When I was in elementary school, I was always afraid of my teachers being mad at me.
When I was in high school, I would get very nervous about being at the right place at the right time if my parents were picking me up anywhere.
When I was working at a bakery, I found it physically difficult to walk in the door for fear of my boss being mad at me.
When I was working at summer camp, I hated having to take responsibility for the campers.
When I was in university, I felt immensely pressured by due dates.
Since graduating, I’ve been terribly fearful over money and employment.
I’m anxious. I used to tell myself that all my anxiety was just circumstantial and that I’d feel better once my circumstances changed. But I could only tell myself that so many times before I started to grow suspicious of myself.
Only a few months back, I had a panic attack for which I went to the emergency room. I thought I was having a heart attack but the doctors told me I was fine. I felt a bit better afterwards but I still cringe to remember it.
Then, shortly before Christmas, some dreadful havoc was unleashed on my stomach. Apparently anxiety messes with your digestive tract. My appetite was suffering and it was painful to eat. I was losing weight and there were a couple mornings that I felt almost too weak to stand.
When I finally went to my family doctor, he prescribed me two things: a strong antacid, and a light sedative. He told me that I was hyperventilating. I thought that I was breathing normally. Looking back, I must have been hyperventilating on and off for almost a week.
I went home and took the antacid and sedative and my appetite immediately increased a little bit. There were some other tests done and a variety of drugs, but I still felt very fearful even though I was starting to get better. Then I was prescribed a Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor.
SSRIs balance out chemicals in the brain that make emotions happen. If your Serotonin levels are too low, you get depressed or anxious or obsessive. SSRIs can take a while to start having their effect. You might take them for two months before any noticeable change.
And there are the side effects, which were worse than average for me since my stomach was already not doing well. On the night after I took the first pill, I woke up at three in the morning and threw up. It took several weeks for the side effects to subside.
Now a couple months have passed. The side effects have faded, but even better – my anxiety is far better. It’s not gone but it’s lower. I still have anxious thoughts, but they pass more easily. Even better still – I now find it much easier to find satisfaction in the small things in life. The beauty of a house in my neighbourhood, an interesting piece of poetry, playing with my roommate’s dogs. All these things add up and make life much more enjoyable.
We sometimes talk about ‘handling’ with vehicles or ‘controls’ with videogames – the interaction between the user’s intentions and the behaviour of the thing being acted upon. My brain handles differently now. Just a bit, but a noticeable bit. Not enough to make me a different person, but enough to make me less afraid. I feel less shy in conversations and less inhibited in my actions (on one occasion getting me into trouble with a mall security guard, but now I don’t cringe as much when I remember it.)
And I now know with deeper understanding that there is a me that is more than the condition of my brain. There is some me that is deeper than even my thoughts and thought patterns. Those may change, but there’s some ineffable quality that doesn’t.
When I was home around Christmas, I could barely eat because my anxiety had messed up my stomach so much. When I was home just last week, my dad was complaining that I was eating too much. I was never so grateful to be considered a glutton. I am blessed to know that there are people in my life who support me, blessed to know that I’m not alone, and blessed to know that troubled times pass.
I don’t think it’s mere wishful thinking to tell a suffering person, as my parent did, “Ooh, Child. Things are gonna get easier.”