There’s an electric current running from my chest to my gut. This is not a new feeling, in fact I’ve been experiencing it for over a decade. In case you weren’t aware, the onset of mental health issues is often occurs with the onset of puberty. Since age 13 or 14 I have been dealing with this live wire inside my body that feels a lot like panic, like impending doom, as if something bad is on the horizon. Among my many brain-related ailments, anxiety has always been one of the more difficult ones to control. Have you ever grabbed a live electrical wire with your bare hands? You know that feeling you get in your gut when you are about to take the stage to give a speech or perform a musical number or even when you’re sitting there waiting to be called in for the interview for that job you want so desperately?
I live with that. Almost constantly for no reason at all other than a little twist in brain chemistry.
Generalized anxiety has a high comorbidity rate with Bipolar patients. Before I was properly diagnosed, I was put through the ringer of SSRI’s, SNRI’s, and MAOI’s by a general practitioner and more than one Behavioral/Mental health specialist. It was actually the anxiety that put me in the hands of a Psychiatrist in the first place because my GP at the time was testing SSRI’s to control anxiety and gave me Xanax to hold me over until the drugs kicked in. I ended up having a pretty severe panic attack shortly thereafter which is probably the scariest thing I’ve encountered in years.
I went through a number of psychiatrists before landing with one who actually knew what he was doing. He put me through a battery of tests before prescribing me a ton of medication including an MRI and an EEG. Once it was determined my brain didn’t have any functional or structural issues I was given a regular prescription for Clonazepam which is a lot safer and has a longer efficacy than Xanax (which has proven sometimes fatal should you ever want to detox off it). Thankfully, there were less side effects as well. Xanax would actually put me to sleep so fast I’d nod off mid-sentence.
Like any medication, there’s no guarantee of 100% effectiveness so I do deal with anxiety on a fairly regular basis. My therapist has taught me how to cope by turning me on to mindful meditation. What some people don’t realize is anxiety comes from focusing too much on the future. Mindful meditation brings you back to the present with a series of guided exercises and breathing. It’s super simple and it’s helped me out a lot lately, especially during stressful days at work.
What has also been extremely helpful to me is learning about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Some go to therapists to learn the skills necessary to use this as a coping mechanism. I bought a book by the daughter of the innovator of this form of therapy and taught myself mostly because I was bored and I needed to learn something new. The basis of CBT is to learn how to take catastrophic or anxious thoughts and reframe them into more rational explanations. For example, I have severe abandonment issues. This affects me on an almost daily basis in one way or another. If someone doesn’t talk to me I instantly jump to blaming myself, that I did something wrong. That’s the anxiety talking. What I then have to do is take that thought, bring it back to the present and think of a more plausible explanation like, “They must be busy,” or “they have a lot of work to do and are probably seriously stressed out.” You’d be surprised how easy it is once you get the hang of it and how much better you feel once you’ve done that reframing.
The downside to this is sometimes there is no reason for the anxious feelings I get in my guts. It’s just there and I have to focus on something else or just continue to breathe. I try to avoid taking more medication during the day because I’m stubborn and need to believe I’m somehow able to control it. Being out of control is one of the hardest things for me to deal with which is why my faith is hard to deal with sometimes. People will tell me to rely on God or give it to God and He will take care of it. I fight those statements hard because, if I don’t do what I feel is my part, I can’t let go of it. This goes the same way with depression, only I lose my voice to speak to anyone and get stuck.
I won’t say my life is easy but it’s not as hard as some have it so I must be grateful with what I have. My struggles with anxiety and depression have allowed me to connect with people others have not been able to. It’s allowed me to sympathize in ways no one else can but it has also put up substantial barriers in my life because it’s hard to have friends who can’t grasp what it is I’m dealing with. It’s probably why I have so few friends. I can live with that. The friends I do have are loyal to the bone.
So, what’s my point here? I’m not entirely sure. This is often true of most of the things I write; they’re just true to how I’m feeling at the time and writing has proven to be a great release for me and has been for a very long time. I will say this: if you struggle with anxiety, you’re not alone. If you don’t know how to cope, ask. Seek help. i’m not a doctor, I don’t even play one on TV but I have a lifetime of experience, so ask if you need to.