Why I Waited Too Long To Feel Better
The top 10 places panic attacks have hit throughout the years of my life:
Under a table in California.
In a movie theater.
In a restaurant after worrying I’d eaten too fast.
In a meeting at a huge, round table where I couldn’t hide.
In my bed, while waiting to fall asleep.
In a doctor’s office.
At a bar meeting my now-hub’s friends for the first time.
In a grocery store.
Standing under the stars in the motionless summer air.
In my car while driving.
I had been told, as the recipient of the family gift of anxiety that I needed to “ride it out.” That the feelings and intensity gripping my body, the haunting dread that I was going to die would pass. To a degree, this was comforting. I didn’t want to address it, treat it, or even talk about it.
Once, on the advice of a therapist, I bought an anxiety workbook and then had to hide it from myself. If I looked at it, an attack would ensue.
I was afraid to try mind-altering meds because of the side effects they might bring and I reasoned that I wasn’t so bad off. Other people had much worse conditions, I told myself. I was safe. I was working. I have beautiful children and a lot of love in my little family, so what the hell is wrong with me?
I have endured innumerable dumpings of cortisol, my pulse spiking, heart hammering, body seizing and I believe this broke my constitution. I now have an autoimmune disease. Decades of undergoing such extreme strife were not sustainable and stress is a harbinger of many other conditions and diseases.
I write this because I take Prozac now and I am not ashamed. I talk about it with people openly. Because there is nothing to hide. There is no reason to feel such shame as I have felt for decades. Anxiety is no different than diabetes, or any other disease that needs management.
I don’t want to be in public and inexplicably, wince as the hooks of anxiety curl into me. When next I have to whip off my top shirt to sit in my tank top in the middle of winter in a doctor’s waiting room. In that moment, I had to shed my clothes, my skin if needed, for I became scorching hot in seconds and reacted as if I were on display even when everyone around me had their eyes lowered to their magazines. Like a dinosaur behind a light post. There was nowhere to go.
Never again will I be without the medication that staves off absolutely unnecessary suffering. Never again will I attempt to flex my rigid body into some semblance of usefulness and bury myself in the distraction of work.
I was judgmental for being unable to cease what I couldn’t even understand. I labeled myself as different, a crazymaker and a drama queen to avoid talking about what was really going on. I have severe panic attacks and I need medication to manage them.
I made a habit of treating myself cruelly, and I gained NOTHING from it. That’s why I want to share with you that you will be okay. You are okay. You are YOU. You are not like anyone else in the universe living or dead. You deserve treatment, care, and love and you must be the advocate for you to receive what you need to live and thrive.
You CAN thrive. I promise. When you soften that edge on your fear and doom and instead, live aware of who you are, you can coexist with anxiety.
The way to our inner strength is through our vulnerabilities and the healing, magnificent self-love we have been denying ourselves all along.
Sometimes, we get caught up in how awful it feels to think we are different. My misery was more comforting than a supposed alien cure. I forgive myself for this mistake. I came into my adulthood primed to suspect, distrust and run. I did not have the perspective to see I could care for me. I had waited too long for others to step in and save me, I’d never regarded myself as the heroine I needed.
I moved forward by trying. I don’t know how many times I sat in the doctor’s office, numbly bobbing my head in agreement that I would “try for real this time to take the pill. I promise.” Then I would never fill the prescription. If I did, it sat on my bedside table and reminded me I wasn’t normal. I have thrown away at least 20 bottles of Prozac over the years.
One day, the panic edged out the comfort I sought. I was sick, exhausted, teary, gaunt, my stomach hurt, circles hung under my eyes. I shook. I sweated. I couldn’t feel the way I did one second longer. So, I applied the logic I had used in overcoming my eating disorder. I would “do it and worry about the effects later.” Then I took one pill and nothing horrible happened. Relief swept over me and I was embarrassed at my fear. I kept taking the pills.
Prozac helps not only my anxiety, but my short-term memory, and it calms inflammation in my body that is exacerbated by…you guessed it…anxiety.
Anxiety has been demoted to a trait I carry inside. Brown hair, hazel eyes, anxiety. I acknowledge it, treat it and move along in my life.
I am making up for lost time loving and reassuring myself that I am wonderful despite any mental health conditions I need to manage. This is what I tell myself daily: “No one else has a more vested interest in you than you.” As it is true for me. It is also true for you.
Hilary L. Jastram is the owner of J. Hill Marketing, specializing in copywriting and book editing for entrepreneurs and Fortune 500 brands. She is an author and contributor to multiple media including Huff Post, The Mighty and The Good Men Project. Jastram founded Sick Biz, a non-profit supporting sick and disabled entrepreneurs and hosts the podcast Sick Biz Buzz. She can be found on her website, Facebook, and Twitter.