A Snapshot Of Mental Health

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Treading Water

I think as we go through life we will all have different phases. Times when we are killing it and crushing life, moving forward at the speed of light. Times where everything is calm, relaxed and peaceful, and life is good and happy. And times when the wheels are coming off the bus and it’s all you can do to stay on the road.
I’ve certainly been through all those phases multiple times in my life. Just as my anxiety and panic have had their ups and downs through the years. I was always anxious even as a kid, I remember being afraid to sleep at night for years, hiding under my blankets until exhaustion would creep in and lull me to sleep. For many years my anxiety was not something that registered to me, it was just my normal state of being to worry constantly and be an insomniac, and I thought it was perfectly ordinary.
In college I had my first bout of life-altering anxiety and panic. I was then, as I am now, a highly functional, competitive, type A person who was always involved in 12 different things at once and making my way towards medical school. In the wake of my first real and terrible breakup, I became unwound. Beyond just the typical break-up blues, I was in constant state of anxiety. Then, as it had been now, I sought medical helps in multiple ways, and had many physical symptoms. I went to my college’s medical clinic and counselor and even to the ER with symptoms that in hind-sight were born of my anxiety disorder. This episode also led me to have a brief run of using diet pills that gave me dangerous tachy-arrhythmias. Luckily, my roommates and friends pulled me out of my own head and got me back on solid ground.
My second life-changing encounter with anxiety and panic happened in medical school. During my first two years of school I became more and more reclusive. I could not enter a classroom or have an encounter with my classmates or professors or take an exam without having a panic attack. I got to the point where I did not want to leave the house to get groceries, as I was terrified everyone I met was judging me and could see that I was falling apart. I went to the dean of the school and requested to take a year off. At that time, I did not know if I was ever going to go back to medicine. I worked as a research assistant for a year in a darling company in Yellow Springs, and slowly found my way back to myself and to living a regular life. I was able to become reinvigorated and upon returning to medical school, I found myself and my place again in the world.
My anxiety has continued in bursts and spurts, always there at some level since that time. In residency, terrible physical injury led to another prolonged episode of worsened anxiety, and depression. It is only because of the love of my life Rob that I have been able to come out of all these past episodes unscathed. He is my grounding force and my light, and he has never, ever wavered in his support of me.
I write about these past episodes now as a way of release. As a way to remind myself that I have been there before and come out the other side. As a way to acknowledge my own innate humanity and struggles. In taking time to reflect, I am able to get outside of myself temporarily and let myself know that there is a way out of this.
And that could not be more important. Because right now I feel as if I am treading water and only a second away from drowning. I feel as if my panic is not coming in “attacks” but is a constant force underneath my skin on the verge of tearing through. I have moments where I succumb to the panic and cry and scream until I cannot take even one more breath. So I need to remember that I am a person who has had this struggle before and come through it. I need to tell myself that it is going to be okay. I need it to be okay.

 

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