THE SHORT VERSION
This story was written after finding peace and growth through mindfulness during a very difficult period in my life in which anxiety, agoraphobia, derealization, and panic attacks ruled my world. I wanted to spread the message of stillness to people of all ages because it has helped me tremendously. It is also my hope that the story inspires others to believe that they too can overcome their fears and difficulties.
THE LONG VERSION
This story was written over a 9 year period. I just didn’t know it yet.
In 2006, I pulled into the parking lot of a train station about 30 min away from my house. I was on my way down to Miami to work on a song with a talented spoken word poet for my second album . Feeling nauseous and overheated, I exited the expressway and pulled into the first parking lot on the right. And then it hit me. An overwhelming feeling of dread ran through my body as I fought back the urge to vomit. I was suddenly confronted with the fear that I was losing control and I might jump in front of the train. I locked my car doors, terrified at what was happening in my mind and body. Afraid to drive and far from home, I called my parents to come get me. That night I went to sleep not knowing if I would wake up the next morning. Later that week, a psychologist unofficially diagnosed me with generalized anxiety disorder with panic attacks and derealization. I was placed on medication to help alleviate the symptoms. I also attended weekly counseling sessions. The medication worked. The counseling helped only as much as I would allow it to. At that time, I wasn’t in the frame of mind to address the underlying issues, I just wanted it gone. It took about three months, but I eventually regained my life and went right back to my old routines. I wouldn’t know until much later that those routines were a major cause of my anxiety.
Fast forward to 2013 and I find myself in the ER after having the head nurse at my job call the ambulance. I had been working long hours and performing or rehearsing endlessly with my band for five months. I was running on fumes and had been experiencing heart palpitations for the past month or so. After seeing a patient (I’m an Occupational Therapist Assistant), my heart began racing and I felt a sense of impending doom. I thought I was having a heart attack. When the ER doctor walked over to my hospital bed after running standard cardiac tests, he handed me a prescription for Xanax and informed me I probably experienced a panic attack. I quickly made an appointment to see my primary doctor and asked him to write me a prescription for the same anti-anxiety medication I had taken on and off for five years. He agreed and a sense of relief came over me.
I generally hate medication, but I was not willing to go through another bout of anxiety and derealization. I took the medication that night, as I had many times before. At around four in the morning, I woke up in a panic. I took the medication again the next night, and had the same result. After reading that sometimes people go through similar situations before the medication works, I tried it a third night. Again, four hours after taking it, I was awakened by panic. I skipped the fourth night. I had never had any side effects before. But, something was different with this medication. It looked different. Its color was a darker shade of pink and the shape was oval instead of rectangular with rounded edges. I Googled the medication and found that it was a different generic version than what I was used to taking. It also had some different fillers in it – substances they use to make up the density of the pill. The fourth night I didn’t take it I slept soundly. I tried it one more time, thinking I just had to tough through it. And, for the fifth time, I woke up in a panic. After a week, my nerves felt frazzled. I had regressed. What was at least manageable was now almost unbearable as I spent a majority of my day with anxiety so high my skin felt like it was on pins and needles and the world became a terrifying place. I could barely eat. I had already lost roughly twenty pounds in one month and sleeping was dreadful because as soon as I opened my eyes in the morning I was confronted with extreme levels of anxiety.
In desperate need of help and still able to drive long distances, my family and I traveled 45 min away to the nearest available psychiatrist. She prescribed me two different medication. One was a heavy duty anti-anxiety medication often prescribed to cancer patients. She explained that it would give me an appetite and also make me very drowsy so I could sleep. She also prescribed me a medication I was supposed to take when the panic attacks were happening. A sort of quick fix. I took the prescriptions home and stared at them for a while. Had this become my life? Was I to forever rely on these medications to get through my day? Just two months prior I was performing on stages, traveling freely, living my life without fear. Now, there I sat, staring at two pieces of paper that would determine my future. I thought about it that night. The next day I decided not to take them. I refused to become a zombie, even if that meant I needed to face my anxiety alone for the first time.
Without medication to curb the panic, I developed agoraphobia. Two months earlier I was able to drive wherever I needed to. Now, I had trouble driving to the grocery store less than half a mile from my house without feeling high levels of anxiety. Just the thought of traveling distances scared me. I began to wonder how people were able to travel, go on vacations, etc. Whenever my significant other would leave the house, I would have anxiety about being alone in the house and her driving an hour to her parents home. And the thought of visiting my parents in Florida – I had moved to Texas in 2008 – was more than I could bare. Getting on a plane was out of the question. My job at that time was Home Health, which entails driving long distances all day. I was the only therapist they had in my area, so I was covering homes that were over an hour away from me. After experiencing panic while leaving a patient’s house, I asked my significant other if she’d be willing to drive me to my next appointment. She compassionately agreed. I ended up hiring her as my driver. I am forever grateful to her for being so supportive.
I knew I had to do something to regain my life so I started by trying to find distractions. I also went back to exercising. Exercise had become a part of my lifestyle in 2006 after I was put on medication. I was told at that time that exercise helps and so I exercised. I developed a routine and ended up working out up to six days a week. I gained leaned muscle and confidence. I was in the best physical condition of my life. I had stopped exercising regularly at the beginning of 2013, distracted by my job and musical pursuits. I figured it had something to do with the condition I was in now. So I worked out. And I ate. And I worked out. I had been diagnosed with gastritis as well so eating was somewhat difficult. However, I refused to take the Nexium I was prescribed me and instead chose to eat low acidic foods. I played video games, went golfing, bought a ping pong table, rode my new bike, and started practicing card tricks again – a hobby of mine that I enjoyed as a young teen. It all seemed to be working to some extent. But, I began to have anxiety during home health visits, even though I wasn’t driving. One day, the nervousness and tension was too much and I called the office. Feeling like I couldn’t put myself through that anymore, I gave them my two weeks notice. With no back up plan, I had no idea what I was going to do.
Jobless and without options, my anxiety came roaring back.
To Be Continued…