Stigma Fighters: Lisa Petty

Always Anxiety

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been on edge. I always have that slight fear in the pit of my stomach. I jump when the doorbell or the phone rings. Driving on a highway makes my palms sweat. I have to medicate myself to get on a plane. Though, it seems like I was born this way, I think my anxiety started in first grade.

For the first year and a half of school, I went to St. Mark’s Lutheran school. Even before I understood that I was an atheist, I didn’t really dig all of the Bible and Jesus aspects of my education, but I really liked my friends and the atmosphere of the school. Unfortunately, my single mother could not afford to keep me there. So, I had to go to a local elementary school.

I didn’t like leaving my friends and my private school. The public school was odd for me. It was bigger and louder, and we didn’t have milk and cookie time. Plus, I was quiet, little, and white girl in a school where I really didn’t fit in. As you can imagine, I was picked on A LOT.

To add more excitement to life, my mother started dating a psycho. Her beau was a married, abusive alcoholic who beat her and molested me. It wasn’t the first time I was sexually abused. A family member started this trend when I was three. So, when this guy started with me, I thought this must just be a normal thing. He stayed in our lives for seven years. He dislocated my mother’s jaw twice. Both times she refused to press charges. This is probably where my jumpiness at the doorbell comes from as this man would sometimes come over when my mom wasn’t home.

Even though I was anxious throughout my life, I didn’t have my first panic attack until I was 20. It happened in a hospital while I was visiting a friend from my survivors of sexual abuse group. She had a feeding tube in her nose, and IV tubes, and there was just that hospital smell. It got to me. I was able to excuse myself and walk out of the room. As I was walking down the hall, cold sweating, hyperventilating, and dry heaving, I told myself, “Just sit down. There are doctors and nurses here. Just sit.” I didn’t. Like an animal, I try to never show my weakness. I made it to the waiting room where my boyfriend was. He had come with me to the hospital, but didn’t go to the room with me. I sat down on a chair and grabbed a trashcan, thinking I was going to vomit. I never did. I just huffed and puffed and heaved until the attack passed. I was shaky and weak when it was done.

I have had several attacks since then, once while I was pregnant and standing in line at the post office, a few times on planes, and a few times just at home. They are always scary, and I swear I’m dying each time. Once, I fainted during an attack. So, now I know to just sit down on the ground if a chair is not near by.

I worried constantly when I was pregnant. People like me should not read What to Expect When You’re Expecting. Any odd symptom I got, like spotting, had the same explanation in the book. “Sometimes this just happens, and it’s normal, OR THE BABY COULD BE DEAD INSIDE OF YOU RIGHT NOW!!!!” At least that is how I interpreted it. I was so afraid of hurting the baby with what I ate or drank that I threw out frozen dinner that I was about to microwave because the 27th ingredient, or so, was wine.

I have tried a couple of therapists throughout the years, but I finally went to a psychiatrist when I was going through my divorce. I was a single mom with a toddler and I was always overwhelmed and angry. I was very moody. The psychiatrist asked me if anyone was bipolar in my family. I told him that one cousin was (the one who later died from Coumadin, but I will get to that). So, because it was a popular diagnosis, and I had one relative with the disease, I was misdiagnosed as bipolar. I took lithium for a little over a year and it did nothing for my anxiety. It just made me gain 25 pounds. I stopped taking it on my own and I went 10 years without taking any daily psychiatric medication. And other than the ongoing nervousness, I was fine, for the most part, until I got a DVT.

I started having calf pain after an ankle injury a couple of years ago. When I found out it was a clot, and that the treatment was blood thinners, specifically Coumadin (Note: my cousin bled out and died after a fall while on Coumadin), I lost my shit. So, in addition to putting me on Coumadin, my doctor prescribed daily Buspar. It worked well for a while. My IBS even got better. Then, it stopped working for my anxiety, and it just made me foggy. So, since I like to think, I stopped taking it. I decided to just deal with the fact that I jump out of my skin when the doorbell rings if I can drive without zoning out and write coherent sentences.

Now, I just medicate as needed with Ativan. By as needed, I mean definitely when I fly. I also need a little help with crowds, like county fairs or concerts. Since my son performs with a local rock band, I am in small, dive bars a lot. So, Ativan to the rescue, for now.

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Lisa R. Petty is a former stand-up comedian who decided she would rather just write funny stuff than deal with drunk people touching her after shows. When she is not cracking inappropriate jokes, Lisa is an online English professor. You can read more of her snarkasm on Petty Thoughts. If you like humor and cat pictures, you can follow Lisa on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.

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  • Ross H

    I know the feeling – crowds are a real problem with me too with anxiety overload. Except for when it’s ‘my’ crowd when I’m doing stand up. 🙂

    • Lisa R. Petty

      Ross, I used to do stand up, too. I had no problem being on stage, but I would hide in the kitchen after shows. I didn’t like the drunks coming up to me and shaking hands etc.

      • Ross H

        Yeah, that I can understand. Besides the anxiety etc issues, I’m also a recovering drunk. Doesn’t worry me being around alcohol but can’t stand the stink of it. Or dealing with people who are like I used to be. lol