One step forward, two steps back…

I know I do not push myself enough when it comes to my anxiety and agoraphobia, but I do try. Ever since the summer when I had a semi-nervous breakdown, I have just been really focused on getting back to the semblance of a baseline. I am pretty close to that, but my comfort area remains really small. It is really hard to push myself when all I really want is to feel normal and I am scared to rock the boat. But in the past couple of months, I have drastically reduced the amount I take Xanax, which feels good. I am back to taking it on a as needed basis and I rarely need it (but that is because I don’t really go anywhere…)

Today, my boyfriend’s son had an important athletic competition about 30 minutes away. I have only driven that far a few times since the summer, but fortunately it was in a direction and on highways I am really familiar and comfortable with. My boyfriend went early and I met him there a couple hours later. All of the expected responses I normally have did not really happen. I did not wake up during the night thinking about the drive and I felt relaxed and in control all morning. I did check the traffic a few times to make sure it was smooth sailing and I did take a Xanax about a half hour before I left. But, I drove there with no problems!!! The last couple of times I have had to drive that distance, I had panicky feelings and was tempted to turn around and go home and that did not happen at all. I really did not feel anxious and I was really pleased about that. It felt like winning a small battle in a very ginormous war, but a win nonetheless!

When it became pretty evident my boyfriend’s son was going to be the champion of the event, I mentioned to him that maybe we should ask his ex-wife (who was also there) if she wanted us all to go out to dinner to celebrate with their two sons. I asked him if maybe we could meet in between my house and hers or have them come down a little closer to my house (she and I live about 20ish minutes away). He won (hurray!!!) and afterwards it was decided we would all go out to dinner. My boyfriend and I went back to my house and his ex-wife and son went back to her house to let him shower and get their younger son, who was home. The kids decided they wanted to go to a restaurant that is about 10 minutes further away from their mom’s house, which made it about a half hour away from my house, but in a direction I am not really comfortable driving.

I just could not do it. After pumping myself up for the original drive and then sitting in a gym for five hours (which was REALLY overstimulating with a tournament going on), I just immediately shot the idea of going out to dinner down. Of course, I told him I wanted him to go and because the kids chose the restaurant, I did not want to request a different one. I honestly NEVER want anyone to be negatively affected by my anxiety and I have so much guilt all the time about how it does hurt the people I love, whether because they are concerned about me or disappointed I can’t go somewhere.

It just felt like a real anxiety rollercoaster and because I always, always focus on my losses over my wins, all I am thinking about now is that I couldn’t make it out to dinner. I am so upset and disappointed with myself. I feel so bad about myself. I don’t feel worthy of being with my boyfriend. I am embarrassed that he has to make up an excuse for why I am not there, although I told him to tell the kids the truth. They are teenagers and I told them about my mental health issues in the fall and I never want to lie to them. Having this problem makes me hate myself. My therapist said something this week about how I make anxiety such a huge part of my identity when it really is just one thing about me. I don’t have a good answer for that. I just am so disappointed in myself right now and I feel like even through I should focus on how I was successful for the drive that I did, I am just upset about the one that I did not do.

Hold on…let me overthink this

So much of my anxiety is anticipatory. Like 90% of it. I know this, yet it is really hard to control. It is almost impossible to tell myself to just simply not think about something. It would be like me saying to you, “close your eyes and DON’T think about the color blue.” ALL you are going to do is think about and imagine the color blue. Since so much of my anxiety is related to travel and most travel or trips or drives are planned and not spontaneous, I suffer from anticipatory anxiety almost constantly. If I am invited to a dinner or event, I anticipate it for the days leading up to it. I overplan, checking Waze and other maps to see how long it will take to get there. I overthink all the different things that could go wrong or the elements I can’t control.

Even with horrible anxiety and panic disordered, I have always been pretty independent. I preferred (and still do prefer) to drive somewhere alone. I never want to be a burden to someone or ruin their time by having anxiety. My sister went away for a weekend over this past summer, during the same time I had a negative reaction to a new antidepressant, and I had the closest thing to a nervous breakdown I have ever experienced. It is still hard to think- or write- about. My sister has been planning a girls’ weekend trip to Florida for the first weekend in December (like fly out Friday and home Monday) and I have been soooooo anxious about it. It has literally ruined the entire month of November for me. I just think over and over, like a broken record, that I don’t want her to go. Selfishly, it isn’t that I think something will happen to HER, rather it is that I think something will happen to ME.

I have never been or felt so dependent on other people. I never had this kind of a reaction to someone else going away. I was desperately hoping for something to happen to prevent her from going, but I also knew that wasn’t fair to her. She didn’t ask to be my person like this and she is a hard-working mom who deserves a fun weekend away. It has been difficult because she is the person I am closest to and who I would confide in the most about these things, but I don’t want her to feel guilty about leaving me or me being upset.

The most confusing thing about this is that I don’t logically know WHY I need her so much or why I am so afraid for her to be away. But, like most people with anxiety, I know that logic really goes out the window. My therapist has pointed out many times that I am actually the one who does things almost daily for my sister, whether it is babysitting my nieces, running errands, picking something up for her, helping her with something at her house, etc. I do a lot for my sister and yet I feel this immense panic at the thought of her being far away.

It is frustrating because I don’t need ANOTHER thing to be anxious about. I have enough things already and now it feels like I am adding something new to the list, while still not making a lot of progress on my existing triggers.

Well, that didn’t go as planned…

Like most teachers, I tend to kick off my summer with ambition plans. THIS summer was finally going to be the one where I focused on my health and practiced self-care. I was going to make myself a little daily plan that included hitting the gym and eating well. I was going to read a ton and walk a lot and go in my pool and see my friends for lunch and do some small house updates, etc.

Well, to say that things did not go as planned would literally be the understatement of the freaking century. I am not a person who does well without routine and since I didn’t have a job to wake up for (or kids to take care of or really any other responsibilities besides feeding my cats), I ended up lounging around a lot. And then that turned into staying home more. And then THAT turned into me getting more anxious when I DID have to go somewhere. Only a few weeks into my “relaxing, self-care, healthy me! summer” and I told my therapist that I thought I needed to go back on an antidepressant. This was not a shock to either of us because my issues with agoraphobia started to spiral out of control in the spring, after two years of covid giving me a completely valid excuse to not have to go anywhere. I guess I convinced myself that I was going to use my summer off to work on getting better and expand my comfort zone, but then the opposite happened.

I went to my doctor and she prescribed me Prozac. I have taken a few different medications over the past two decades, so I was open to trying something new. I have a lot of medication anxiety (which is the literal definition of irony when you need medication because of having anxiety). But I knew that I needed to go on something and I accepted that. The first couple of days were fine. I had a little dry mouth and lost my appetite completely. I can definitely afford to lose some weight, so this side effect wasn’t a deal breaker.

After only being on the medication for a week, my sister left on a four day vacation with her family that was about a five to six hour car ride away from the town we both live in. I was anxious about her leaving. She has always been my “person” (or if you are a Friends fan…my “lobster”), so I was uncomfortable about her being so far away, but I tried not to burden her with my fears because I was happy she was taking a well deserved vacation with my nieces and brother-in-law.

She left and I COMPLETELY LOST MY SHIT. I honestly don’t even know what happened. I have had panic attacks obviously, but they usually hit and then subside. I have had lingering anxiety, but even that eventually has a period of relief. I had what felt like panic attacks 24 hours a day the whole time she was gone. I have never experienced anything like it. I completely shut down and wouldn’t talk to anyone. I could not get off my couch. There were times I wanted the blanket off my legs and I couldn’t do it- I couldn’t muster the energy to peel the blanket off of myself. I didn’t eat, hardly drank water, and just felt like I was having heart palpitations. I obsessively thought about needing to go to a mental institution or the hospital. I desperately wanted her to come home. No one else could soothe me at all, not for lack of trying. I felt like I was crawling out of my own skin and I was terrified about what was happening to me.

I called my doctor, who told me to stop the Prozac. I somehow survived the weekend and my sister came home. I thought that as soon as she was home, I would immediately feel better. I didn’t. It’s been another week now and I am just starting to feel a little better. I still am having SO much anxiety and am taking Xanax several times a day. I have had a bunch of extra appointments with my psychologist. I even went back to the doctor and unfortunately, my primary care physician was on vacation and I saw another doctor, who told me to (and I literally quote) “bake a cake for your sister and read The Secret” and then she patted my arm and said, “you feel better, right? Ok good”.

I desperately tried to find a new psychiatrist and it was SO hard. It really made me realize how messed up our mental health care system is. And I am privileged enough to have health insurance and the internet and the ability to make phone calls. My appointment isn’t until Tuesday and I am just trying to make it through each day until then.

I don’t know if it was a negative reaction to the medication or just complete fear of being without my sister, but I was genuinely so scared and it was one of the worst experiences of my life. I still do not feel right. I am still so anxious. It is not completely crippling like it was last week, but it is there- steady and festering. I am scared about what to do next. My mother came to my house to sit next to me and make me shower and I remember saying to her that I promise I would never hurt myself, but that I can now understand why people do. I wanted the panic and fear and pain to end. I still do. I literally felt that I was going to die.

I feel like this all just sounds so stupid and is just not capturing how bad I felt. But I guess those who know, know. I still don’t feel like myself. I worry about the damage I did to my relationship with my completely normal and not mentally ill AT ALL boyfriend, who was so sweet and caring and probably shit scared. I know the feeling of helplessness that comes when you are the one having to deal with this. I am sure he sees me differently now. I worry about the stress I caused my family, the burden I have placed on my sister, the guilt that I have or will negatively influence my sweet little nieces.

I hate this. If I won the billion dollar mega millions lottery yesterday, I would trade the winning ticket to make this go away forever. Every shooting star, ever birthday cake candle, every time the clock shows 11:11, I make the same wish: please make my anxiety go away. I’m so tired. I’m so tired of it. I realized this week that I have suffered from anxiety and panic and agoraphobia for almost HALF OF MY LIFE now.

So, my only plan now is to try to stay busy, make myself eat and drink enough to stay alive and make it to this appointment with the new psychiatrist. I’m trying not to be too hard on myself. I keep seeing my friends’ pictures on social media of them being at the beach or on vacation or at a concert and I have shut most of them out and when they ask me what I did over the summer, I am not sure if I should be like “had a total nervous breakdown”?? Maybe I should actually read The Secret and learn to bake so I can just say I did that (I kid). I have always been my own worst enemy so I am trying to just go easy on myself, but it is really hard sometimes to just hate the mental illness and not actually hate me.

Metamorphosis (part 2)

Part 2: The disgusting larvae

I didn’t make it 😔 I got about 45 minutes into the drive and felt such overwhelming panic (and freaked out about the traffic), so I turned around and came home. I was about 25 minutes from the beach. I have never really done that before and I am beyond upset and disappointed with myself. I know I have to think about the fact I tried and got halfway, etc, etc…but I just feel like I failed.

Metamorphosis (part 1)

Part 1: The Caterpillar

Covid was one of the best things to happen to me as far as my agoraphobia goes. Nowhere to go, nothing to do…everyone HAD to stay home. For two years, I had the perfect excuse to not go anywhere. There were no vacations, no trips to the city, no concerts at the beach, no day trips, no overnight visits…nowhere to go, nothing to do. For two years, my comfort zone steadily shrank and my anxiety was practically nonexistent. That aspect of quarantine was wonderful. I was stuck at home, newly in love, and so content to just snuggle on the couch with him binging Netflix and Hulu. I still did weekly therapy, focusing on remote teaching, my new relationship, and the death of my exboyfriend. But, inevitably, life has started to go back to “normal” and I am left feeling very not normal. I knew Covid was a causing a huge step back when it came to my agoraphobia, but I don’t think I really grasped how much it negatively affected me. Before Covid, my “comfort zone” was an hour and a half or so. I still got anxious going somewhere new, but it was pretty manageable. I struggled with bigger trips and flying was still a huge obstacle, but I was doing ok. Over the past two years, my comfort zone significantly shrank to being about 25 minutes or so and I don’t like being in the car with other people. I especially am anxious about driving with my boyfriend and his two children. I have spent a lot of time in therapy talking about the need to expand my horizons and widen my comfort zone, but I haven’t actually acted on it. A couple of weeks ago, my friends went on an overnight girls trip to a place about two hours away. Even before Covid this trip was not one I usually went on, but this time I didn’t say no right away. I really did think a lot about going, but the length of the drive, coupled with a night at a bar and sleeping in a hotel was just overwhelming and I did not go. I obsessed over the decision, cried a lot, and was incredibly hard on myself for not being ready to do it. I realized that I had to stop just saying I was going to take drives and push myself and I needed to start just doing it. A couple of days ago, I drove (with my boyfriend) to my parent’s house, which is about 45 minutes away. Even though it is a route I had done hundreds of times in my life, I have only been to my hometown two times in the past two years and I had not driven that distance with my boyfriend before. It was the tiniest of accomplishments, but still was a step in the right direction and it was better than nothing. I decided that I am going to try to drive to the beach tomorrow morning by myself. It is about an hour and fifteen minutes away. I know the only way I am going to get better is to keep pushing myself to drive more often and go a little further each time. I am going to bed tonight telling myself that there is no pressure. If I start driving and can’t make it, I can go home and try another time. So…until tomorrow…

Check-in time

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I stayed in a hotel by myself last night.  I felt like such a big girl 😉  This doesn’t feel like a monumental accomplishment, however my anxiety has been pretty bad lately.  In fact, staying at the hotel was a way to ease my travel anxiety.  I attended a two day training about an hour and a half away from my house and I knew there would be traffic on the drive home. I decided to stay overnight in the area to help alleviate the concern of getting stuck in traffic.  I actually was not nervous about staying alone overnight, but I wanted to take a drive to a neighboring, popular town I have never visited.  By the end of the first day of training, which included leaving my house at 6 am, navigating to the location I was unfamiliar with, sitting through the lecture-style format training which was SO boring, finding the hotel and checking in, I was emotionally exhausted.  I admit I took Xanax throughout the day, which I normally try to avoid, but it did help a little.  I was disappointed but decided to nix the drive to the other town and went to a restaurant as close to the hotel as possible.  It is funny- I do not really have as much anxiety about doing things alone. My friend who also suffers from anxiety said she would never be able to stay alone in a hotel overnight and my boyfriend feels really uncomfortable eating in a restaurant by himself.  Those things don’t bother me that much.  After I ate, it was still pretty early and it was post-rush hour traffic and I spontaneously decided to take the drive to the town I wanted to visit and I did! I felt those tingles of anxiety as I drove, but I really tried to fight through it and I did!

It is so easy to look back on this little two day excursion and focus on the negatives and failures.  I felt anxious pretty much the whole time I was in the car.  As soon as I arrived at the training, I wanted to turn around and immediately go home.  I felt disappointed with myself for deciding not to visit the other town. When I did go to the other town, it was raining a bit and so I never parked and explored.  I took more Xanax than I normally would.  “I want to go home” flitted through my brain about 200 times throughout the first day of training.  It is hard not to focus so much on the weaknesses I have and the things I feel like I can’t do.

But I am going to try to focus on the things I did do- the successes.  They may seem minor to other people.  I am sure most people would not congratulate themselves for driving an extra 20 minutes out of their way or staying at a hotel by themselves.  I am not patting myself on the back, but I do feel like I am often way too hard on myself and I need to be a better friend to myself instead of falling into the habit of being my own worst enemy.  I didn’t fly across the country, but I did break out of my comfort zone, so I am going to chalk that up as a win.