I have suffered from mild to severe anxiety for as long as I can remember, and even before I knew what anxiety even was. I have a family history of anxiety. I remember several times as a teenager driving my dad, who looked like he was having a heart attack, to the Emergency Room and then him refusing to get out of the car, hoping he would calm down and things would get better and we could just leave. I remember watching his chest intently, waiting for any sign that he had stopped breathing. It scared me to death.
I was diagnosed around age 3 with asthma. I may have been older or younger, but that is the age that sticks out. I know at one point, I was taken to the ER for either severe asthma or an allergy attack. I was little. I don’t remember too much. I always had an asthma inhaler (or two) with me my entire life. And it usually did the trick. But not always. There were times when I would suck on that inhaler all day and never get any relief. And those days were terrifying.
As I got older, the asthma was still there, but it gave way to worse things. Migraines, to be specific. Around the time I was 10, I was taking a test and all of the words disappeared off my test paper. Sounds like a kid lie, right? No. It really happened. I could see words in my peripheral vision, but everything in the middle was white as a ghost. There was no other pain or symptom associated, and after being allowed to lay in the dark in the nurses office for a while, things were fine. It was scary, but I was a kid and wrote it off pretty quickly. As I moved into my teen years, the visual problems came and went, sometimes lack of focus vision, sometimes lack of peripheral vision, sometimes one eye would go out all together. But I could usually lay down and take a nap and when I would wake up, it was better. And then—pain. Pain like you couldn’t believe started to accompany these vision issues. And it finally clicked that I was having migraines. This went on for a few years, with the worst of it being an entire month of migraines. After that, they stopped for a while.
That’s when I started getting nauseated. All the time. Eating. Not eating. Thinking about eating. Trying to NOT think about eating. It didn’t really matter. You have all read about my story and 10+ years to get my diagnosis of gastroparesis, so I won’t slog through all the details. But this is also around the time that I started getting what I would consider to be “true” anxiety. Or, at least what I had always heard anxiety felt like. The butterflies, the feeling of the roller coaster about to drop, rapid heartbeat, flop sweat… you name it. At some point I figured it out – I have ALWAYS had anxiety. I told this to my mom and she thought I was insane. But, my theory is that anxiety attacks your weakest system, whatever that may be. And it is different for every person, which is why it can be SO hard to diagnose. I have had more than one doctor/nurse look down at me in disbelief as I lay calmly on the gurney, “You don’t LOOK anxious to me.” Seriously? I have told them all the same thing: “It’s a mask. If you saw what I looked like inside, you would have me in a straight jacket.” Do they seriously expect every person who suffers from anxiety to go running down the hall naked with a plant on their head?? How would we keep out jobs to afford these snot-faced doctors??
Well, yesterday, I had a meltdown. I was in a VERY dark place emotionally, but that shit comes with the territory. I can DEAL with emotional pain very well. I can write. I can shut myself into a dark hole and wallow. I can color. I can scream. These are all things I can handle. What I had yesterday was P-A-I-N. For me, anxiety is like someone stabbed me in the chest with an ice pick and then told me not to mess with it. It is there all the time. Sometimes, I don’t even realize it is there because it has become part of me. Other things (going out of the house, far off things that I am worried about it) tickle it slightly and get my awareness up again. And other times, someone grabs hold of the handle and twirls the ice pick around in my chest until it feels like ground meat. That was yesterday. Straightforward chest stabbing pain. All. Fucking. Day.
I screamed. I cried. I rolled around. I took at least a dozen hot baths. I tried deep breathing (which is pretty fucking impossible when you have an ice pick sticking out of your chest). I was going to write, but literally could not force myself to even pick up a pen or touch my computer. I reached out to the world of Facebook and found that they were incredibly kind and loving. That made me weep. Because as beautiful as it was…I was still in horrible pain. I doped myself into a nap (legally, but probably just about the line) and thought, “If I don’t feel better when I wake up…I am going back to the hospital.” (I had JUST been released from the hospital the previous afternoon). And then I woke up. Paul and I looked into each other’s eyes – his sorrowful and full of concern, mine probably looking a bit rabid – and we both said, “Let’s go.”
Anxiety may always be a part of me. It could be the creative part of me that allows me to come up with all sorts of crazy shit. I don’t want to lose that. Anxiety may be the part of me that allows me to love so fiercely that it literally hurts to see my loved ones in pain. I don’t want to lose that. But, if someone could hold this ice pick for a while, or at least keep it really steady, that would be pretty fucking sweet. I could use a break.