therapist that I mostly like. She’s patient, intelligent, and illustrates ideas in beautiful and heartening ways.
Know though, that it can be difficult for a professional to diagnose someone with anxiety. It took her 6 months of seeing me once or twice a week to realize I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder. The thing is, when I’m feeling stable, as I usually do after mentally preparing for a therapy session, I can sound really calm, confident and cool. I downplay my experiences, to make them seem not so big, scary or important. I lied too to her, at the beginning, not feeling I could trust her, or assuming I knew what she wanted to hear. One day at that six month mark I mentioned having a panic attack, and it shocked her. It’s a weird feeling to shock your therapist. We started making real progress after that point.
After being diagnosed everything became a little easier. I was sick, not broken.
Though I’m in a much better place now, don’t get me wrong the past year has been rough. Facing my innermost demons was extremely painful, deeply unsettling and absolutely jarring most of the time. I need days to recover from a single session sometimes. How could I have been so blind to x? So deaf to y? Oh I am gay. And it’s okay? Well yeah, it is. Oh I am carrying a lot of grief still from the recent loss of my parents and resulting dissolution of my family. The experience has been wonderfully eye-opening, even if it’s been frightening at times too.
I learned that I have a nasty self deprecating lust for those who seem emotionally intelligent, but who are really just emotionally unavailable. I realized that I needed to stop making space for those people, even if they’re the best lay I’ve ever had. And are super witty, incredibly intelligent, doing important work, and might even be famous one day. None of that matters when you have a mental illness, and aren’t getting treatment for it. They’re just great big sparkly distractions. So I’m getting treatment and taking a break from dating for the first time since I started at 15. It’s not easy to choose to be alone, but it feels important right now.
After doing those two major things, taking the time to be kind to myself, like going hiking alone, take baths, sleep in, and read self-help books seemed a little less hard. I used to kill my body, mind and spirit in the name of other’s work. It felt important to be apart of something bigger than myself, even if that thing wasn’t very interesting to me. I’m writing this hoping that a least one person who reads this finds inspiration to adopt self-care and even maybe seek out professional therapy, in hopes of finding a little more happiness. The scary thoughts still creep up on me, just a lot less frequently now. I now have many signs to warn me, feelings in my gut, tightness in my throat, pain in my neck and back to name a few. When I feel them, I can pull out other tools to battle them. Instead of just lying in bed worrying away the day.