On Anxiety & Panic

There’s a lot of things which become clearer through the passage of time. Things that you lived your whole life with, thinking that it’s acceptable or “normal”. As time passes you begin to discover that, no, things should not be as they were, as they are, as they would remain. Mental health and mood disorders often fall into that category, where in some senses it’s a bit like a mystery novel, where you gradually piece things together into a cohesive narrative.

Several years ago I was referred to the Royal Ottawa hospital due to longstanding issues with focusing and concentration. Although I always struggled with these those things, I was taking some courses for Server Administration at the time, which resulted in a more pressing need to determine what was going on. Eventually I received some therapy which was invaluable in certain areas, however did nothing to correct the ongoing issues.

Things started picking up three years ago. Physically my body was starting to fall apart. Chronic pain in my joints, issues with my digestive system. My already terrible sleep patterns continued, along with feeling as if I was hit by a truck every morning I woke up. On top of this my behavior was becoming more erratic; my already thin level of patience was diminishing, along with generally having increased anxiety on all fronts. I was beginning to suffer frequent panic attacks, of which would result in shaking, twitching, and immense paranoia. My life was falling apart, with the prison I always perceived my mind being held in becoming more and more oppressive. I told few people about this, simply because was anxious about how people would react.

This past Friday, after an eight month wait, I finally say a psychiatrist. We started going through the different ways that anxiety impacts my life, and how I got to where I was in life.  While answering his questions, I actually started to develop panic attacks thinking about the situations he was describing.  Interestingly, he said that 20% of gastritis cases are caused by anxiety, and that joint pain can be a common occurrence. He told me that he had also seen many patients who exhibited what amounted to “male post-partum depression”, something which I showed signs of during my son’s earlier years. He also broke down the reasons why the ADHD treatment wasn’t effective; although there is overlap with the symptoms, ultimately stimulants will yield positive effects on one who has ADHD. For myself, I’m immune to nearly all stimulants (which is probably my anxiety simply overriding the effects of the medication), which now rules ADHD out of the equation.

The thing about mental health is that there’s a large degree of overlap. One could have clinical depression, however there are other mental illnesses and mood disorders in which depression is a subset. It makes diagnosing and treating such things difficult, as identifying proper brain chemistry can be a delicate activity. It’s why I don’t blame doctors and specialists for not having a full picture, for possible misdiagnoses. All I ask is that these professionals apply peer reviewed medical knowledge to the best of their abilities. If I only think of certain things as abnormal withhold information that I perceive to be “normal”, they have no way of knowing exactly what is happening.

So in that vein, I am not bitter nor upset with the doctor I saw at the Royal Ottawa years ago. He ran me through a battery of tests, which yielded results that granted much insight into my brain. A diagnosis happened, treatment received, however progress was not made as there were things that he didn’t know; mostly because they either had yet to develop or to me these things were the norm. It wasn’t until the gastrologist said that my gastritis was being caused by anxiety that I started to think more about chronic anxiety and how it’s been my constant companion, and how it has impacted my life; such as my struggles with sleep, chronic pain, and how I’m regressing in several physical and emotional respects. How that ADHD and chronic anxiety have mirrored symptoms, and that if we knew then what I know now then treatment would have been different.

In the end, the doctor gave a preliminary assessment. He compared me to a threatened animal, one who feels constantly threatened.  One who is constantly on guard, looking for threats and escapes from anything or anyplace that looks like it may be a trap. He said that although we’ll be meeting again in a week, his initial diagnosis is that I had severe anxiety, along with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Following the appointment, I proceeded to head to Centre De L’Amour for a retreat I was going to help out with.  I’m not sure what exactly what I was expecting, but almost immediately entering the building I was stricken with anxiety.  About being in a place I have not been to in a few years, I immediately started to scope the place for possible entries and exits from the building.  I wanted to get assigned a room right away so I could make sure that the bed I would rest in would be in the exact position I needed to feel a semblance of peace. After discovering that the room I was assigned wasn’t calming me down, I quickly scoped out the rest of the facility to attempt to see where I could retreat to in order to come down off the anxiety attacks. During the weekend I found myself placing my back against the wall, and generally was on the edge the entire time. The breathing and scratching of myself happened with much occurrence. And yes, moments of panic driven frenzy where I wanted to be anywhere else (fortunately, I don’t think anybody saw those moments).

That said, I didn’t let that get in the way of the reason why I was there in the first place; I engaged others, formed relationships with others. Three individuals in particular I met for the first time, without hesitation I made it a point to invest in them and establish authentic relationships. Additionally, there was some folks who made the weekend easier for me. Halpin and I shared a room, which helped as I’ve known him for well over sixteen years due to being from the same home town. Sam, who helped calm me down on Friday by simply asking me how I was doing, and not prying when I didn’t respond. His response was to offer to pick me up some Easy-Mac so I could have food that was easy to make while also not triggering my gastritis, which was a God-send because it turns out I couldn’t eat any of the meals during the weekend. My wife Stephanie, who always knows the right things to say (I called her during the weekend when things were especially bad). In general the weekend was filled with ups-and-downs, and overall I’m glad I went despite many (many) moments where I thought otherwise during the time.

There’s a vulnerability to sharing this.  That’s the thing about anxiety; your mind warps things in such a fashion where you think of things in a distorted way. Even now, as I think about posting this, my brain is considering the ramifications of such, just like it’s been considering the ramifications of any social interaction I have had in the last couple of years. That I don’t want to deal with people commenting. I don’t want people asking me “how are you doing?” when they see me. I don’t want people giving suggestions, comments, concerns and the like. I don’t want to feel the way that I feel when I interact, think the things that I think while interacting. I don’t want to be asked “how is the new job” when I’m busy over analyzing every action I have done with the concern that they’ll fire me over the smallest things. I just don’t want interaction to *people* in general, which is a dramatic departure to my usual character. Even now while writing this, I write it knowing that deleting it won’t be enough, that to avoid people I should just deactivate my Facebook account as to avoid the conversation. All while throughout the entire time thinking “maybe they’ll think I’m just drawing attention to myself”, which is the opposite of what I want to be doing a thousand fold.  Thankfully, there has been support.  Support without knowing how bad things have been.  My brothers Novecosky and McHale in particular have the uncanny ability to show up at the right times, both have the equally uncanny ability to know when things are not well.  Father Matthew has taken time out of his busy schedule to see the brother he calls “old man” (despite him being older than me, naitch).  My “kids” at Annunciation, especially the other volunteers (who are not exactly kids anymore, sigh).  My Mom has been a solid ear to speak with, with our relationship growing into that of peers.  And Stephanie, who I could write for ages about detailing her greatness.  And my beacon of joy and hope, THE BOY.

So many great people, yet my life remains as  if I am a little animal who always feels as if he’s going to be attacked.

This coming Friday I will be seeing the doctor again, and we’ll be discussing treatment options. I imagine therapy will be on the order, and probably medication. The latter presents a tremendous case of irony. For years I’ve advocated for people to listen to doctors, listen to science; that the medication for mental health is designed to bring your brain back to the way it should be. For years I have seen the positive results from people taking medication. Yet I find myself anxious and being driven to panic attacks over the possibility of what the medication would do to me. I’m a person who is reactive, who thinks with intuition. I write long-form via a freeflow process. With percussion, its inspiration made form, entirely intuition – and one of two things I do in which I feel a sense of peace. Empathy and investing others come naturally to me, it’s the default reactions I have and forms the basis of all of my friendships. Will medication change these things? Will it make things easier? Will I be different or the same?

I don’t know what the future will bring, where life will take me at the end of the week. But one thing I know is a reason why I’m writing this. I’ve lived this long this way, and it’s time for it to change. It’s time for me to try to move on and live my life outside of this prison that has been my home for as long as I can remember.

And to fight the fear that I’ll lose my writing ability and empathy skills. I’m leaving this as a reminder that I *can* write, that I can express myself in this fashion. That I can continue to express myself with music.  That I can write long-form in an articulate yet empathetic fashion. That I can continue to invest in others, build relationships with authenticity.

This post stands as a monument to those things. I was those things now, I can remain those things after.

At least until my brain says otherwise, which will be after I hit “publish”.

Please pray for me, and thank you for your patience and support – especially after this Friday.

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One Response to On Anxiety & Panic

  1. bill bannon. says:

    I just placed you in my prayer ocean liner which contains everyone in life I’ve encountered and worried about. I pray daily for the whole ship and single out some each day. Use all negative feelings in your priesthood of the laity role…” I offer up this panic attack in Christ, through Christ in the Mass all over the world, to the Father as a sacrifice for me and my loved ones…etc.”

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