Living with Depression and Anxiety
|living with depression and anxiety|
I needed an “escape” plan for any unforeseen event, even if I was just crossing the street to go to the corner store for milk.
As part of the acute stress system of the human body, the “fight or flight” response works by stimulating the heart rate, dilating the air passages and contracting the blood vessels; all this increases the blood flow and oxygen to the muscles so that we can be ready to flee from something that puts our lives in danger: a wild mammal, a car or someone dangerous. It is very important that the physiological responses work, only that from time to time we suffer some short circuit
Charles Darwin, who suffered from an atrocious panic disorder that sometimes forced him to stay at home for years, argued that, in a way, is highly evolved to be on alert most of the time. However, the “fight or flight” response, according to Mark Williams and Danny Penman in Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World (Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World), is not conscious , but it is controlled by one of the most primitive parts of the brain, which means that often the way in which it interprets the danger is a bit simplistic. In fact, it makes no distinction between an external threat, such as a tiger, and an internal one, such as a disturbing memory or a concern about the future. Treat equally to both, both the threats that must be fought and those that must be fled. As the editor of The Atlantic, Scott Stossel, researched in his brilliant and harrowing memories of anxiety, My Age of Anxiety, “The species that ‘fear adequately’ increase their chances of survival. People with anxiety, we are less likely to eliminate our genes from the common gene bank, for example, avoiding jumping off the edge of a cliff or being combat pilots. “
However, sometimesthe threat is not external; You are yourself.
I’ve been dealing with acute anxiety in the form of panic disorders for 15 years, and this has led, on two occasions, to a severe depression – of those that leave you locked up in your apartment, unable to do anything other than watch The Simpsons on YouTube and eat cookies.
Will I finish psychotic this time? Should I call an ambulance? How many sleeping pills would I have to take to sleep for 24 hours and not die trying?
This is the kind of questions I used to ask myself when I was trapped in a spiral of negative thoughts. My ability to think rationally was disappearing from my body while I looked at pictures of myself as a child, saying aloud: Where was that? As if there were two versions of myself: Version 1.0: before anxiety and Version 2.0: after the anxiety.
But this theory is not completely outlandish. Through CBT (Behavioral Cognitive Therapy) I was able to identify the root of my anxiety: an impressive experience close to death when my appendix burst and that was carried forward for about six months of my life. It turns out that if you are a sensitive boy or girl and your body slowly goes gangrene and weakening so much that you have to recover in intensive care, all this can have a great impact on your future mental well-being, especially if the physical consequences of that episode ruined your insides forever.
My first experience of panic occurred during the first week of classes after the appendix episode. The teachers stood in the corridors: “Eleanor, are you okay?” They asked me in whispers with the smell of coffee. I was the favorite of the week. But a few days later, something happened.
One afternoon, I started feeling nauseated in biology class. My hands became numb and I felt as if my head was about to break like an egg. It was a completely unknown feeling to me, of which I had no reference. I went to the bathroom and there, for a few minutes, my brain and my body did not look like mine. It seemed like I was going to throw up, but nothing came out. All she felt were waves of nauseating pressure from head to toe. Then came a cold, dark fear that I had never experienced before: my head was spinning and the walls looked like plasticine melting. Absolutely nothing that happened in my body or around me made sense. It was a possession, that simple.
What the fuck is happening to me? I’m dying?
That was my first panic attack, but I still did not know it. In the following weeks, I could not think of anything else. He happened to me again a couple of times. At night I cried, but I did not consider telling my parents; They would not have understood it, whatever it was that had to be understood. I thought it was something physical, something that had to do with my internal injuries. However, after three weeks of hell and a whole night without sleep, I went to the doctor, myself, and he said: “I think you could be suffering from panic attacks”. He gave me some brochures and referred me to a very friendly therapist in the civic center next to a gas station.
This lady’s approach was based on giving me some elastic strips to put on my wrist and she told me to pull them and press them against my skin whenever I felt that my internal pressure meter was starting to rise. I do not remember that this would help me with anxiety as such, but it certainly made me aware that there was a flow of energy that I had to control. Or something like that.
Months later, I left there to attend college in London with a little more knowledge about panic attacks. My parents knew it then because I had to explain to them the abundance of elastic bands that were in the house, and they were understanding and kind, but I continued living with the constant fear of having an attack when I was outside and surrounded by other people. Whether it was in a class, in bars or in clubs, that fear never left me. Not for a minute.
Consequently, like many others who suffer from the disorder, I developed a pattern of avoidance behaviors based on where and when I had felt anxiety in the past: “No, fuck, you can not go through Green Park to get to class because you had an attack there last week, “or:” I know that bar only has a bathroom, so I better not go in case I get an attack and there is a line “, I said to myself in an interminable internal dialogue. Knowing where the toilets were from each place he went to was a necessity; I had to be able to have a place to “escape” if I started to panic, especially considering that, at the key moment, my panic was manifested mainly with stomach problems. If I did not see a bathroom nearby or, at least, a fire escape, everything was fucked up.
The open spaces were a possible but daunting prospect. If I had to go through Green Park with no other choice, for example, because my friends did, I was mentally tracking all the dense bushes I could hide in, just in case. I had to sit at the end of each class or at the cinema, also just in case. If I ever got on the subway (something increasingly weird), I would stand by the door, looking at it, just in case.
Every second and its possible escape route had to be planned. Just in case. Anxiety is basically the disease of “what if …?”
Coming to me now, and although I am already able to write an article about living with panic disorder, I can also say that I did not make any significant progress until a few years ago and that I still find the idea of having a panic attack terrifying because, Well, how could I not be scary? At least that fear is now less since I have the techniques to control anxiety when it begins to manifest an increase, instead of when it has already erupted.
“Few people would argue today that chronic stress is a distinctive feature of our time or that anxiety has come to be considered a sort of cultural ailment of modernity,” says Stossel. “We live, as has been said countless times since the beginning of the atomic age, in the era of anxiety.” But not all people have a “normal” response to anxiety.
Panic disorder is an anxiety disorder characterized by recurrent panic attacks and constant fear of having a panic attack. In 2007, statistics related to cases of anxiety disorders were collected in the United Kingdom, and these indicated that 1.1% of adults (1.3% of women and 1% of men) met the criteria for the disorder. of panic in a study in adults about psychiatric morbidity. In the US, the number of adults believed to have a panic disorder is higher, up to 2.7 percent. These are, of course, only the official mentally ill. My doctor told me recently that anxiety is one of the most frequent complaints in patients. More frequent, sometimes, than coughs and colds.
Panic is presented in many ways. It can cover the entire range, from a persistent discomfort in the stomach to the fear that someone would feel if it were to be hit by a high-speed train. My usual cocktail is a kind of nauseating tingling from the head to the feet, lividity in the face, tightness in the chest, numb hands and the convulsed guts. I feel like I’m going to throw up or shit on me at any moment. The first thing has happened to me; the second, until now, no, although on some occasion I was ready. The truth is that all these things and I are already old friends.
There have been times when I have had to crouch in an alley to calm my breathing and physically secure myself on the ground as if it needed to take root while my body goes into what seems to be another plane of existence. However, anxiety manifests itself physically in a different way in each person. Some people call the ambulance because they think they are having a heart attack. Others hyperventilate. Others vomit. Others tremble as if they were in underwear in the Arctic.
There is also a cognitive issue, which got worse as I got older. Before, physical symptoms eclipsed the mental. Then it became something like those mechanical games with cups that spin around themselves, in which I just think ‘I’m going to explode, I will never be safe or normal again; my body fails, everyone will see me … I’m losing my mind. It is done. The next step is to be admitted to a psychiatric hospital. ‘
I’m going to die. This is killing me.
It also does not help that the carousel does not stop turning once the anxiety has peaked. It increases – although with less power – sometimes more until it is passed. And then, the exhaustion is overwhelming.
In some stages of my life, I have had daily panic attacks, and more than once a day. My first “collapse” (the therapists do not want us to use this word today, but that’s what it feels like) in the third year of college came when my fear of suffering a panic attack became a 24-hour obsession day, 7 days a week. I was afraid to walk to the store, which was about 100 meters away, not to mention going to class. I needed an “escape” plan for any unforeseen event, even if I was just crossing the street to go to the corner store for milk.
In the end, all that became unbearable for my poor brain and I fell into a depression.
The complete depersonalization, the need to sleep 16 straight hours and a total lack of appetite – I lost more than six kilos in three weeks – came very quickly. I just could not move. After five days in bed listening over and over again to Moon Power from Cat Power (I read that he wrote it in the middle of the crisis, so in some way, it seemed appropriate) and to worry about what I would say to my teachers and my parents, I went to the doctor. He prescribed sertraline (an SSRI commonly prescribed for anxiety disorders), diazepam and sent me to a psychologist; I had not gone to any since I moved to London, even though I still spent my days trapped in a web of evasive behavior and being aware that my youthful days were speeding past me. He did not “live” as such, he was never quite at the time.
I did not like the psychologist with whom he sent me. He was very young, he spent all his time filling boxes on a sheet and rarely looked me in the eyes. I stopped going after four sessions. I thought that if two psychologists had not been able to help me stop my panic attacks in a short time, it meant that I was immune to help and intervention. I believed that until about three years ago.
The medicines did not do anything miraculous or definitive. With the passage of time, I left feeling able to get out of my obsessive thoughts for longer periods, and this, in turn, helped me to cope with in my own parameters. Only by remembering it I realize the pressure I was putting on my partner at that moment by not explaining to him why he should keep doing certain things or not. The truth is that I was very embarrassed and rarely told anyone what was really going through my head for fear of appearing crazy; I did not even tell the person with whom I had a relationship. In fact, only a friend knew. I was still dealing with it through my own path.
I continued with the antidepressants for a couple of years and I was making rapid progress. The fear of having a panic attack or something taking me by surprise always occupied a good part of my mind. When I suffered one – one a week, instead of every day – it took me a few days to return to normal, but it was fine, really.
When I stopped taking pills I started to combine it with a new therapist, until about three years ago. I went from “well done” to “well done”, writing a lot, traveling the world, interviewing people … At first glance it was great; I was going through life with the grace of a swan and I was able to face everything that lay ahead: stressful meetings, long flights, more complex responsibilities … However, under all of that, the chaos had untied again. I was not able to accept that I should have continued with the antidepressants. Somewhere in my mind, these were the last resort, the point at which everything else had failed.
Why would I need a pill that, when I took it every day, made me think I was an invalid who needed medication to function properly? So, what did it matter if my friends were getting more and more tired of having their plans canceled at the last minute because I had panicked when I was on my way to see them and could not move from the exact spot I was in? Why did they have to know?
But I was not dealing with it; I was pretending and I needed help. Over the years, I became a master of disguise; Nobody, absolutely nobody, could have said that I suffered from an anxiety disorder, except for my inability to endure more than a couple of stops in the metro. If I started to panic when I was with people, I would just go home. Continuing to resort to avoidance behavior allowed me to live what, at first glance, seemed a normal life. Then, three years ago, I had another collapse, and this time it was much worse than the previous ones.
It had been brewing little by little. I did not like my job very much, despite the status and value it gave me. I had run out of excuses when I left my friends stranded. Also, I needed more intestinal surgery, a frightening idea that my therapist could not help me rationalize. Traveling for work reasons became increasingly stressful; each counter at the airport uncovered a new symptom of anxiety. Before traveling to Kenya for The Guardian, I sat in the airport restroom completely convinced that the vertebrae of my neck were going to split in two, as the pressure in my head was increasing as ideas they tangled in my mind.
What if I have panic attacks in the middle of the savannah? Who will help me? What if I get an attack on the plane and I vomit everywhere because I do not have time to get to the bathroom? What if I faint in a place in the world where I do not know anyone and end up shutting me up somewhere because they do not know what to do with me?
And yes, and yes, and yes … It’s boring and exhausting to write it so many times. Finally, each panic attack he suffered lasted longer than the previous one and, in a couple of weeks, all had united in a chain of frustration, tears, and despair.
I became depressed a lot again. This time, the “collapse” was characterized by crying, suffering from dizziness and the almost total inability to eat. One night I went to bed and, when I woke up, it was as if I were a different person, someone who could not walk in a straight line, nor stop crying, nor take less than an hour to eat a single slice of toast; I could not open the door, or bathe, answer the phone or feed the cats. Physically, it was like leaning out from the top of a building all the time: atrocious vertigo. I was desperate; fear had eclipsed everything.
Depression and anxiety often go hand in hand. The rational part of my brain knew it, but at the critical point of this new terror, I was not able to assimilate it. I could not accept that my brain had already grown tired of fearing itself, that depression had become a symptom of my overload anxiety. That, for me, was to fail. For three weeks I did not go beyond the store at the end of my street. I felt, for the first time in my life, rationally suicidal or, more accurately, desperate to find a tangible end to that hell. It’s not that I wanted to die, but I did not want to live fearing the next minute.
The day I realized that I had been spending more time watching the kit, I looked for the closest CBT therapist (less than 300 meters from my house) on the internet and, fortunately, he could receive me that afternoon. He told me: “It is reaching its critical point right now, you can regain control.” Even though I had tremors in my legs and crashed them irrevocably against the chair (a fun new symptom), I struggled against the urge to run out of the room and back into bed, and I heard it. It was funny, he said a lot of swear words and he had a deep and scientific knowledge about why the brain behaves as it does, something that aroused my interest.
That afternoon my first true turning point took place in 15 years. After starting two sessions a week with him, I went to the doctor and he prescribed me a low dose of a new SSRI: Citalopram, another antidepressant that is effective in the treatment of anxiety disorders. A month after this intensive approach on two fronts, I began to feel hopeful.
That was three years ago and I’m doing well. I have a demanding full-time job and everything. I continue taking Citalopram in low doses and I do not mind having to take it indefinitely. Anxiety disorders are caused by different causes, but I am willing to accept that my brain may have suffered a kind of technical problem after that near-death experience and that taking medication leads me to a level of bearable anxiety. Although before I was terrified of the label they could put on me to take antidepressants – Adicta? Failed? A Big Pharma sheep? – Now I get exactly the same. I am able to live my life; that is the end point to any interrogation.
Now all my friends know that I am prone to attacks of anxiety and panic and, as with most of these things that one thinks are a great revelation, when I made clear the reason why I had been so absent in the past, none of them gave more importance, and still do not. People are, in general, reasonable once you explain a topic to them. They just want to try to understand what you are telling them, offer support and then move on with their lives.
Not talking about that does not work. As Stossel writes: “My current therapist, Dr. W, says that there is always the possibility that revealing my problem can free me from the burden of embarrassment and reduce the isolation of suffering alone.” When I get nervous at the idea of airing my Psychiatric problems in a book, Dr. W tells me: You’ve been keeping your anxiety a secret for years, have not you? How are you doing like that? “
Something crucial that I have learned about the treatment of anxiety is that you have to find a therapist that you like; It is very important. If this means “going shopping” until you find someone with whom you feel comfortable and who you can open your mind without fear, and also have the necessary resources to do it (private therapists offer reduced prices and discounts if asked) , it’s okay. If you trust public health services and do not like or can not open up with the person you have been sent to, you can request a specialist change; It’s your health and there’s no reason to stick with someone you do not feel comfortable with. The brain is an organ and, as such, needs proper treatment when it becomes ill. It’s, as Louis Theroux said about his personal therapy experience, “like looking under the hood of a car and seeing what’s going on.”
With this therapist, whom I will call “S”, I realized that the main reason that makes me function correctly was to accept that there was no “cure” to improve, only techniques and psychological interventions (in my case, medication) to do the most bearable life Frustration and anxiety are very close, and the constant “WHY DOES THIS CAUSE HAPPEN TO ME?” or not talking to anyone makes everything worse. It is too much pressure.
How did I go from not telling anyone about my problems to writing about it here, in so much detail? It is a very worthy question to ask and for which there is a very simple answer: all over the world there are people who consult the internet every day in search of the reflexes of their own pain, of tests of other people who have overcome a mental problem. .. When it was bad, that was all he wanted, an idea to make clear in the middle of that sinister forest.
It may seem very basic that openly expressing our own experiences with mental illness encourages others to talk about it, but it is completely true. Stossel writes in his book about a dinner with a group of writers and artists and tells how, after talking about their progress, each of the other nine people responded “telling me a story about their own experience with anxiety and medication That’s how we went, one by one across the table, sharing our stories of neurotic suffering. “
I’ve been through that situation more times than I could ever have here. There are people – successful people with great capabilities – who want to talk about their mental health. Nobody finds it strange to talk about an arrhythmia; Why should it be a more taboo brain disorder than one in the heart? People want to be heard, it is only necessary for someone to push the first domino. And that idea that we are “revealing” too much or making people feel uncomfortable, or taking the risk of being taken for “crazy” by talking about our mental health is wrong. It’s a matter of health, period. The man who served you coffee this morning could have overcome a cancer years ago or severe depression; He could have tried to commit suicide and been hospitalized in a psychiatric center, but you have no idea because he has recovered and leads his life in the best possible way.
That’s why we are human: we do not stay the same. We change, we adapt and we can be better, as with any other ailment. That’s how evolved we are.