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HGM

Chasing adventure & living mindfully while parenting through mental illness

On Anxious Suffering 

I took the bus home after dark a few weeks ago. It was the first time I had done this in our new neighborhood. It was between 9 and 10 at night. While this might not be a big deal for some people, and wasn't even a big deal for me for a lot of my life, it is a huge deal now. I've always had anxiety about certain situations. I reported my car stolen when I lost it in a parking garage at night. In reality, my fear kept me from logically looking for my car. I was probably about 25 when I started having trouble regularly . It was little thoughts at first, jumping at shadows after watching a movie with a particularly violent scene, more caution about walking by myself after dark, nerves when running garbage into the back alley. My anxiety got much worse when I moved to Montreal and continued unabated when we returned home. The stress of being away from family and friends and being in a place where I didn't know what the good neighborhoods were caused my little anxiety to go out of control. I had panic attacks any time we went camping because of bears or serial killers. Some nights it took me hours to get to sleep because I thought every noise was someone breaking in. I thought every headache or stomach ache was a brain tumor or stomach cancer. This anxiety went on for a long time. It affected me socially. I didn't want to go out after dark, which made it harder to take breaks once I became a mom. I stopped going to hot yoga in part because even though I drove to the class, I often had to park 2 blocks away, and it was dark when I left class. If Nick went out of town, I had to go to his mom's or my mom's because I couldn't be in our house alone. I tried every therapy skill I could think of. Opposite action skills didn't work, I just felt more terrorized by my thoughts. I tried visualizing the situation going right instead of wrong, but the minute I stopped, the thoughts came flooding back. I tried mindfulness, breathing, challenges to my thoughts. I tried waiting and making the rest of my life more balanced, seeing if maybe it was just my body's response to big changes. I tried exposure therapy, trying little trips to see if I could gradually build up a tolerance to it. The only thing that made any difference was ensuring that I didn't mix alcohol and caffeine, which was a recipe for panic attacks. Despite all the work, I suffered. To live your life visualizing something that will kill you and feeling powerless to stop it is nothing short of suffering. But, like many people, I was concerned with taking medication. We were planning our second pregnancy. I'd had medication with unpleasant side effects before. I didn't want to rely on it forever. It wasn't like I was constantly having panic attacks, I just needed to get control of my thoughts.I finally admitted to myself that I couldn't get control of my thoughts. I admitted I was tired of fighting these thoughts, tired of the isolation. I talked to a psychiatrist who specializes in prenatal and postnatal mental health. She was able to prescribe something that would be safe during a future pregnancy and breastfeeding that had a low instance of side effects for me. I decided to give it a try. I had relief almost immediately. I've been on the medication for about a year and a half. I have no plans to go off. I still have anxious thoughts. Medication doesn't erase years of thought patterns. I still have to use those skills I mentioned above. But the skills work. The medication allows those skills to work. That night was a big triumph for me. I really felt in control of my fears. I felt empowered to go out more at that time of night. I felt a part of me return, the part that used to love long evening walks with music blasting in my headphones, the part that would go to a late night concert by myself regardless of what time it let out, a part of me that I hadn't seen in a long time. I felt proud. Mindcheck.ca has a quick anxiety test that evaluates your anxiety symptoms. Anxiety BC also has great resources. It is not worth suffering in silence.  If you are fighting a never-ending battle against fearful, intrusive thoughts, it's time to talk to your doctor or a specialist. 

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