Anxiety

Living with anxiety is like being followed by a voice. It knows all your insecurities and uses them against you. It gets to the point where it is the loudest voice in the room. The only one you can hear.

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I’m an anxious person. If it looks like I’m going to be late for a meeting or an appointment, I start to get anxious (I think that’s pretty normal for a lot of people). I’m anxious to drive to new locations because what if there’s a detour due to construction? Then I’ll get lost and probably be murdered or robbed or something stupid like that. My mind can take me to strange and unrealistic places.

In the fall of 2020 my anxiety skyrocketed like Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin rocket ship, out of this world. My brain was out of control, taking little day trips to imaginary land but making it all feel very realistic.

We had just moved into a condo and I was having anxiety over a potential fire in the complex. How could we trust our neighbors not to start a fire and if there was a fire, how would we get the Bear out of her basement bedroom and what about the dog? What if we couldn’t catch him? He’d die a fiery painful death!!! I would literally get so worked up I’d start crying. I’d run different scenarios in my head and my catastrophic thinking would engage.

For anyone unfamiliar with ‘catastrophic thinking’, it is defined as ruminating about irrational, worst case outcomes and can worsen anxiety. Every situation that my brain would come up with, there was only one outcome – death.

What if I died in my sleep while Darren was working away from home? The Bear would find me and it would be absolutely traumatic. Would she know what to do, who to call? Would she be ok? She’d have to go live with her dad and change schools and what if he never let her see my family again?? It’s a complete snowball effect…

I wasn’t prepared for anxiety to hit me where I felt fairly confident. Driving. I’ve always been a competent, strong driver. No accidents, one speeding ticket, always careful and checking all of my mirrors.

All of a sudden I would get panicky while driving, especially when cars were on either side of me, particularly semi trucks. I would grip the steering wheel so tight my hands would get numb and I’d have trouble breathing. It was even worse if it was dark out and coming up to street lights I was scared that the light would change to red and I’d get hit by a car entering the intersection.

I had anxiety driving with people in the car. I was responsible for their lives and if anything happened it would be my fault. We were surely all going to be in an accident, get struck by lightning or fall into a sinkhole.

I’d panic driving over bridges and overpasses, envisioning myself careening off the side, through the barriers and dying in a mass of twisted metal and car parts. I didn’t want to drive anymore, it was absolutely debilitating. I had Darren start driving everywhere when he was home but that didn’t seem to help.

He’s a good driver but he has a different driving style than I do. I’d be so anxious that he’d rear-end another car and my airbag would go off, breaking my neck. Literally the worst scenario was the only thing my brain could concentrate on. It must have been so frustrating for Darren, having me as a passenger in the car. He gently encouraged me to go back to my psychologist and my doctor.

So once again I found myself in my doctor’s office, coming down from the anxiety of having to drive to the clinic in the dark, first thing in the morning. I was in tears. I explained the anxiety and how it was ruining my life. She wasn’t as surprised as I thought she would be and she went on to explain that Rexulti (used to manage my hypomania), can cause anxiety. What…the…fronkin’ fuck??

Again, I wondered if the medications were worth the side effects. How did people go through this?

The good news was that there was a drug called Trintellix that was used for treating Bipolar Disorder. Wasn’t I already on two drugs for my condition?? I could feel my frustrating rising but agreed to try it out because really, what else did I have to lose at this point? I grabbed the prescription and drove, white-knuckled, straight to the pharmacy.

I also set up an appointment with my psychologist, knowing that if the drug did work, it wouldn’t kick in for a few weeks and I needed to try and manage my anxiety quicker than that. I lived in a city, I couldn’t walk everywhere I needed to go. I had to get my driving anxiety under control.

I love my psychologist. He has a soft voice and a very zen aura. The light is low in his office and it has an extremely calming effect. Except I wasn’t calm, I had just driven to the appointment. My heart was still racing. I told him about my anxiety levels and the different scenarios my brain was concocting.

He challenged my thoughts and told me to turn my negative ‘what ifs’ into positives. What if the drive was completely uneventful and I arrived safely at my destination? What if instead of everyone burning in the house, the fire alarm woke us up and we were all able to get out safely? I had to start challenging my negative thoughts.

We also looked at probabilities. How many cars had I heard of, breaking through barriers on bridges and launching off into a river below? Well…none. So there was a good probability that certain outcome was very, very low. Made sense. I could apply that logic.

If I was scared of passing away in my sleep or having an accident at home (probability fairly low), could we have a discussion with the Bear and what to do in that situation to alleviate my anxiety? Yes, I could do that. I talked to her that evening and we laid out a plan in the event that I died or had to go to the hospital. She would phone 911 and then phone her father and Darren. We had a plan in place. Anxiety eased.

As the Trintellix built up in my system I felt a drastic change in my anxiety. I was able to drive more confidently and my racing thoughts were dissipating. I was able to function again.

Not to say that I don’t still have weird anxious moments, because I do. My latest fear is that an unoccupied parked vehicle will roll down the driveway and hit me as I’m walking the dog. Milo will be traumatized and stand guard grieving over my pancaked body. I know, I know…the probability is pretty low that a vehicle will malfunction and roll over top of me. My brain tells me though that Anton Yelchin was crushed by his own vehicle when it rolled down a hill at his home pinching him between the car and a post office box. I have to tell myself that was a one-off situation and that it is very unlikely to happen to me.

So I do get those intrusive thoughts but my medication makes them fewer and farther between and I have coping skills and tools thanks to my psychologist. I’m on three meds for my Bipolar Disorder: Lamotrigine, Rexulti and Trintellix. It seems ridiculous that it should take three drugs to manage this condition but it does. Some people only need one drug. Some people don’t find a combination that works and I can’t imagine that.

For now I seem stable-ish. I still experience little hypomanias and dips into depression but they are far less severe.

This isn’t the end of my blog. I have more material to share, more moments, thoughts and stories. My next post is called ‘The Bear’, can’t wait to share it with you…

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