Jennifer Branton is a nerd by trade most often writing about books and video games. She has a BA in Journalism from Lewis University
On The Brink
"I don't know exactly where I began," I told the new therapist I began seeing in November. "All I know is I am barely hanging on most days."
I feel this was both accurate and misleading statement I have ever made.
For weeks I had my husband quiz me on a daily basis to prepare for the upcoming appointment I had set. I was terrified to say something wrong to the new doctor, somehow convinced that I was going to say something that would end in some inpatient care.
My mind was reeling as the date came closer. I wanted to express to the new doctor that over the last few months since we had moved something was triggering my anxiety to the point of panic attacks several times a day. I had a hard time going to work- not the getting out of the house part that troubled many people that struggled with depressive disorders that I was aware of. The only way to explain it was that I was constantly putting the preverbal cart before the horse- my mind racing about every practical thing that could go wrong until I was causing my own panic attack about something that may not even happen.
I spent many an afternoon leaned over my desk unable to breathe as those around me worked themselves into a frenzy over their own trivial problems, not even noticing I was on the verge of tears most days.
I thought at first I had never gotten over a bought of post partum depression but closing in on a year I was still struggling.
Maybe this had all surfaced again since the birth of our son last winter, but it certainly wasn't the beginning and I wasn't sure I trusted the new therapist enough to go down the rabbit hole with me.
Stress, Anxiety, And A Touch Of Depression
"Tell me about your childhood," She said steading the legal pad on her lap, eyes intently on mine.
I didn't know that therapists really ask that. It seemed like something out of a movie.
It seemed a cop out that everything that was wrong with me at nearly forty had something to do with an abusive father that was out of the picture as soon as we were in college and then later blessed with his early death with he had wanted something to do with us as adults and an absentee mother who liked to credit herself for being "there for us" by misremembering events that our grandparents actually were around for.
So I had less than involved parents, that was most kids in the eighties and nineties. I shouldn't be allowed to hang my crazy on Mommy didn't have time for me. The therapist listened and took notes, occasionally making a sound like a car backfiring as she tried to either choke down disgust or had an early death rattle stirring in her chest. My husband who had seen his own therapist for years had assured me there was nothing you could say that they hadn't heard already.
"I feel that you have generalized anxiety and depression. I feel the panic rolling off you as you're tying not to jump out of your skin right now."
My heart was like a hummingbird trying to break free of my ribcage and I felt I was clawing at the arms of the couch. It was too hot in the room and I felt like I was going to pass out.
I was sentenced to learning some exercises to help calm myself when I was on the edge of a panic attack. It was also recommended that I see a colleague to try to treat the situation medicinally.
I had to stop things from spinning out of control.
As a kid, I would always be out of the house when I could. Home was never the security blanket for me that it was for others. Home life was chaos simply put and I never wanted to be around long to find out what was next around the corner.
So I was just absent.
Out in the world, I became a master of hiding my pain. I enrolled in as many sports an activities as I could pack my schedule with at school. I made the right friends that wouldn't notice if I was at their houses long hours and most weekends.
By the time high school graduation came about I didn't care about anything but getting out on my own and never coming back. It didn't matter where I went or how successful I was when I got wherever I was destined to end up. I just needed to not be home. As far as I was concerned, I was never going back.
Life has a funny way of kicking you in the teeth though and as soon as the job market became spotty and the recession took hold just years after graduation- I was sentenced to the last brief time back in my parents household.
This time though they were less of a threat. Sallow and aged from a hard life, these greying monsters vaguely represented those people I had run from as a kid. When they exchanged nasty remarks, I walked away.
I prided myself over them not having the power to break me anymore. I thought that I had finally found the cure to the anxiety I had faced my whole life.
I moved, I had my own family. Few infrequent phone calls from my mother were all that bound me to who I had been before. I should have been at the top of my game, but rapidly I was starting to fall apart.
My therapist had said I had finally hit my breaking point and it was about repairing and rebuilding.
Properly Medicated And Mentally Excercised
For the first time I was being honest with myself, and slowly building a foundation of trust with my therapist.
Instead of masking the feelings that I thought she would find inappropriate, I tested the water using gentle inferences to see what guidance was suggested. I was starting to feel that it was ok to admit that I was uncertain and often afraid.
Where I was still finding myself getting in the loop of unrelated worries and working myself up into panic attacks, I was now able to identify when I was getting close to an episode and using some of my new tools to stop myself before I got too fixated on something.
With medication, I was feeling better as well and sleeping through the night instead of tossing and turning until the morning alarm went off.
I was still afraid to tell anyone around me that I was getting treated, even after being assured anxiety and depression was one of the most common mental health disorders that doctors commonly treat for. I broke my silence with a few people testing to see the reaction at work and came back with a test sample who had either been given a medication similar at some point in their lives or knew of a family member or friend with a similar issue. One coworker even went on to tell a story about a son with bipolar depression and where he had gone to seek treatment over the years.
I felt better with those around me pushing off the suggestion that mental health was a dirty word, but the stigma that prevented me from seeking help for so long still occasionally makes me want to run from all the progress I have made so far.
Mental Health Stigma
People aren't crazy. They just don't come out that way.
It is the situations in our lives that sometimes bear down and hold us in a strangle hold until we take it into our own hands to break free.
I waited far too long to take control of my own health and find a therapist that could give me the tools to fight back instead worried about others opinions about my life. I was afraid that any admission of "not feeling right" or "having a hard time coping" were the wrong things to say to a doctor when I was conditioned early by a family that would never admit any sort of weakness.
"If you had a broken arm you wouldn't hide that from the doctor, would you?"
It was a valid point, but admitting to having something broken in your soul differs from an easily casted appendage. It might take years of therapy to get those pieces regrown back to where they need to be, but I am willing to make the effort.
I need to be at my best for me and for my family.
I don't really care what others in my life will have to say about the fact I am finally standing up and getting my life back on track. Had I had the bravery and the nudge from my husband earlier in our relationship I could have started sooner but I was afraid to expose him to what I felt inside in the case that he found it too much to take on.
I'm going to be alright eventually. Until then, I keep working on keeping my focus.