Tuesday, August 12, 2014

A First Rate Madness

Monday was a tough one, more specifically, starting with Sunday evening. I knew that Monday marked the beginning of my nine week intensive group therapy and as soon as my head hit the pillow, the familiar symptoms of a panic attack gripped my body. I caught myself holding my breath at irregular intervals. I felt the pressure building in my face, around the temples and stabbing the sensitive space behind my eyes. My heart was racing and a random spasm sent my shoulder, leg, torso, neck jerking as if pricked by the needle tip of a lightning bolt. I started trying to calm myself, control my breathing, relax the muscles that actively flexed themselves like they had gone rigid, waiting for an imminent car crash impact.

My fiancee encouraged me to take a Xanax, which I don't really like taking unless I am in a situation where I feel safe from responsibility, and with my eight year old sleeping in the next room, I didn't feel that way at the time. Shit, half the problem is, I never feel safe from responsibility. I am like the archetype in a zombie apocalypse that tells everyone else to go ahead and get some rest because I don't sleep anymore anyhow. Like the sweetheart my fiancee is, she assured me that she would pick up any slack and tend to him if he needed it- which I am now starting to realize is fairly absurd. My eight year old hasn't crawled out of bed for anything in the middle of the night for over a year. My anxiety is a tangled knot and half the time, after I feel the physical evidence of its presence, I ascribe to it various reasons and rationales for what the trigger was this time. It's like debating which came first, the chicken or the egg. The stressor or the stress. The panic or the attack.

I took the Xanax and lay back down, trying to trace the reason why I had gone randomly off the deep end this time. Sometimes these attacks start out so physically that I wonder if I was thinking about anything at the time or if I started attaching reasons to the feelings because it feels so unnatural to freak out over absolutely nothing. I started to think that it must be because I was starting therapy the next morning, but I don't remember thinking of that before the symptoms struck. I felt terrible, like I was losing my mind, like I had no control over my thoughts, my body. Laying there in bed I cried, hard at first and more softly as the medicine worked through my system and lulled me against my will into sleep, wondering if this was the start or end of a spiral, if I would wake up fixated on the positive or negative emotions. It felt like drawing cards from a deck, playing high or low, fairly equal chance that it could be either.

I spent the entire night fighting against dreams that I don't remember, trying to pull myself out of them, recognizing that the medicine was like a hand holding my head underwater. My eyes felt so heavy and unresponsive. When the alarm clock went off I gasped for air. I had every intention of jumping in the shower and getting off to the gym. Instead, I went to the bathroom and crawled back to bed, realizing how wrecked my body was. I didn't feel sober enough to drive to the gym anyways. I didn't feel physically capable of walking downstairs. I have been waking up at that time for years and can't recall getting up and giving up like that- I am not a lazy man in that sense, but yesterday, I apologized to my fiancee for not being able to make it out of bed just yet, for using the alarm clock that must have been annoying to her as well. I fell back asleep for a couple hours and woke up feeling like my head was overfull with blood, both of my arms were completely asleep to the point of aching throughout, the bones in my hands were like stone. The knots in my neck and shoulders, my lower back, they all cried for attention that I didn't know how to give, like a baby that didn't want a bottle, didn't want to be rocked, didn't want to be changed. They just kept crying out to me and I couldn't shut them up. I felt like I had been boxing all night.

All of Monday I felt like I was trapped inside of myself. Leading up to the 6pm session, I felt like I was just wasting minutes until that time came. I couldn't relax, I was unable to focus on anything else. I tried meditation, I tried music and a handful of other distractions that sometimes pulled me out of these tailspins. Nothing seemed powerful enough to drag me away from the anguish my body was going through. All day, my face pounded, my neck ached, and the more uncomfortable I was in my own skin the more I worried that other people would notice, see right through me, judge me. I felt against all reason that people would think less of me or even worse, be completely understanding and want to talk about it- that they would try to help me. I don't fully understand my anxiety issues, but I am seeking professional help. I don't want to seem mean or ungrateful, but I am doing so because I've tried thinking positively, meditating, eating healthier, working out, writing it all down. I've tried avoiding my problems. I've tried tackling them head on. I've made lists and talked it out. I have actively tried to heal myself with no great success. When I'm in the thick of it, I don't want to hear these things, if in fact I am even capable of truly hearing someone who is talking to me. 

I think back on yesterday and it seems more like an episode of a show that I watched on television than a day that I lived through first hand. 

I haven't found what works yet but I am searching. If we're going to have a conversation about  it, let it be away from one of these instances when I have withdrawn into myself already because in that instance I am not me- I am a scarecrow crafted out of my anxieties, stuffed with fears and dressed in a debilitating depression that I cannot hear or see through.

I  hesitated to bring this up, which is why I am ultimately going to force myself to do it- around 5 o'clock yesterday I heard that Robin Williams died and that signs point to him having taken his own life. I am really sensitive to being perceived as cashing in on his misfortune, how the consequences of his crippling anxiety affects me. Even though I know I don't have enough followers to go viral and the Robin Williams bump isn't going to be my ticket to the Blogger Hall of Fame, it feels icky. I do not want to make his tragedy about me and I feel guilty that I'm going to do it anyways, but I feel like this is a relevant point to the millions of people who are trying to understand this terrible event but have never dealt first hand with the kind of issues that would drive a person who was so obviously loved to the degree that he was into the arms of such a permanent solution- if the early reports are true and he did in fact asphyxiate himself, enveloped by his own depression and anxiety. 

I am not suicidal, but when I heard about what happened there was a certain doom that crushed me. If the great Robin Williams had all of the resources of the world open to him, seems to have been actively battling his anxiety for the last few decades and this is the route he ended up choosing, how do I stand a chance? I want to repeat- I am not suicidal- but if I have to deal with nights like I had Sunday and days like I had yesterday for as long as he has? Who's to say how long a person can take it before the alternative seems like a relief. 

I am excited to be working towards a positive change in my life, but I am not naive to the fact that not everyone finds the right cocktail of medication and support and skills to cope with their disorder- and I guess that's when I realized that the verbiage my doctors have been using more accurately describes my condition: I have a disorder, not a problem. I'd been avoiding using that word because of how clinical it sounds. It makes it sound like my mental anguish is anywhere near the same plane of existence as someone with two broken legs- seeing the case of Robin Williams what can happen if the fractures in my head aren't properly set, I'm more apt to believe now that it is just as big of a problem. In my mind, I know that I shouldn't have to qualify my issues and that it should only matter how much they affect me- but that's not how society is built, is it? 

When coming out the other end of an episode, I've often crept out of my cave and told my fiancee that I had been struggling with these panic issues for whatever period of time, that I'm starting to feel better now. She has often told me that she couldn't tell- which is a testament to how good I've gotten at hiding in plain sight. People can't see how fucking ravaged I am by what's going on inside or they see me when I'm feeling fine and wonder why I should be allowed to take this time away from work, drawing from an insurance fund that I've been paying into for fifteen years. 

We have been trained to be more suspicious than we are caring, and I say "we" because I am equally guilty of it. We have been raised to have more concern over the possibility that someone could be taking advantage of the system, more sympathy for the non-human entities that form emotionless corporations than those employees who have been chewed up by school or work or life and are openly asking for help. We rush to the aid of the school and say, "We need to find a way to make this round peg fit inside of this square hole." We rush to the side of businesses like abused dogs and cast doubt on those who might use the system to their personal advantage, asking "What makes them special? Why should they get a handout?" Meanwhile, insurance companies thrive on the stigmas that we use to paint each other. I think that most people would agree that we are being screwed over by insurance, actively fucked in the ass and held hostage by their premiums and copays and deductibles and climbing rates and loopholes, but still, when I need to access a state insurance fund that I've paid into for almost two decades because I was so stressed out that I had a panic attack with physical evidence so powerful that the doctor's demanded I allow them to run an EKG because it seemed suspiciously like a heart attack, I feel guilty and ashamed for not being better. I have at times questioned my own integrity to the point of arguing and bartering with doctors who insisted that I take this course of treatment.

We have been taught through capitalism that we should be jealous and covet what other people have, regardless of personal need- whether in property or loved ones or breaks or opportunities. And so, conversely, I have been struggling to accept help or breaks or love or opportunities. It doesn't seem fair to me that I should be allowed such advantages. 

We all have problems, but for some of us, even a small thing like pre-therapy day jitters can crush us against our will, if that was even the culprit. I don't feel good about having this diagnosis. It makes me feel weak and incapable of things that I see other people are able to handle. Hell, I know people who have it way worse than I do, people I shouldn't even be able to compare my problems to, people who seem able to persevere through nearly insurmountable obstacles. I admire and envy those people. At one point in time, I might have even counted myself among them. I feel ashamed for not being able to tow my responsibility any further, for being at home typing this instead of being at work where I belong. What kind of fucked up shit is that? I can see the illogical guilt for what it is, but it's like trying to rekindle a belief in Santa Claus. I see the point of view clearly, remember what it was like to believe, yet I can't force myself to conclude that it is more valid than the fear, doubt, shame, guilt, and anxiety that infect every vein in my body.

I want to do right. I want to be the hero of my story, but I retrained myself to believe that I had to conform to the popular point of view so much that I lost my own perspective- I sold off what made me unique. Now I'm waking up from that and I feel fingers clutch my skull, trying to push me back down into the water. I am splashing and resisting and doing everything I can think of to not be drowned with nightmares again. 

I'm in the space between forced dreams and being. 

I'm equally afraid of what lies on either side of me, paralyzed into a place where choosing seems like I would have to kill one version of myself because these two cannot coexist in the same space. They require opposing  beliefs, radically different priorities, varied types of training and perhaps even medication. Okay, probably medication.

I remember hearing that Robin Williams often felt like he needed to go off his meds to perform. It was too difficult for him to adjust to not having those heightened emotions that he tapped into when he took the stage. I am afraid that for all the ways that it would change me for the better, I'm going to be a dulled version of myself. Especially hard to understand after an entry like this, I'm sure, but I like me. I like a lot of things about me and the perspectives that I have access to, sometimes because of my disorder. If I am chemically altered, it feels like a betrayal of myself. I am not dangerous to myself or anyone else, but I don't fit in the system we have today. Is that my fault or should the system make room for people like me? 

I don't know if I actually have ADD, but going back to a science lesson- we call Attention Deficit Disorder a "disorder" although inborn disorders and defects tend to present themselves in less than 3% of the population, because they are a genetic anomaly and get weeded out over time. It has been estimated that somewhere between 7.5-10% of people in the world have ADD, however, which led scientists to delve into why that might be. 

As it turns out, there are several advantages to being ADD that just don't present themselves as advantages in modern culture. Like the small percentage of bees that have a biological imperative which leads them to stray from the hive and seek out potential future locations for establishing new hives, we may have a handful of people who are different on purpose. Some of the most respected minds throughout history might have been afflicted with what we call ADD today, but presented itself then as a calling to do something extraordinary- or to use the bee analogy- to question the system that they were born into and look for other possibilities. Not every bee who was born with that mission struck gold, but there was a percentage of them chosen by nature to try. If those bees who seemed to be working against the system were medicated and told that they needed to start making honey because that's what all bees do, then bees would not exist today. In the case of ADD, this would most likely present itself as inventors, scientists, writers, artists- people who see a set of objects and put them together in a way that nobody had ever thought of before. 

Which begs questions like:

How many cures for cancer have we medicated into submission? How many climate change solutions have we crushed with the spirits of those who are struggling to understand why they don't fit in, rather than using their talents to flourish for the good of the rest of us? How many great minds have we turned to mush because we couldn't stand to see somebody doing something that seemed like an easier, more fun job than ours and so we forced them in school and adulthood to walk the same path as everyone else until they complied?

I am stuck between wanting desperately to celebrate my differences and not being able to tolerate the pain those differences cause me every day.

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