A creeping sensation crawling up the length of my spine,
Arriving at the base of my skull,
Gripping my head like a vice,
Wrapping its tentacles around my ears and jaw,
Pain creeping over the top of my head.
following the anxious thoughts in my mind
My consciousness on hyper-alert
Did I remember to breathe?
A flood of chemicals pouring through my entire being
Paralyzing my mind.
Gripping my sight
Fretfully seeking out the next possible threat.
Anxiety and panic attacks accompanied by migraine headaches and depression. It hasn’t always been like this, but for the past 12 years, since I had my first (known) panic attack in 2004, this has been the preoccupation of my waking (and sleeping) mind and the lived experience of anxiety as it floods my body. And when anxiety isn’t flooding my body, all my energy has been directed toward trying to prevent its onslaught.
It didn’t used to be this way. In fact, I remember a time when I simply enjoyed life. Yes, I put a lot of pressure on myself to achieve and succeed, but I used to remember how to have fun…and how to play. And driving used to be one of my most enjoyable tasks, relaxing even. But when panic attacks happen while driving, driving becomes something you dread, equating driving with death, because when you are having a panic attack, it feels like you just might die. And when you are driving a vehicle at 70mph as your vision is closing in and your heart is pounding, it just doesn’t feel very safe.
It didn’t used to be this way. But, couple the genetic predisposition to the Irish curse (depression and anxiety) with 25 years of on-going and relentless trauma, and panic is bound to happen….and anxiety….and migraine headaches…and depression.
At first I was in denial. “Oh, it’s just low blood sugar, an endocrine imbalance, the wine I had last night, the lack of sleep, blah blah blah.
Then I bargained. Yoga helps. Meditation helps. If I eat the right foods, get the right amount of sleep, learn to be present with my emotions, let my Soul’s purpose come forward, allow 30+ years of suppressed emotions to find their expression, engage my creativity, dance, move, run, drum, scream, chant, etc. etc. etc.
While all of this has helped, and given me relief from time to time, mostly I have spent the past 12 years trying not to have anxiety or a panic attack – scrutinizing every thought, feeling emotion, social situation as potential triggers, forcing myself to BE MY TRUE SELF….watching all the while as my world gets smaller and smaller and smaller. Avoiding social situations because I might feel anxious. Choosing not to drive….or making excuses, so I won’t have a panic attack. Then feeling guilty as hell for depriving myself and my children of a life that should be about enjoyment….not imprisonment.
It isn’t even the panic attacks that are the problem – because in truth, I’ve only had a few. It is the on-going fear and protective measures taken in the hopes of preventing a panic attack, measures which ironically are most likely an enormous part of the problem.
So what does one do? A few years back when panic attacks were waking me out of a dead sleep, I tried Lexapro. Yes, it silenced the other voice in my head, the panic attacks stopped and I even began to feel some measure of joy. But the entire time I was on it, I felt like shit. I felt hung over and nauseous every day. I was tired and I gained weight. This was not how I wanted to live my life. Then the Lexapro stopped working and I forgot to take it. For a time I managed on my own, but was I really? I’m no longer sure.
Because now I see it plainly. This past weekend I took my son to the mall, which required driving on the highway I’m most afraid to travel. I employed every tactic I could to “make” myself able to do it. I breathed. I drummed. I took a flower essence. I listened to a comedy CD to distract my anxious thoughts. I did it. But instead of feeling victorious, I felt like hell. I felt sick, I felt exhausted, I felt worn out. Then I examined what I had been feeling in preparation for the drive and how my body truly responded….and then wrote the poem above.
This is not a life. Making myself do things I am currently unable to do…and making myself sick in order to do them.
This is not a life. Using all my energy to “manage” symptoms I ultimately have no control over. Anxiety. Depression. Migraines. Panic Attacks…..all the after-effects of trauma. You could almost say I earned these symptoms.
This is not a life. When all my energy is directed toward managing these symptoms, I have nothing left to give to the things I want to enjoy in my life – creating, nurturing, nourishing, enjoying, playing. When every ounce of psychic energy is directed toward treating anxiety, depression, migraines and panic attacks, I have nothing left to give to anything else, and this is not how I want to spend my energy – especially when Western medicine has tools to help ease, and maybe even heal the trauma that caused these symptoms in the first place. Because again, when all my energy is directed toward managing these symptoms, my body is not able to heal – and I want to heal because I am more than the trauma that I have experienced and more than the anxiety that has since defined my life.
This is why I am choosing Prozac (or whatever else my doctor might recommend in helping to treat the after, and ongoing effects of trauma).