This part of my anxiety story picks up where I left off last week. I graduated high school and chose to attend a nearby small university. I knew there was no way I could have survived the transition to a large state university. Here I was able to room with a friend from high school, and I was just a short drive from home, so I could go home every weekend. At this time, anxiety was only treated with medication, and I was on Prozac and Buspar.
What worked for me during my freshman year of college was finding my thing. It’s still my biggest piece of advice for all high school graduates. Find your thing. This makes finding friends easier, and friends are what get you through life. I was introduced to the university newspaper and became the copyeditor. The newspaper office became a second home and my extended family. I was very fortunate. Many young people suffering with anxiety either don’t make it to college or leave after the first semester.
As long as I was on medication and life was smooth, I was fine. I would do well for nine months or so, which led me to believe I didn’t need the medication anymore. I’d taper off and feel fine as long as I didn’t have any crazy stress. Well, guess what. Life is full of crazy stress! My panic attacks returned whenever I encountered extended periods of stress. So I would return to the medication, most of the time just to Buspar.
During my sophomore year, I found a women’s anxiety support group run by the Psychology Department. I finally felt like I wasn’t alone. In my junior year, I sought the help of a counselor available at the university. That’s one of the great things about being a college student. You have access to resources at little or no cost! I also started digesting books on anxiety and panic attacks. I was determined to get a handle on it. Like I said before, it would work…for a while.
In the period of 18 months, I met my husband, graduated college, took a full-time job, got married, and had a baby. Thus began another roller coaster of anxiety ups and downs. There were major stresses of being a newly married couple with an infant, a three-hour round-trip commute, and a demanding job at a brokerage firm. It should be no surprise I started having chest pains and panic attacks. I also had trouble eating and sleeping again.
I found a very good physician and started a different anti-depressant. I would go on medication for about a year or so, feel better, and get off, only to end up back in the doctor’s office about a year later with panic attacks again. She would prescribe various anti-depressants: Wellbutrin, Effexor, and Serzone. She also insisted I see a psychologist. In the good stretches during those eight years, I went back to school for my MBA, gave birth to two more children, and changed jobs twice.
A couple years after my youngest was born, the panic attacks returned. So again, I turned to my doctor. It was at this visit, she took a look at my chart and called my attention to the pattern. She helped me come to terms that it was ok that I needed medication and that I’m just wired this way. She encouraged me to try a new antidepressant, Lexapro. This time, I stayed on the medication, even when I felt better.
I felt better for a couple years until my thyroid function declined, and the panic returned. I switched to a doctor closer to my work, who added thyroid medication and switched me from Lexapro to Paxil. For the next three years after that, I began weekly therapy sessions with a social worker and eventually added a psychiatrist to my team to manage my medications.
So here I was, 20 years after my first panic attack, crippled by anxiety yet again. I was working with an interest, a psychiatrist, a counselor, along with my supportive family and friends to address the anxiety that had plagued me all my life. But a storm was brewing.
Last fall, I had a breakdown. My stress levels were off the charts. In addition to the panic attacks, I was crying uncontrollably. My psychiatrist added Abilify to see if that would boost the effectiveness of the Paxil. I had a checkup with my doctor, which revealed elevated cholesterol and blood pressure. The consensus was that I needed to leave my job immediately.
Leaving my job was extremely hard. To me, I thought I was a failure. I felt helpless and powerless and utterly out of control of my life. These last several months have been very hard, but I’m beginning to see my “breakdown” as a “breakthrough.” Had I not had all the loving people in my life to support me through this time, I don’t know how or if I would’ve made it.
Again, I’m linking up with Pour Your Heart Out. If you’ve found me, thanks for stopping by. If you’re one of my regular followers, checkk out other bloggers pouring their hearts out and show them some love.
Next week, I’ll share some of what I’ve learned about combating anxiety and panic attacks. Until then, hugs!