I’m taking a break from talking about books and writing to discuss the absolute shit show that is my physical and mental health right now. I wrote my first novel as #OwnVoices for anxiety disorders, and I think I need to start practicing more of what my characters preach.
History of me:
The first panic attack I remember was in first grade. In school, we would have to read books on our own time and take a short comprehension test on the computer. I was always an avid reader, devouring anything I could get my grubby hands on, but the thought of these exams sent my poor seven-year old heart spiraling into panic. I put the tests off until the teacher told me I absolutely had to take it. I remember walking up to that computer, my hands shaking, vision blurring, blackness creeping in at the edges, and hyperventilating my way through that exam.
By the time I was twelve, my anxiety was so bad I was only sleeping about 2.5 hours a night, up worrying about EVERYTHING, but mainly school. My worries and anxiety always centered around grades and assignments and my performance. I was suffering from panic attacks so frequently, I was finally taken to a child psychiatrist who diagnosed me with acute panic syndrome and anxiety induced depression. I was put on Prozac, the dosage tweaked throughout the years.
The meds helped but it didn’t take away my anxiety, it more just made me passably functional with this constant fist wrapped around my chest.
At 19, I decided I wanted to try different medications. After trying a few that actually made my anxiety so much worse, I was put on Effexor, a drug I asked to try because it worked for a friend and also helped her lose a ton of weight (sick, right?).
I’m not a fan of Effexor. Missing a dose even by 12 hours means I’m knocked on my ass by physical withdrawals. Nausea, diarrhea, headaches, dizziness, and these electrical pulses in my brain that are truly awful. As much as I hate this drug, the fear of how I would physically survive getting off of it kept me on it.
I started dental school last year at 23, and it was the worst mental health year I’ve ever experienced. My anxiety was constant. Heart palpitations, daily panic attacks, worry induced insomnia. I walked through every day feeling like I couldn’t breathe, worries circling and rebounding around my mind until I couldn’t focus on anything but the physical manifestations of this anxiety. I found a lot of outlets to cope with these feelings—I even took up running and ran a half marathon, and then decided to write a whole damn book, but I digress.
I went to the student health center about my anxiety and depression and some random nurse doubled my meds on the spot. This made me incredibly ill, but I didn’t know what to do, so I kept taking them.
I found the first psychiatrist on my insurance plan that would take me. Do you have any idea how hard it is to get an appointment with a psychiatrist? HARD. Ridiculously hard. Even harder for me to find a therapist, I’ve been reaching out to different providers on my plan for over a year with no luck.
Isn’t that fucked up? Isn’t it crazy how we like to talk about mental health as a trendy buzzword in elections and advertisements and books and movies, but I’ve been trying to see a therapist for a year and rarely even get a call back to let me know their schedule is booked? Isn’t it fucked up that the psychiatrist I finally got in to see about my medications would spend the half hour she allotted me asking me the same questions as the previous visit because she didn’t bother to remember my answers? I’m talking questions like “any family history or high blood pressure, cancer, depression, etc” shit that was covered at the initial consultation.
After putting up with this for months, I decided I needed better. I needed a doctor that would actually listen to me.
I bit the bullet and paid $450 to see a private practice psychiatrist, and I guess it’s true you get what you pay for. Because he’s amazing. EXPENSIVE AS FUCK. But amazing. So I charge these appointments to my already stretched thin credit card because, for the first time since I was twelve, I feel like someone is actually taking my mental illness seriously.
After a lot of talking and testing, he’s actually diagnosed me with Adult ADHD combined with my anxiety disorder. Getting this new diagnosis was like finally being seen after years of waving my arms around in the dark. I’ve started researching ADHD more and more, and can’t believe how well it fits me. I never was disruptive in classes, or struggled in school, so no one ever took the time to consider this neurodiversity may be contributing the anxiety that has shackled itself to my ankles my whole life.
I’ve recently been put on Strattera, a drug shown to treat both ADHD and anxiety, and I’m being weened off of Effexor.
But this is where things get interesting.
This transition of medications has me feeling physcially worse than I’ve ever felt in my life. I wake up feeling almost drunk, everything dizzy, my tongue heavy, limbs not working. I want to throw up and I can’t stop sweating while shaking with chills. My heart won’t stop pounding and I’m forgetting to eat. It feels impossible to get out of bed and even harder to go to school and try to learn to be a dentist when my hands aren’t fucking working.
All of these withdrawal effects fall under “normal,” which is insane to me, but I’m trusting the process, despite feeling like I’m dying.
And I guess my point with all of this is, sometimes being neurodiverse fucking sucks. I wish so much the issues with my mind could be healed like a broken arm. Sometimes I wish my illness showed up on my body like a scar, so I could point to it and tell people: “There. Right there. That’s where it hurts, that’s what needs fixed. That spot is why I’m crying and hurting and you can see it so you know I’m not faking it.”
But instead, people question why I’m so stressed, what I really have to worry about, why I can’t see that things are okay? People tell me not to worry about it, tell me to let things go, tell me to rise above it. But they can’t comprehend that I can’t do that. I WANT TO SCREAM AT THEM: YOU THINK I LIKE FEELING THIS WAY? YOU THINK I LIKE BEING THIS OUT OF CONTROL OF MY MIND WITH WORRIES? YOU THINK I LIKE THAT MY BODY TREATS ME IN THIS CRUEL WAY? I can’t stop the swarm of bees jolting and stinging around my brain. I can’t put a road block to the obsessive worry that circles and circles my chest at night.
My disorders are never something I hide, but they are something I get tired of having to explain and justify.
Getting a medical degree can make it even more frustrating. We learn illness after illness and exactly how to treat it. For X you take Y, for A you take 2B.
But there’s so much guesswork with the mind. You may have H but it could also be 2D with a touch of M and we can try treating it with L or P or a mix but then hey you may get 100x worse and want to crawl out of your skin. Or we could miss the root cause altogether and treat you for something completely wrong while inhibiting your ability to emotionally, mentally, and physically function.
So, all four of you that read this blog, I’m telling you I’m not okay, but I’m hopeful I will be. I’m telling you this because it’s important that people start admitting when they aren’t okay.
I need to admit this because, for the next few weeks, I will not be a good student, I will not be good with my hands in the lab, I will not be a good friend, daughter, girlfriend, writer, blogger, runner, reader…
But I’m trying.
I’m trying so fucking hard.
And I see you, if you’re trying too. Don’t give up the good fight, and don’t be afraid to let the world know you’re going to battle.
Side note: I’m shocked number of accurate gifs out there for mental health and I feel hella seen