I started having problematic anxiety when I was 14 years old (I am now nearly 26). The combination of puberty hormones and all the life-changes high school entailed proved a toxic combination, triggering the change from High-StrungAshley to MentallyDisorderedAshley.
Intense anxiety kept me from attending my classes, depression kept me on the couch, unshowered, pajama’d, crying sporadically, and obsessed with bad television that would distract me, briefly, from my so-called life. This was my grade 9. Through talk-therapy, a very supportive and understanding family, hormone leveling (read: birth control pills) and “as needed‘ sedatives: I was able to get back into my life and keep things (mostly) under control.
I had issues here and there in the years that followed, but for the most part - things were under control. It wasn’t until I was finishing second year at university that my dark cloud truly reared it’s ugly head again. One fateful day, started out as a fun day with all my friends, celebrating the end of second year; ended as the (still) reigning champ for worst day of my life. There are tons and tons of photos of that, the last day of second year. To this day, it makes me chuckle to see the smile on my face: I had no idea how my life was about to change.
Two carloads of my closest friends were a half hour from home for a day of mini golf, laughs, and dinner. After dinner, one of the car’s wouldn’t start, so we hung around waiting for the tow truck to arrive. After about 20 minutes or so, I felt my digestive system gurgling, and headed for the bathroom. In a nutshell (sparing you too many TMI details), there was something wrong with the food. It hit me, and one of my friends, at the exact same time, while still at the restaurant, it hit 4 of my other friends very shortly after we got home. It hit me the hardest, also, as I have irritable bowels to begin with. I spent over 2 hours unable to leave the bathroom of the restaurant, with 10 of my friends and my new-at-the-time (now ex) boyfriend all waiting around for me so we could go home. Stressful, awkward situation for anyone: full-on traumatic event for me.
Cue my PTSD specific phobia. I rapidly became terrified of the idea of getting physically ill and not being able to get to a bathroom. While the phobia included vomit-ill and diarrhea-ill - diarrhea was the big one. I had to quit my job because I couldn’t just leave the cash register unattended to go to the bathroom whenever I wanted, which made me too scared to even be there. When I went back to school, I couldn’t leave my house to walk to my classes, less than a kilometre away, because WHAT IF I HAD TO GO TO THE BATHROOM AND THERE WAS NOWHERE TO GO!? I started failing, due to never going to class. I stopped socializing with my friends, unless they were at my house or they had an apartment/house with more than one bathroom. I became mentally addicted to anti diarrhea medication, and wouldn’t leave the house at all without taking at least 2.
My doctor at home prescribed me Effexor XR, which I took gladly, despite previous aversions to resorting to medication: I had lost control, completely, and I knew it. I needed help. The starter dose of the Effexor gave me the typical brain-med startup weird feelings, but nothing too terrible. When we upped to the full dose: my body rejected it. Hard. I puked like I had never puked before. Perfect thing to happen to someone with my phobia, right? Fortunately (fortunately!?), I was so dehydrated, so quickly, I was too weak and groggy to properly freak out. I spent a full day in bed, attempting to put a sip of fluid into me, to no avail, slipping in and out of consciousness. Talked to my doctor, who told me to stop taking the medication IMMEDIATELY, and gave me a lecture on how I should have gone to the hospital already, blah blah. Hospitals scare the crap out of me - I bet you can all relate! I managed to talk my boyfriend into letting me not go to the hospital by promising that if the puking didn’t stop within a few hours, I would go. I got lucky, and was able to hold in a couple soda bisquits and a quarter cup of water, and didn’t have to go.
The university doctor, after I recovered from the Effexor incident, diagnosed me “bipolar 2”, and prescribed me Paxil. I won’t get into details about my experience with Paxil on here - that’s a whale of a tale for another day - but I was on it for close to a year. It took off the edge, but I still needed my sedation and anti-diarrhea medication to get myself out the door. It also seemed to numb me to all emotions but anger. When I decided to get off of Paxil - it was a mess. Again, another tale for another time. I’ve now been “clean” of proper anxiety/depression medication since March 2007.
After I refused any further medication, my school doctor said there was nothing she could do for me. I was at rock bottom, but in a strange way. Hopeless, but ANGRY. I was ready to fight, I just didn’t know how. I went back to my doctor back home, and she referred me to a Cognitive Behavioural Therapy program an hour from home. It was a 12 week, group program. And it single-handedly saved my life.
Today, I have had a new perspective, and been in near-full control of my disorders for nearly 5 years. I don’t remember the last time I took an anti-diarrhea pill (though I do still carry them with me 100% of the time…I doubt that will ever change). I still feel anxiety, I still feel depression sometimes, and I still have my seriously low, setback days - but it never, ever controls me anymore. Generally speaking, when I feel panicked about going somewhere, or doing something, I now come at it with a competitive perspective. You could say I’ve become addicted to the high of going to war with my disorder, head on, and WINNING. I consider my disorders to be in remission. I don’t believe you can ever truly “cure” most anxiety disorders (unless entirely circumstantial, rather than biological in any way) - but I am walking, talking, laughing, LIVING proof, that they can be overcome.
I plan on blogging about the things I’ve been through, and the things that have worked for and helped me along the way. I know we all get told all sorts of things to do and try and whatnot, but so often these come from textbooks, or therapists who KNOW about it, but have never FELT it. I know about it, and have felt it, and I plan to share with you the things I have first-hand knowledge of. That doesn’t mean they will work for you, but they will come from someone who truly understands.
Feel free to contact me at any time, for any reason (except to hit on me, please) - I am an open book about all the gory TMI details of my journey; you just need to ask.