Sunday, November 8, 2015

Reflections on Anxiety

Earlier this year, my friend Andrew Thomas killed himself.

It's taken me quite a while to process this. Andrew always spent a lot of time processing things, so I think he'd understand.

Andrew and I hadn't been in frequent contact for a few years, but we were still on good terms. I don't know what led to his suicide, but it made me realize it was important for me to be more open about my own struggles with mental illness.

I take Sertraline (Generic Zoloft) daily for anxiety. 

It's important for me to state this up front because taking medication for mental illness has a frustrating stigma. For years I felt like taking medication for anxiety would be an admission of weakness. I felt like seeing a "professional" would make me one of those people who need "help".

I spent over ten years of my life struggling with anxiety without even knowing what I was facing.

My anxiety didn't often come in the form of the "attacks" that some people experience. It wasn't an elevated heart rate and difficulty breathing.

It was weeks, months, and years of nagging questions. Like a dog nipping at my heels, anxiety meant questions that wouldn't leave me alone. I couldn't focus. I felt like something was wrong, and I felt like there was nothing I could do about it. I'd fixate on a question, letting it eat at me relentlessly.

Here are some of the questions that have nagged me:

  • Is it OK that I heard about sex from a friend/tv show? (~5 years old)
  • What happens if I'm not explicitly forgiven for everything I do wrong? (~8 years old)
  • Am I gay? (~14 years old)
  • Am I dating the right person? (~17 years old)
  • Am I a Christian? (~24 years old)

These anxieties followed a consistent pattern:

I'd have a good week, able to focus on my friends and my work. Then I'd find a question creeping up again. Unable to let it go, I'd fixate on the question, and descend to a low point. I'd stay at that low point until something helped being me up - a good experience, a fun adventure, or a useful introspective realization.

At 24 years old, I decided to give medication a try. It had a pretty noticeably effect:

I didn't make the anxiety go away. It didn't answer my questions. It pulled me back from the peaks of anxiety. It smoothed the mountains into hills.

Anxiety's still a struggle for me, but asking for help goes a long way to making it manageable. 

Marrying a social worker is a good strategy too :)

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