***Trigger warning for anxiety, panic, health anxiety, OCD***
Somewhere, in the recesses of my brain, there are neurons that do not function properly. They reabsorb serotonin and norepinephrine instead of passing them on to the next neuron.
It seems like such a tiny thing. Yet, this has made my life an awful, wonderful mess.
I have generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, social anxiety disorder, several phobias (including agoraphobia), and other mental health challenges.
I am in the healing process, but like the best and worst of stories, I am eternally unfinished.
I have become pretty vocal about my mental health challenges as of late, and I have found some incredible people, some of whom were already in my life, who have shared their stories of their own challenges with me and have woven themselves together to form an amazing network of support.
But still, a lot of people don’t understand what it’s like. I get a lot of “just calm down”s, “stop worrying”s, “talk to God about it”s, and more completely baffling phrases that, while they may be well-intentioned, do much more harm than good.
If I could calm down or stop worrying, I would have by now. If the Divine could fix this, I think She would have by now.
I also get a lot of similarly well-intentioned people who have made the critical first step of realizing it’s not that simple, but still think they have the solution. These are not, usually, people who have similar challenges. So, I get unsolicited advice like “take some deep breaths,” “maybe you just need a break,” “try out this tea, it’s really soothing,” et cetera.
Again, thanks, but if it were that simple, I’d be better.
My challenges are likely to be with me for the rest of my life. There will be seasons of intense struggling and there will be seasons where the burden is lighter. I’m slowly but surely building my skills and tools and learning how to manage.
I think the biggest problem in how others relate to those of us with mental health challenges is that those who do not have these challenges don’t always understand how pervasive these challenges are in the life of one who is faced with them.
For that reason, I’ve decided to give you a glimpse into what an average day might look like for me, and specifically, how my challenges affect my daily life.
***DISCLAIMER: This is by no means universal. I am neither assuming that the day-to-day life of every person who deals with similar challenges will look like this, nor am I trying to advise anyone on what he or she should or should not be doing. This is one person’s story. If you want to know what others’ lives are like, you’ll have to ask them.***
8:00-8:30 a.m.: An alarm specifically designed to monitor my sleep and wake me up at the end of a sleep cycle sounds. I (hopefully) wake up and manage to stay awake for more than 30 seconds. I record my mood upon waking and log my heart rate, as well as any traumatic or anxiety-inducing dreams I may have had.
8:45 a.m.: My husband brings me a breakfast of high-protein, refined sugar-free, all-natural Greek yogurt and gluten-free granola and a cup of decaf coffee. I have to avoid sugar, caffeine, and gluten because they can negatively affect my body chemistry and make my anxiety worse. I also often have intense nausea as a side effect of my medication, so I have to be careful to pack in the protein when I can manage to eat it. I eat my breakfast in bed because I usually am too anxious to get up right away, and I need time to prepare myself.
9:00 a.m.: I take my morning medications for the day:
- 10 mg Prozac–I’m in the process of tapering off of this and on to a new medication. Doctors have no way of knowing which medications will be effective and which will not for individual patients, so it is usually trial and error.
- 150 mg Wellbutrin–This is the medication I’m tapering onto. It seems to be working okay thus far, but SSRIs and SNRIs have a long incubation period before they reach their maximum efficacy, so we won’t know for a few more weeks.
- 10 mg Zyrtec–This is unrelated. I have allergies.
- 5000 IU vitamin D–My vit D levels are low. I don’t go outside much because I am terrified of leaving the safe confines of my apartment. I also have a lot of medical anxiety, so I try not to spend too much time in the sun much because I am terrified of getting skin cancer. Also, vit D helps in improving mood.
- B-complex vitamin–I’m sure this is good for me somehow. I’ve been told to take so many things that I don’t really remember why I’m taking this. I think it helps regulate metabolism and mood?
- Vitamin A–I get really bad stress acne, and when one has an anxiety disorder, there is a lot of stress that goes with it. Vit A helps to keep my skin in check.
- Calcium–My chiropractor started me on this as it will help to keep my muscles relaxed, thus helping keep a physical calm.
- Magnesium–I take this for the same reason as calcium.
- Women’s Daily Multivitamin–I take this because I am an adult who cares about her body. This is not directly related to my anxiety, though likely has some connection with my medical anxiety.
9:05 a.m.: If I can manage it, I get out of bed and start to get ready for the day. I spend about half an hour putting on my mask for the day, perhaps trying to hide my social anxiety with makeup and hair dye. Or maybe I’m just vain.
9:35 a.m.: I sit down to check my mail (panic), Facebook (panic), the weather (panic), and whatever else needs checking.
9:50 a.m.: I leave for work. I work on campus, so I walk up the hill, and I try to walk slowly so as to keep my heart rate down. Anxiety/panic attack #1 has usually occurred by this point.
10:00 a.m.: I begin working at job #1 in the Marketing and Communications Office. This is a great job for me as there are only four other people in the department, and while my projects are assigned by my boss, I work largely independently and can usually communicate with most people via email or gchat.
12:00 p.m.: My shift for job #1 is done. By this point, I have likely consumed 1.5 L/6 cups of water. I have to keep hydrated in order to both keep my body chemistry relatively constant and because I am terrified of having to go into the hospital for dehydration. I did this once already, and while I had probably the best nurse ever, it was still traumatic and I’d rather not relive it.
12:05 p.m.: I walk across to the other side of the building and begin working at job #2. I manage Luther’s short-term housing. This involves making reservations, communicating with guests, assigning room turnovers to the custodial team, managing my hospitality team, processing payments, and preparing packets for guests. This is also a good job for me because it allows me to stay active and also work at my own pace. I can usually put my headphones in and listen to music, which means I largely do not have to speak with anyone.
1:30 p.m.: During an average week, I’m usually done with job #2 at this point. Sometimes it takes a bit longer. Once every two weeks, I head down to my therapist’s office for a 2:00 appointment.
1:40 p.m.: I get into my car and brace myself for driving at highway speeds around other cars. I am terrified of this. Especially the 35W-94 interchange. It is hell. Anxiety/panic attack #2 occurs.
1:55 p.m.: I arrive at my therapist’s office. I listen to some supposedly-calming-but-too-contrived plunky harp music mixed with whale sounds that’s always playing in the waiting area as I wait for my appointment.
2:00 p.m.: My therapist, Rachel, comes to collect me. Depending on the day and my current struggles, we might do talk therapy, EMDR, sandplay therapy, relaxation exercises, or any number of other things. I am lucky to have a therapist who is very attentive to my needs, works cooperatively with me, and is generally flexible and open-minded. I would highly recommend her.
3:00 p.m.: I leave my therapist’s office, usually feeling more relaxed and positive. I fill my water bottle for the third time today and brave the traffic headed back home.
3:30 p.m.: I arrive at home and change into workout clothes so I can head up to the gym. I am blessed with a gym on-campus that has a whopping one-time rate of $10 for life. I spend 30 minutes on the elliptical, and often do a set of strength-training exercises as well. Exercise is one of the best anxiety-reducing measures in existence, not to mention it’s good for everyone and it’s completely natural. I complete my workout with a brief yoga session to relax and bring my mind and body into harmony. I have worked with Shelley at the Yoga Sanctuary to incorporate some poses and breathing exercises that are particularly helpful for those of us with anxiety.
4:30 p.m.: I walk back home, shower, and eat a long-overdue lunch. I am terrified of cooking, so this is often a collection of snacks like veggies or chips and hummus, chips and salsa, olives, fruit, and/or cheese. I have low blood pressure to start, and one of my as-needed medications (Tenormin) lowers my blood pressure when I have panic attacks. I also drink a LOT of water. Thus, I often have to replenish my sodium levels post-workout.
4:45 p.m.: I settle into bed and rest. I often put on British panel shows or stand-up/sketch comedy shows because they help me to laugh and relax. I often fall asleep while watching these.
5:45 p.m.: My husband returns home from work. He snuggles in bed with me for a little while, both of us trying to connect and relax from the day.
6:30-7:00 p.m.: We finally get around to making dinner. This is largely dependent upon what my body can stand to eat for that given day. Essentially, we eat a lot of things with quinoa in them.
8:00-10:00 p.m.: Because I am terrified of being out in public on my own, and of driving, and of dealing with money, this is when we usually run our errands. It’s much more peaceful at this time, though a lot of places are closed and we have to find ways around this. Anxiety/panic attack #3 occurs.
10:15 p.m.: We arrive back home. I wash my hands, feet, and face to remove the germs and bacteria I inevitably picked up while we were out. By this point, I have washed my hands over 20 times today, and my face and feet (on average) around five.
10:30 p.m.: We settle in for the night. This is when I usually write, process, and try to unwind from the day. Sometimes, especially during the school year, this is when I get around to doing my homework.
11:30 p.m.: I take my nightly medication:
- Two Benadryl tablets–My anxiety medication (and my anxiety in general) makes me quite an insomniac. My doctor thinks it would be unwise to add a prescription sleep aid into the cocktail of drugs I’m already ingesting, so I take the max dose of OTC medication. It doesn’t really work all that well.
- .5 mg Klonopin (occasionally)–If my anxiety is really, really bad, I will take my “attack pills” (anxiolytic muscle-relaxers) to help ease me into sleep. Sometimes, these make me high. Occasionally, I have to take them during the day, and then things get really fun when I have to be a grown-up but I’m quite loopy.
12:00 a.m.: My husband is fading quickly into sleep. I am jealous of his ease at this seemingly impossible task. Intense paranoia kicks in as the apartment is dark, weird noises are happening (as they do when you live in an apartment complex), and my primary defender is unconscious. I put on another panel/comedy show to distract myself and ease my mind.
1:00-2:00 a.m.: I finally get to sleep. For now.
4:30 a.m.: I wake up, drenched in sweat, heart pounding. I have nightmares most nights. I drink some water, cool myself off, and curl up on my husband’s chest to help me relax and feel safe. I maybe get back to sleep within an hour.
And the cycle continues.
Nearly every moment of my day is in some way shaped or affected by anxiety. It isn’t just occasional bouts of intense worry–it is my whole life. I have a lot of ways to go about managing it, but just like a garden, it needs constant attention or it will grow wild and take over.
For those of you who don’t deal with these challenges, I hope this has helped provide some insight. Please try to be respectful and mindful of those who do face this every day. May you find understanding.
For those of you who have similar struggles, be encouraged. We can do this together. Even if we have to do it in the safe confines of our own homes, we can support one another. May you find peace.
For all of us, may we learn to see each other not as our triumphs and struggles, but as humans. We are better together.