Friday, 20 March 2015

The Panic Files: Baby Steps

Note:  This post was originally published on May 19, 2014.  All posts prior to this date - along with images from April 2014 to March 2015 - have been lost forever to the Internet black hole.  


Remember when I told you guys all about how I was a crazy hypochondriac who also suffers from generalized anxiety disorder? Did I also happen to mention my weirdo thyroid?  Let's do a brief summary just in case I left that out (or you're new around these parts and don't know what's up with my panic attacks):

I have had an anxiety disorder for more than a decade, and yes, I have seen a therapist, and yes, I am medicated for it.  I also have an auto-immune disorder called Graves' Disease.  One of the fun things that happens when you have Graves' is that you end up with a hyperactive thyroid, and hyperactive thyroids have a tendency to worsen anxiety.  See how it all comes full circle?

My anxiety disorder was diagnosed way back in 2002, long before anyone knew what was happening with my thyroid.  It would be almost another decade before the Graves' Disease diagnosis happened, and while the two can go hand-in-hand, my specialists are certain that my anxiety disorder wasn't caused by my thyroid issues; it just happens to be worse because of my Graves'.  (Still with me?  I know, I know, I'm all rickety and falling apart.)  During the "peak" of my hyperthyroidism, when we were doing all the testing and looking at treatments and waiting for something to start making a difference, my anxiety go so intense that I stopped leaving my house.  The only "safe zone" I knew was my living room, and even the living room didn't make me immune to panic attacks... but I knew that I could lie down on the couch and close my eyes and wait for the terror to pass.  The farthest I ventured was downstairs to the lobby of my building to pick J-Bird up from the school bus, and most days I would stand in the lobby with my hand on my heart, trying to will it to slow down a little and pleading with myself not to hyperventilate.

It totally sucked.

My doctors doubled my anti-anxiety medication and started me on beta-blockers (because my heart was under pretty serious strain at that point) and anti-thyroid meds.  And little by little, things got better.  I don't take beta blockers anymore, and my heart is totally fine.  I'm on the half the dose of the anti-anxiety medication that I used to be.  I will have Graves' Disease forever, but my thyroid levels are at a high-normal range now, and most of the hyperthyroidism symptoms have eased off a bit.  (*knock on wood*!)

But I'm still struggling with being in public alone.  I mean, I can leave my house now, so there's that.  In fact, I beg to.  I work from home and although I love it, I get stir crazy sometimes.  Every single day, I ask George to take me somewhere - out for coffee, to the grocery store, to the art store, anywhere - just so I can get out for a bit.  I can't do it alone - I need George.  George is my anxiety-crutch.  And yet, I can tell there's been progress.

I remember being in a grocery store about a year and a half ago, picking up something to throw on the barbecue, when George asked me to go get hamburger buns.  They were only three aisles away from where he stood, and yet I walked to the bread section on legs that felt as though they were made of Jell-O.  My heart felt like it was sitting in my throat, and I was convinced that everyone in the store could probably see the beads of sweat forming on my face.

Fast forward to a year later, and this is what I'm doing right now:

{imagine a photo of me sitting at Starbucks here}

That's me, at this very moment in time, sitting in a Starbucks and writing this blog post.  Why isn't George in the picture?  Because he's not here.  He dropped me off with my laptop and some Frappucino-money and then drove to the gym a few blocks away for his daily workout.  I'm sitting on my own, typing away, taking sips from my double-chocolate-chip frap, and pausing every so often just to look around the store at the dozen (or so) strangers who are also seated at tables in this very location.  Some of them are on their laptops.  There are two women chatting away in armchairs, their venti cups waving around in their hands as they talk.  A college student is studying a few feet away from me, his textbook open and a pen in his hand.  And me, I'm here, too.  I'm not trembling, and my heart isn't racing, and I'm not wishing that I was home in my "safe zone".

It took almost two years of baby steps, and sometimes I stumbled, but here we are.  I'm alone in a (busy) public place, and I'm doing just fine.


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