Coping

By: 
Joann Ware

It was my first day back at work after a brief hospitalization and recuperation at home. Physically I was feeling better, but my mental state was not so ship shape. I joked around with coworkers and plowed into my work. By lunch, I knew something was terribly wrong.

I sat down to eat at my desk, and every bite of my food made me sick. Suddenly I was drenched in sweat and feeling terribly light-headed. I thought I was hungry, but eating wasn't an option. That's when my mind took over. It seized me pretty quickly and in minutes I was convinced I was about to drop dead. My heart pounded. My breathing was rapid. I got up from my desk and went outside in the rain. The rain temporarily refreshed me. I tried to focus on getting my breathing and heart rate down. Back inside, I went to a dark place in the office and put my head down. Then I thought I was going to black out. All the while, my brain was telling me, "You're going to die, you're going to die, you're going to die."

I went home early thinking that being at home would calm me and things got worse. I tried to eat again, but my stomach rebelled. I managed to eat some yogurt and gave myself a high five.

Since early childhood, I have suffered from depression and anxiety. I have tried very hard to hide it, thinking that ignoring it would make it go away, but it's always there. My anxiety kept me from doing a lot of fun things when I was a child. Birthday parties were too stressful. I was terrified of dogs and water and I thought, "What if they have a dog and a pool?" Just leaving my home was an instant invitation to Anxietyville. I always felt like I was about to be sick. I went to the doctor frequently for just about everything. Eventually I was put on an antidepressent and that made all the difference. I joyfully rejoined the world, made friends and didn't confine myself to house arrest anymore.

Too bad I got cocky. After many years of my mental illness being controlled by a pill, I thought I could go off it and be a reasonably functional human being. This coincided with the time I went to college and my college years were some of my happiest. Occasionally I would feel the darkness creeping in and the anxiety making my thoughts spiral out of control, but I managed.

I was off my antidepressent for nearly two decades until a major health issue sent me to the hospital for 19 days back in 2011. Many doctors rescued me during that hospital stay, but the one who put me back on an antidepressent was the one who made me in charge of my brain again instead of the other way around.

Because history repeats itself, I convinced myself that my antidepressent was too expensive and I took myself off it. For years I thought I was doing just fine. My mood swings were a consequence of the march towards menopause, I told myself. Wanting to sleep all day was just a sign of getting older. Crying uncontrollably for no reason, well, that was just hormones.

In late April, I thought I had pulled a calf muscle. I hobbled around on a grossly swollen leg for two weeks before I sought a doctor's diagnosis. At Velocity Care, I was told to go to an emergency room right away.

The pulled calf muscle was actually Deep Vein Thrombosis -- a blood clot in my leg. Further tests revealed clots in each lung.

This is what sent me to the hospital and nearly killed me in 2011.

Every day I wake up, I'm instantly consumed by the what if's. I have a condition that could kill me or leave me severely incapacitated should I have a stroke. Even though I'm on blood thinners now, I worry. I worry all the time. My life has become one worrying thought after another.

It's exhausting. I feel so tired all the time. But when I feel I'm about to give up, I breathe. I close my eyes and concentrate on my breathing. As long as I'm able in inhale and exhale, I'm alive.

It's hard to concentrate. The mind wanders like a toddler at Target. I read something and instantly forget it. Given the news today, maybe that's a good thing.

My appetite is returning. My sense of humor is as well. Some days I find myself feeling like the old Joanie, but my mind tries to seduce me into feeling out of control again. I fight back.

I am back on an antidepressent and I will be for life. I will also be on blood thinners until my meet and greet with Saint Pete. I am seeing a therapist weekly and that is helpful as well.

Sharing my story on social media has been a real eye-opener. So many of my friends have suffered the same psychological symptoms. I am not alone.

Sometimes, though, it feels like I'm alone. Alone and scared. I don't feel like myself. I look at my big leg. It doesn't look like my leg. Some mad scientist replaced my leg with Fred Flintstone's leg. The swelling troubles me. I want it to go away. It will, in time. It's not as bad as it was.

My anxiety is slowly ebbing. In the evening I find quiet and calm. I sleep eight hours and I wake up to another day. I decide to fill the hours with either anxious thoughts or work. I go about the motions of the day. I try to be myself. I go to a quiet place in my mind not disrupted by all the distressing thoughts. I listen to soothing music. I go to Hopkins Green and sit on a bench. I collect myself. Someone planted impatiens there and I remembered how much my mother loved them.

It's a struggle, day after day.

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