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Learning to Live With Panic, and With Myself

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Monday, 23 February 2009

I've read so many of your wonderful stories that I thought I'd start my own. Maybe a bit garbled, or confusing, as I've never quite written this out or even tried to piece it together in my head...but here goes...

Sometimes it is impossible for me to draw the line between general anxiety and panic. While my panic disorder didn't start for 5 or 6 years later, my anxiety hit me early.

You might laugh...but I first became a nervous wreck started at Disney World. No, I was not traumatized by the giant cartoon characters, or the rollercoasters, or hordes of people and their screaming children. I grew up in a small (ok, TINY!) town in New York state, in the mountains (you literally had to drive 40 minutes just to buy groceries), and my parents would take us on vacations every so often to get us out of the woods. Sounds nice, right? For the most part, it was. With one exception.

One particular vacation comes to me as one of the worst weeks of my entire life. You see, my father, he is a severely stressed individual. In fact, I don't 100% discount that he is bipolar...he very well may be. A heavy drinker, a stress- and workaholic, he took us down to Orlando, Florida, and demanded that we see EVERYTHING in one week's time. What does that mean? At least two theme parks per day. We spent our family vacation rushing, and rushing, and fretting about time, and what to see, what to do. We had very strict schedules. Sounds like a spoiled child story, but being rushed around Florida is a horrifying and overwhelming experience. I never could get used to warm weather, either, and between the stress and sun I got severe skin poisoning...which did not slow the hectic running from park to park to park.

I came back from that trip wanting nothing more than to be dead. I could not imagine why life had to be so hectic, and why things that were supposed to be fun had to be domineered by people trying to do too much in too little time. It was the first time in my life I was ever depressed, and long story short, I ended up in therapy, which proceeded to do nothing for me. The depression lasted through high school, along with anxiety. I was never medicated. You see, failure is not an option in my family. And to be weak, or to be sad, is to fail. Going to therapy had shamed my father enough. I kept my feelings to myself.

Fast forward. I graduated in the top of my class and ran off to my dream school: Boston University. You see, my whole life, my biggest dreams involved getting away and starting new. Unfamiliar faces. New places. Anonymity. I got a great chance in Boston. I dumped my high school boyfriend, I made new friends, and life was as it should have been. Despite my obstacles, I've had a blessed life. Really, every dream I have ever had has come true through hard work and perserverence, and to go to this fantastic school was a huge dream of mine. I had an amazing life.

My panic attacks started my sophomore year in college. The previous semester, I drank a lot (when my then-boyfriend moved back to Italy), I ran away to Sweden for the summer to go to school there. I returned to the US for my sophomore year to a world of sh*t and just could not deal with it. I was in SUCH an intense relationship -- and my boyfriend, the love of my life, lived in Rome, Italy, so I rarely saw him. We had one of those desperate, "can't live without you" relationships that I've thus determined is no good for me. I lost my best friend in the world because her boyfriend hated me. My sister and brother both dropped out of community college -- he was doing drugs, she was depressed...I suddenly felt overwhelming pressure to succeed where they had failed.

I went on Paxil. It worked, for awhile at least, but my doctors never told me to withdraw slowly, and most people who have used SSRIs know how terrible the coming-off experience can be. I use Klonopin as needed, and I tried therapy many more times, to no avail - I guess I just never found the right therapist. I dealt for years with panic on my own, reading about it online, reading books, trying to run it off, or work it out. By the end of college, I lost more friends, my relationship crumbled (now ex- thought I was cheating and threw my computer out my second-story window...talk about an anxious situation). 

Shortly after, I moved away...back to where I grew up, in upstate New York. I felt suffocated in the city. I was offered an amazing job at a ski resort, and couldn't turn it down, despite the demons of my adolescence. I settled in up here, in the mountains, I found an incredible guy and we've been together for almost two years. We have two hilarious boxer dogs and a nice little apartment. We make good money, and I am hoping with every fiber of my being to get out of here and start clean...again. My job is comfy and pays well but is incredibly stressful, and I want to move far and away... This time, somewhere really far away...Alaska :)

We shall see.

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