6 months ago I was diagnosed with Generalised Anxiety Disorder and mild depression. I still struggle to understand that diagnosis because I don’t have any kind of negative thoughts or downs—I simply have days where nothing feels quite normal and I want it to be bed time so that I don’t have to think any more.
I take Loxalate (escitalopram—a common SSRI), Zopiclone for sleep and Metaclopramide for nausea. I have very mixed feelings about escitalopram. I was warned that it would likely make my symptoms worse before they got better, and my god did it do that! For weeks I felt like I had to think about my breathing at all times and that if I stopped thinking about it, I’d stop breathing. I was always either short of breath or hyperventilating. I got an intolerably itchy rash on my back that I couldn’t stop scratching, and I spent several days lying on the floor in my kids room with no motivation to get up. I would set up Lego on their bedroom floor so that I could pretend I was lying there to play with them. After a while the symptoms stabilised and now I don’t have any serious side affects, other than a somewhat reduced sex drive.
The biggest challenge for me has been coming to terms with the fact that I have a mental health disorder. Not because of the stigma, or because I’m ashamed… simply because I never thought it would happen to me. I have always had a very positive outlook on life. I grew up feeling grateful that I have no family history of mental health issues. A decade ago I was diagnosed with a form of epilepsy and at the time I was relieved that if something had to be wrong with my brain, it was seizures that affected my physicality, rather than something that affected my mental health, because as a suicide counsellor I had witnessed first hand how incredibly hard that battle can be. I think it was for that reason that it took me such a long time to admit to myself (let alone anyone else) that something else was going on.
How does this affect my daily life? I go into battle with my own consciousness every single day. When I drive home from the gym first thing in the morning I run a check with myself. How am I feeling today? Am I feeling normal? Am I looking forward to my day? If the answer is yes, then I have a normal (no, a great) day. If the answer isn’t yes, then I go into recovery mode. “You know this always happens and that it will ok. You know that this is your head playing tricks on you. You know that the pills will help.” And then I get frustrated because life shouldn’t be a struggle. Every day should be a new adventure, not 12 hours to get through until I can go to sleep.
“I go into battle with my own consciousness every single day.”
And then there is the sleep battle. For the year prior to my diagnosis I was lucky to get a couple of hours sleep per night. I don’t even know what was keeping me awake. I wasn’t actively worrying about things. But if something woke me up, it was a given that I wasn’t going back to sleep. The Zopiclone helps with that but I try not to take it any more because the epilepsy meds give my liver a hard time and it doesn’t need to be put under the excess pressure that other drugs will cause.
My anxiety feels like a physical thing. When I have a bad day I can’t sit still. I can’t relax normally or just do nothing. If I have finished my work for the day and the house is clean and the kids are playing happily, I don’t know what to do with myself. I try to interrupt them so that I am needed. My mind races and I just want to lie down on the floor in a warm place and do nothing, but doing nothing is impossible. I feel alone because even talking about it doesn’t help. I feel stuck inside my own head with no way to make things normal again.
I don’t know that I have any successful strategies. I felt like I tried everything before I realised that this was bigger than me and sought medication. I make sure that I exercise hard every day, I eat carbs to stimulate serotonin production, I rationalise with myself, I remind myself of all the things in my life that are good, I talk openly and honestly about what is going on in my head, and if none of that works, I just go through the motions until the day is over and I can go to bed. My doctor says that this is likely short term thing that will pass. I am holding on to that because more than anything in the world, I don’t want this to happen to my children.