Sunday, February 16, 2014

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How Having a Baby Helped Me Overcome My Anxiety Disorder

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I started having panic attacks around the time my father died. I was 18. I’d been working the graveyard shift at Toys R Us, and there was something about working during the night and sleeping during the day, combined with the stress of my father’s drug addiction, that caused a pain inside my body. 
The first time I had a panic attack was at around 6:30 AM. I’d gotten off work at 5AM. I was living with my grandmother at the time. It was a Sunday morning, and she’d gotten up early to start cooking a roast. I couldn’t go to sleep because she was in the kitchen banging pots and pans around, and as the sun came up, I became more and more anxious. I tossed and turned in bed, trying to understand the tightness in my body. It reminded me of the butterflies I felt on a roller coaster during the drop. I often looked forward to that rise and fall of my stomach during an amusement park ride, but it usually only lasted a few moments, not several hours.
I became nauseous and I started sweating. It was the strangest thing. I was afraid, but I didn’t have anything to be afraid of. I didn’t sleep at all that day, and by the time I made it into work at 7PM, I was a wreck. My face was moist and pale, my hands cool and clammy. My boss sent me home. Around 4AM, after I’d been awake for almost 40 hours, I finally drifted off.
I had anxiety attacks here and there during the next year, and I never understood them. They seemed to come out of the blue. But it wasn’t until a year later that I really began to really suffer. 
Dad's funeral (I'm the one with the long hair.)

By then I was 19, working at Lowe’s Home Improvement Warehouse in the garden center, and attending my first year of college. I was still living at my grandmother’s home, only I lived there alone.  Grandma had recently had a stroke. She had to move in with my aunt.
It was summer time, and I was supposed to be at work around 6AM, but I just couldn’t fall asleep, and the more I thought about how I couldn’t go to sleep, the more anxious I became, until eventually, I started to vomit. This was the worst panic attack I’d ever had. A horrible butterfly feeling of fear and anticipation sat squat in my gut for almost a full month. I found it difficult to eat, and difficult to sleep, and sometimes, I felt so hopeless that I just sat down and wept. I felt pathetic, weak, and helpless. I didn’t understand what was happening, I didn’t have a name for it, so I thought the worst. I assumed it was some terminal illness, cancer or something, perhaps a tumor in my head or stomach, or somewhere, that was causing me to feel this way. These terrible assumptions only fed my anxiety.
I lost 40 pounds in three weeks.
I’ve always been described as stocky, and I’ve always had a little fat around my waist, so it was eerie to look in the mirror and see my skin stretch across my ribs like a wet towel. People at work kept complimenting me on my weight loss, and I didn’t know how to respond, so I didn’t say anything. It’s not like I was on some fitness program or diet.
I was hardly eating, and half of what I ate, I threw up.
Once I started talking about suicide, my girlfriend at the time urged me to see a doctor. I don’t know why I hadn’t gone before, probably because I didn’t want to face what they had to say.
My regular doctor sent me to a therapist named Jason and I recall being frustrated and confused by this recommendation because I still assumed there was something wrong with me physically. I assumed the doctor would send me somewhere for an x-ray or blood test, something, not to chat with someone about my emotions.
Jason was a tall, lean man with spidery fingers. He used his hands a lot when he spoke and had a lot of lines in his face. He told me that I had depression and general anxiety disorder. He looked me in the eyes when he told me this, and I’d never felt so weak and alone. Most of my life I’d always assumed that anxiety and depression problems were a joke. They were a cry for attention, and depression medication was nothing more than a placebo. But as I sat across from this man with degree after degree on his wall, and compassion and sincerity in his eyes, feeling the slack in my pants, and long lasting pain in my stomach, I realized that I had a problem.
Once I told Jason that I’d been contemplating suicide, he set up a bi-weekly appointment. Then he recommended a psychiatrist who later prescribed me a collection of pills: Celexa for depression, Xanax for anxiety, Ambien, Sonata, and Klonopin to be used interchangeably for sleep… I seemed to always be taking something. My father had died earlier that year from a stroke brought on by his 10-year addiction to prescription painkillers. Sometimes I examined the pills I’d been prescribed, thought about my father, and wondered if this was how his addictions began. 

My therapist suggested a healthy diet, going to bed at the same time, getting up at the same time, and daily exercise.
“Keeping yourself healthy, and making sure that you are good and tired once you go to bed will make a huge difference.”
And suddenly it felt like he’d given me a prescription on how to live, a list of do’s that would make the pain go away. My life changed again, from one of late nights watching TV, to one of order. If I weren’t in bed by 11PM, I’d have a panic attack. And if I had to be up before 8AM, I’d have a panic attack. If I ate the wrong food, I feared what it might do to me. But I suppose the worst was my sudden obsession with making myself “good and tired.” 

How Having a Baby Helped Me Overcome My Anxiety Disorder Part II

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Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, and a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play dress. When Clint was 9-years-old his father left. With no example of fatherhood, he had to learn how to be a father and husband through trial and error. His essays on parenting and marriage have been featured in Huffington Post Parents, Huffington Post Weddings, and The Good Men Project. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.
Photo by Lucinda Higley


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