By: Keisha K. Page
I don’t know exactly when I developed anxiety. I’ve always been the type of woman who would trust that gut feeling; for me, the gut feeling was literal. If something were bothering me, I would feel a tightening in my lower belly. Some days, it would be so intense that my stomach muscles would actually be sore. “That’s normal,” I would tell myself. “Everyone feels anxious from time to time.”
And that’s true. Anxiety is part of that fight-or-flight instinct that has served us, and our ancestors, very well over thousands of years. Anxiety is what keeps you from getting just a little bit closer to the edge of the cliff, even though it’s exhilarating to be there. Anxiety makes you slow down when you see the driver in front of you weaving in their lane. Anxiety tells you that it’s time to phone a friend when the guy that’s hitting on you at the bar won’t leave you alone.
I was a smoker. I started in my teens and smoked off and on for many years. Two years ago, shortly after turning 40, I quit. I was trying to get healthier, and it’s hard to run a mile when you’re followed by a smoker’s cough. It took me a long time to quit, and my reward for quitting was those anxious feelings, creeping in every day. Sometimes, every hour. See, when you smoke, you’re actually self-medicating your anxiety. When you’re a smoker, and you begin to feel anxious, you interpret that as needing a cigarette. When you feel the calming effects of the nicotine enter your bloodstream, your anxiety quiets for a while. So when you quit smoking, you lose that temporary calming effect.
For most people who quit smoking, anxiety symptoms abate over time; part of the healing that happens to the former smoker’s bodies. For me? My anxiety symptoms skyrocketed. One day, I was worried that we were running low on propane, despite just having our propane tank filled a few weeks before. I went out and checked the gauge, and, sure enough, we were almost full. We had several months’ worth of propane. Regardless, I check the propane tank five more times that day, because I couldn’t quiet the anxiety. I mostly coped with my symptoms on my own; we were in a bad housing situation, but it was temporary. We knew we would be moving soon, and I figured that most of my anxiety symptoms would go away once we were out of that situation.
And I was right. Moving did make most of my anxiety symptoms go away. We moved into a great apartment, with a caring landlord, with more space for the kids and in an overall better place for our family. I was doing really well.
In January 2016, my ten-year-old son had two tonic-clonic seizures within two days. I have five children, so we’ve had our share of emergency room visits and close calls. But I have never been more scared than walking into our hallway and finding my son convulsing on the floor. Until his second seizure, when he actually stopped breathing. It was a rough few days. Over the coming weeks and months, my son would be diagnosed with epilepsy, and develop several other types of seizures. There would be medication side effects to deal with, an intake for inpatient treatment for what we thought were psychotic breaks caused by the medication (they weren’t; they were manifestations of another type of seizure), and developmental evaluations that will probably lead to a diagnosis of autism.
In March, my middle daughter required emergency surgery. In May, my youngest daughter had routine blood work drawn to look for an iron deficiency that might be causing her migraines. What we found was an abnormal platelet count. We’ve been treating that for months and are now in the final stages of determining the cause. It will probably be a life-altering diagnosis for her. We’re in a holding pattern, hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst.
Oh, and my mom died. After telling me that she didn’t want us to come see her in her final days.
2016 has been a spectacular shit show for us.
I’m sure you can imagine the result on my anxiety. While it was never really gone, there’s nothing like holding your daughter’s hand while they explain how they’re going to stick a tube down her throat for surgery to bring those symptoms roaring to the forefront. It finally got to the point where it couldn’t be ignored any longer, and I made an appointment with a therapist.
Over the course of several appointments, she diagnosed me with anxiety and neurosis. Wikipedia tells us that neurosis is a “poor ability to adapt.” When she told me that, I thought “I’ve never heard a better description of me.” It took a while to get in to see a doctor; when you live in a rural setting, appointments with doctors for mental health issues can take months, and may be done remotely. Mine was done over Skype.
She ended up prescribing me a medication to take on an as-needed basis, and one to help me deal with that bedtime anxiety that those who live with this diagnosis can relate to so well. Basically, it helps my brain shut up. It’s been so bad recently that I once had to get out of bed at 2 am and balance the checkbook; I knew there was plenty of money in the account, but my brain kept telling me to balance it anyway.
So far, I’ve been taking the as-needed medication every morning. I skipped one morning and found myself constantly flipping back and forth between email, Twitter, and Facebook. My mind was racing. What if one of my clients tagged me in a post? What if someone posted something that I could help with? What if something happened in the world and I didn’t know about it right away? Quite simply, my as-needed medicine doesn’t necessarily quiet all those thoughts, but it allows me to provide myself with a logical answer to each of those. If one of my clients tags me in a post and I don’t see it promptly, they’ll ping me some other way. My email comes to my phone, so it’s rare that I miss one. If someone truly needs my help, and no one else will do, again, they’ll get in touch with me directly. And if the world ends today while I’m helping a client market their book, then it ends. There’s absolutely nothing I can do to stop it.
While I’m nowhere near cured, and I would love to be able to be off medication someday, medication has given me the gift of focus. Medication allows me to handle things like work and family without my mind racing a million miles an hour about topics that I literally have no control over. I’m not checking the propane tank five times a day, nor am I spending time worrying about things like did I buy enough pasta while it was on sale or the state of Brad and Angelina’s marriage.
But most of all, my medication gives to others.
I spend part of every day in fear. I’m scared that today my son’s daily seizures will cause brain damage. I’m fearful that my daughter will throw a clot, resulting in a stroke. They’re nine and ten, so that kind of fear is normal. Feeling anxiety because of my kids’ medical conditions is completely okay. But my anxiety medication gives me the gift of life. You see, I could easily wrap my kids in bubble wrap by refusing to leave the house, or putting away bicycles and basketballs and canceling trips to the water park to minimize the opportunities to get hurt or experience trauma if a seizure comes. But in the off chance that the worst of my fears comes to fruition, because of anxiety medicine I’m able to let them live the life they have. A little more protected, sure. Always carrying a bag of emergency medications, wearing a helmet to swing on the swing set, and always realizing that a minor bleeding event can turn into a major deal. But I can’t isolate my kids. They need to be able to live their lives and enjoy being children. My anxiety medication gives me the opportunity to give them that. Today, and every day, I’m thankful that I take medication for my anxiety, and I will continue to be thankful for that.
Keisha K. Page is an author and working mom to five kids. She works as a publicist, and has a keen interest in herbology.