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When I Finally Checked the Box Next to Anxiety

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The first time a doctor prescribed me pills for my mental problems, I didn’t take them. I didn’t even take the bottle out of the pharmacy bag. Instead, I tucked it into the basket of all my other misfit medications and half-used ointment tubes and shoved the whole thing to the back of my linen closet.

I don’t even know what it was, an antidepressant I suppose. All I know was I wasn’t sure I needed it. I wasn’t sure there was something wrong with me. Except some part of me knew there was, but for some reason, I needed someone else to verify that.

Looking back, I can see I’ve always had anxiety. I faked sick a lot in elementary school. I freaked out about being alone in the house as a teenager. I stressed uncontrollably the night before I had to take the university campus bus for the first time, but I managed.

I got through school, dated, got married, got a job, the whole business. I was fine. Kind of. That all changed when my son was born. When you’re pregnant with your first child, every parent you meet will give you the same look and tell you,“Your life is about to change.” They weren’t wrong in my case. They just didn’t know how right they were.

The thing I remember most about the day I brought my son home from the hospital was everything there seemed fake. It was like my living room was the set of a sitcom I used to watch. I felt out of place. My life wasn’t anything I recognized. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep. I worried all the time. All the time. When my husband’s relatives came to visit, I actually hid in the bathroom because I couldn’t stand to look anyone in the face.

I know at some point, I called my OBGYN and she told me, “Everyone feels this way at first.” I wasn’t sure about that. If everyone felt like this, then no one would ever have more than one child. Yet, I couldn’t find the words to explain what was wrong with me.

Yes, I could still get out of bed. Yes, I felt love and interest toward my baby. No, I didn’t have thoughts of harming myself or my child, but everything was still horribly wrong. She called in a prescription for me and told me if I didn’t feel better in a few days, then I should start taking it. My husband went and got it for me, but her comment had dug itself into my head.

“Everyone feels this way.”

To me that meant I was making something out of nothing. So I set out to toughen up and the medicine, whatever it was, stayed in the closet.

The next six months were bleak. Two feelings stand out to me now from that period: I wanted to run away, and I was desperate for someone to help me. At every doctor’s visit, I hoped for the pediatrician to ask me how I was doing. She never did, and I could never find the words to speak up about it.

I typed it into Google a million times instead. Lord, yes, I Googled post-partum depression and post-partum anxiety several times a week, hoping a miracle would leap through my computer screen and into my head, vanishing all my problems. Instead, I saw lists titled, “When to See a Doctor.” I never met the criteria of those lists.

I was upset, irritable, plagued with worry and doubt and filled with the sense that I hated being a mother. Yet, those were never on the list. I could still get up, nurse my child, fix my hair, go to work, make dinner, give my boy a bath and revel in how amazing he was before putting him to sleep in his crib. So by the lists I saw and my own misguided logic, I didn’t have a disorder.

Yet, still I felt like I was drowning in air. I sometimes Googled therapists in my area, but I never called. In my imagination, I could hear them thinking, “Everyone feels this way.” I didn’t even think about taking those pills that were still in the bag. They were for people with much worse problems than me.

Over time, things got better, and then, they got worse. And then better. And then worse. Eventually, I came across some helpful websites like Anxiety BC, and I bought a book on mindfulness and anxiety. I taught myself coping skills and meditation. I exercised to keep my demons at bay. I managed.  

Yet, sometimes I didn’t. Once, I almost made it to a doctor. I had forgotten to get Valentine’s cards for my son to give out to the kids in his preschool class. He came home that day with a bag of goodies from all the other kids. I cried silently to myself while I made dinner that night and spent the next week battling unending thoughts that I was failing as a parent.

Realizing that was over the edge of reason, I finally tried to call a local psychiatric group to make an appointment. However, all I got was a recorded message said I needed a doctor’s referral. The only doctor I saw regularly was my OBGYN. I didn’t go.

Then, something fortuitous happened. I moved, and at the appointed yearly time, I went to a new gynecologist for my annual exam. While I was filling out the new patient forms, there was a sheet to check off prior or current health issues, and sitting there at the bottom of the paper was a category for mental health. I looked at the little box next to anxiety, and in a moment of bravery, I checked it. I told myself the doctor wouldn’t even notice.

He did. He sat down with me and asked me about it. I told him I was basically fine, and I just had occasional problems (I was thinking of the Valentine’s incident in particular). He nodded his head, but said with anxiety, you live with it your whole life. So sometimes you don’t realize it’s there all the time.

He suggested I try taking a certain type of medication. I admit. I was still scared. Yet, he explained it to me, told me about other patients he had who were on it and what their experiences were like. He said he would call in the prescription, and I should try it.

I headed over to the pharmacy after the appointment. As I stood in line, I felt like there was a spotlight over my head, like everyone could tell what I was there for. Of course, they didn’t. I tried to laugh at the fact that I was anxious about having anxiety.

I got the script and left without a problem, but when I got back in my car I cried. I cried out of relief, and I cried out of fear. I worried somehow I was my anxiety and my anxiety was me. Because despite telling myself for six years I was fine, I knew I wasn’t. Who would I be if it all went away?

I went home and read the package details as if it would ease my fears. It didn’t. Instead, I read all the horrible things that could go wrong. On that night, I was still feeling brave, and I took one. The next day, I took another. Then, I wanted to stop taking them because they made me nauseous and restless, but I kept taking them. Once I had gotten past the fear, I was determined to find out what was on the other side.

I am happy to report the other side is a lovely place. A place where I don’t hate myself for everything I think I do wrong. A place where I don’t panic if I make a mistake. A place where a fear can cross my mind, and I let it keep going until it’s gone. And I can’t help but wonder, does everybody feel this way? I hope so. It’s a wonderful way to feel.

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Image via Thinkstock.

Originally published: October 28, 2016
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