Friday, October 7, 2011


I have generalized anxiety disorder. I have never been formally diagnosed by a mental health professional, but i know enough about myself and GAD to see it, and others who have been diagnosed with GAD have confirmed my suspicions. Plus i took an online test, so, yeah.

This means that i live most days with what i like to call a "functional level of anxiety". I'm almost never totally calm and happy and relaxed, but it doesn't really get in the way of my life. Which is why i've never bothered to be officially diagnosed, or to go on any kind of medication.

See, i really feel like no one should ever take any kind of medicine at all for any reason unless their issue is preventing them from living a normal life. Why would you put chemicals into your body and brain if you don't have to? Is your cholesterol at a life-threatening level? Go ahead and get a prescription. Does your bipolar disorder prevent you from even going to therapy? Get a prescription.

But people have a tendency to go for a quick fix. "I feel sad today and have for a few days now, so I'll pop some antidepressants until I feel better." Why not M'N'Ms? They taste better and you can chew them. And they won't alter the chemistry of your brain until you become dependent on medication to get out of bed in the morning.

Prescription drugs, particularly psychiatric medications, change the very structures of your brain. If you don't need them when you start taking them, you will create a need for them. This is why i get pissed off when people put their six-year-old children on Ritalin. Their brains aren't even finished being formed, and you're giving them something that could alter those brains forever. Guess what? The long-term effects of ADHD medications are unknown.Some kids grow out of their ADD/ADHD. Some don't. And some of the ones who don't honestly need a medication in order to get through the day.

And that's okay.

If you are unable to get through the day without help, please get help. There is no shame in admitting that you can't do everything on your own. And this is coming from a girl who won't even ask for a ride to the grocery store, and will instead walk a mile each way in the snow and ice, carrying heavy grocery bags on the way back (and that is in no way an exaggeration). If you need help, get it.

Anyway, my anxiety rarely interferes with my life in any way. Occasionally, i'll have a mini-anxiety attack. For 30-90 seconds, i'll be on the verge of tears for no real reason. But i can focus and power through and be okay. Sometimes i'll have to step away from my desk for a minute and find a quiet corner where i can breathe deeply and put my head down. But these attacks are infrequent, coming perhaps once a month. They in no way affect my ability to live my life.

But this week, i had three major anxiety attacks in five hours.

My functional level of anxiety comes with a range. Some days, i am more relaxed. Some days, i am more stressed. But even in the midst of my mini-attacks, i tend to stay within this range. I'll be right at the top of it, but i'm in it.

Tuesday, i was at the top of my range. Maybe slightly above. I was tense and anxious, but pretty much okay.

Wednesday, my anxiety spiked to a level i can't remember hitting since high school. It climbed steadily all day, peaking right before my class. I walked into the classroom, put my things on a desk, and walked out again. I found a quiet corner and cried for a few minutes. I was trying to breathe, trying to figure out whether or not i could even go to class. Finally, i decided that since i'd have to go back eventually, if only to get my stuff, i should try to sit through class. I decided to stay until i couldn't. I remained tense, shaky, and disoriented.

I made it through the class and started walking home. Another attack came. This time, instead of crying, i found myself struggling to draw breath. I was shaking and choking. I'm not sure how i made it all the way home. All i know is that, just when my house came into view, i remembered that i had recently found an ice cream sale and stocked up. (Side note: over the last year and a half, there has been an ice cream sale every time i have encountered personal pain. I feel like it's God's way of saying, "Here. I love you. Have some ice cream. It will be okay.") I laughed a little, remembering those many weeks and months of clinging desperately to hope and Haagen-Dazs, and went into the house.

A little while later, my roommates and i were chatting in the kitchen, and i started to feel another attack coming on. I tried to focus and power through, but one of my roommates noticed me staring intently at nothing (actually, i was staring intently at her left boob, but i wasn't aware of that), and asked if i was okay. My concentration broken, i began shaking violently and sobbing. It was like every muscle in my body was so tense that it was vibrating. This went on for a few minutes, and then it went away.

Here's the thing: Tuesday, i was at the top of my range. Wednesday, for no reason i can figure out, i went off the chart. Thursday, i was back to the middle of my range, maybe even slightly below.

I've had stress in my life the past week or so, but no more than i have in years past. College is stressful, and i have definitely broken down once or twice. But i was always able to pinpoint a reason, which means it was a normal breakdown and not an anxiety attack. There was nothing i could think of that could have triggered what happened. Maybe it was just a collection of little things that hit at a time when my brain chemistry was off. I don't know.

The point is, this week was the first time that i ever thought about trying a prescription. These attacks came out of nowhere. And while afterwards i was fine, i have no guarantee that tomorrow i won't be a basketcase again. I don't know what happened or how to predict it. I don't know what to expect tomorrow.

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