I’ve always been more tightly wound than the average bear. I went to kindergarten in 1980 and since we only did half-days, I spent the entire morning, every morning, dreading going to school. I hated every minute of it. In third grade, I began having mild panic episodes but it took another decade for me to define them. I was gifted and was awarded my first college scholarship the summer before my sophomore year in high school. I later dropped out of college due to the anxiety caused by going to class.
Back then, we didn’t talk about anxiety. It never crossed my mind to acknowledge what was happening to me. Instead, my plan was to stay too drunk or too hungover to go to class. I only discussed my panic attacks with a few people close to me. The first couple weeks in the dorms, I lived on Dr. Pepper and brownies from the vending machine because I couldn’t force myself to go to the cafeteria.
When I got married, I suddenly developed horrible stomach pain that lasted for years. I underwent comprehensive testing. It wasn’t an ulcer. It wasn’t a tumor. My doctor said there was nothing physically wrong with me. I was given Paxil for my anxiety so I ate and slept and gained a ton of weight. I was given Phentermine to suppress my appetite so I was doing laundry in the middle of the night but by God, I was 95 pounds again. I was given Sonata so I could fucking sleep already. My poor husband had no idea what was going on or why I needed to see a therapist every week for two years.
When I finally divorced my husband after more than six years, the stomach pain disappeared. The anxiety did not. I have been prescribed nearly every anti-anxiety medication on the market at some point in my life. For decades, I expected the pills to solve my problems. When I finally realized that’s not how any of this works, I stopped the meds and learned how to regulate myself. I cut toxic people out of my life. When I turned 40, I decided I would stop doing anything I didn’t want to do. I stopped feeling pressured to cook all the time. I stopped feeling pressured to date. I stayed home and spent time with my dogs and that worked relatively well for several years. But sometimes life just happens, despite years of meticulous proper prior planning.
Now it seems like everyone has anxiety. If you’ve never had a panic attack so severe it mimicked the signs of a stroke, don’t come at me with that nonsense. People refer to their attention to detail as “being OCD”. Oh, honey…no. Spend a day watching me Clark W. Griswold my entire life, trying to suppress the ritualistic behaviors. Xanax has become a recreational drug sold out of trunks of Honda Civics all over the country. Xanax was literally a lifesaver for me. It pulled me back from the ledge more times than I care to remember and allowed me to function. Anxiety and the medications to control it have become a status symbol on social media.
I am currently only lightly medicated. I haven’t had a true panic attack since May of 2012. My therapist wants me to start bringing some artifacts out of the vault and I would really rather not. I’m much more comfortable leaving the past in the past but now that it’s fashionable, I guess I’ll own that shit.