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The_Teacher's Survivor Story

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Sunday, 05 April 2009

When I first joined this site last year I told myself that I would not write my survivor story until I had dealt with this disorder for at least one year.  That time has now come and passed. 

I grew up without any anxiety.  I often would get overly worried about health issues at times, but that was the only time I ever really worried.  I never felt stress, and I certainly never got stressed out over anything in my life.  I had a fantastic upbringing, and my demeanor was laid back, cool, calm, confident, able to take command of a classroom or speak in public with the greatest of ease.  I was that guy who could make friends or hold a conversation with practically anyone.

On Friday, March 14, 2008, I had the privilege of standing halfway through my best friend’s wedding.  I recall feeling nervous (I had almost passed out in other weddings - but it was just nerves, the heat, the lights, etc....) but honestly didn’t' think anything would actually happen.  I was wrong.  Everything happened at once...and the next thing I knew I was on the front pew in a cold sweat.  I sat there for roughly 8 minutes (my friends in the congregation timed it for lack of something better to do), then jumped back up in line (I felt much better by then).  I felt different...nervous of course, weak, but not humiliated.  I mean, it’s certainly not rare to see people pass out at weddings.  I made it through the reception just fine, even with tons of people there, I really had no problem, although I do recall just wanting to go home and lay down - I attributed it to feeling weak.

The next day (Saturday) I acted fine and told everyone I was fine, but I still felt "off."  It's hard to explain, but I think most people on this site will know what I mean.  That night I vividly remember being at my in-law’s, and just not wanting to talk about passing out, b/c I felt it could happen again.  I had a constant feeling of “surreal-ness” or light-headiness.  The next day was Sunday.  My wife and I attend a very large church here in Michigan - Mars Hill Bible Church (Google it).  I usually sit on the end, b/c I'm tall, but we had to move down for once and got stuck in the middle.  During the singing I suddenly felt "off."  I didn't think I was going to pass out, but I knew I had to get out of there.  However, seeing as I was stuck in the middle, I told myself to pull it together and said "you'll be fine."  After the service as we walked to the car, I remember telling my wife that I think I just had an anxiety attack (I had taught psychology for three years and knew about them, but was in denial this could happen to me.)  I remember worrying that entire Sunday about the next day at work, and hoping I didn't get these feelings at school while I was teaching.

Monday morning came, 1st hour went fine.  2nd hour went fine, until near the end at the bell I started to have those "sensations again" - heat flash, cold sweat, etc....  At the start of 3rd hour I was feeling so bad I had kids kinda run the room while I sat in a chair off to the side.  And then - BAM - it passed and I was able to jump back into it, albeit exhausted of course.  And the rest of the day I worried and worried about what was going on.

Tuesday morning came, and I crashed.  I had gotten up to shower and was sitting in front of the TV trying to eat my breakfast, and I couldn't.  I had a huge lump in my throat, and I just couldn't go in to work.  I woke my wife up and said "I don’t know why, but I can't do this anymore."  I called in a sub - I remember driving to work to tell them I wouldn't be there and leaving lesson plans - and by the time I got home, I was just shaking, crying uncontrollably.  I had my wife stay home with me and off I went to the doctors.

I had anxiety.

The doctor gave me Ativan to “take away my edge” and told me to check in with him in two weeks.  I was told that this (anxiety) could happen, and I knew all about my brain chemicals and such.  He attributed it to several things.  Apparently I was genetically predisposed to anxiety.  Plus we had a lot of happenings going on - a death in the family, followed by a death of a student at school, so I was surrounded by grief, as well as teaching an AP class, working on my Masters, volunteering as a tutor at an adult literacy program, volunteering at my church, playing guitar at my church, getting married - and everything came together and decided to surface on March 14th, during the lighting of the Unity Candle at the wedding.  I passed out as one guy, and when I came to, I was a "new person."  Like one of my doc's says, more than likely something changed chemically when I passed out.  Either way, I now had anxiety, developed practically overnight.  And my world was rocked onto its head.

I'll be briefer now.  I was prescribed Ativan at first - hated it.  I tried teaching with it, but all it did was put me in a zombie-like state.  In the next two weeks, I missed 5 days of school, and during those days I was there, I could hardly wait to get out of there.  My worst panic attack came at school the night of parent teacher conferences.  A close co-worker of mine confided in me that she had anxiety, and told me about her life.  She knew what I was going through.  I tried to get ready for conferences, but I was having a really bad attack.  I went to our Principal, who put me in a chair right away (she thought I was gonna pass out) and had me call my wife.  I told her I needed time off to get this all figured out, and she agreed right away.  That night I had a phone call from my boss recommending a great psychologist (my Principal’s spouse is a clinical psychologist and she knew ALL about what I was going through and some good recommendations – for this I am eternally grateful).  The next day, I was sitting in my Psychologists office, wondering to myself “How did I end up here?”

That was one year ago last week.  I am now on Spring Break.  Last year at this time, I was the lowest I have ever been.  I had never ever suffered clinical depression in my life – but I did then (as a symptom of anxiety).  My wife took time off of work to stay at home with me – often working from home.  Friends or family would want to call or visit, but I didn’t want to see anyone.  My life consisted of my wife getting me out of bed every morning, where I would move to the couch.  I would stare out the window or read a book on anxiety (“Hope and Healing for your Nerves” by Claire Weekes is highly recommended for first-timers to anxiety).  I couldn’t eat anything at all except for a bran muffin everyday.  I was placed on Paxil for my anxiety and depression, and Ambien to help me sleep.  After about two weeks of this, I slowly started working on jigsaw puzzles to keep my mind occupied – often working 3-4 hours in one sitting just to stay focused.  I always had the radio on a religious station out of Chicago that would broadcasts messages and religious programming which I constantly listened to as well.  And that was my new life: Bran muffins, Jigsaw puzzles, and Religious radio.

Slowly I started to improve – it takes up to 8 weeks for Paxil to fully kick in to your system.  Spring has always been my favorite time of year, and so I tried to fight the depression and worry.  You all know how hard that can be though.  I tried not to think about it, but I realized I would have to go back at some point, or at least try to – which absolutely terrified me.  Until I went back for a visit – to see my students.  I had written a letter to the staff and another letter to the students explaining my sudden absence, so everyone was aware of the situation.  My kids were so excited to see me, and I was excited to be there that I didn’t want to go home but knew I had too.  That was highly encouraging.

Eventually I came back part-time, then full-time, finishing off the year with no problems.  I could write more about all that, but it overall went well.  Summer vacation hit, and I was on the up and up, feeling like my old self more and more everyday.  In fact, I started lowering my Paxil dosage on my own.  I was still seeing my therapist once a week or so, but I was feeling better that I decided to take the summer off from seeing him too.  Then the week before school started came upon me, the end of August, ‘08, and I realized I didn’t want to go back to school.  At times I was excited, and at other times I wanted to go become a farmer or a monk.  I work outdoors all summer long with no stress, and I was anxious about starting school again.  The week before school started I had two small attacks – neither of them were very helpful in encouraging my triumphant return to teaching with no anxiety.

The first day of school started and I made it through all day with no attacks, but it was hard to do and when I got home, I just collapsed again.  Medical Leave #2  J.  This time I was serious about switching careers.  I looked into Masters programs and other occupations.  But I also stuck it out and waited.  I had made an appointment with a Psychiatrist to see if I was on the right meds.  My first appointment wasn’t until the end of September, and so I took the whole month off and spent a great amount of time on this site.  After meeting with my new “shrink” I decided to go back to school and face my fears.  This was with the help of an increase in Paxil, and also being put on Xanax.  If I could do it – great, if not – oh well.

I did it.

It took a long time, and I started with one class, then two classes, then three classes, not returning to full-time until this past January.  It was an uphill battle at times.  I had to de-sensitize myself to the building.  My biggest fear is that I would have an attack and pass out in front of the students.  I can say now that in the last year, that has not happened.  This semester has been great.  I just got through parent-teacher conferences with no trouble.  Oh sure, I still get some sensations at times, and its on my mind multiple times every day, but I have learned to cope with this and not get scared or worried.  I jokingly tell everyone I’m a “walking controlled substance” and “I have to hide in the Staff bathroom every time the Drug Dogs come to school.”  But I’m back at work, I’m happy, and I’m looking forward to next year (although I do still have the big “What If?” question in the back of my mind when I think of the future.

So as I begin to wrap up, let me say this - anxiety sucks.  But there is so much life after that first development.  I do worry at times that I could relapse, but I just let those thoughts float away and I don’t dwell on them.  I was shocked at the number of people who came out of the woodwork when I openly discussed my situation.  I know of several people who are still in the closet at work and in our group of friends who fear what others might think, or struggle and suffer in silence.  Many people came up to me when I first had this diagnosed and told me their stories.  Then I found this site and realized how common this disorder is (roughly 1 out of every 5 adults in America).

Everyday I wake up and do my same routine.  On my way to work I say the same prayer in which I hand all my anxiety and worry to God, and tell myself if it’s gonna happen, it’ll happen, so no reason to worry about anything.  I am calm again, I’m confident again; I’m more laid back at times than I was before the change.  I realize now that it’s ok to say No to people.  I don’t have to be on the go all the time.  My wife and I have very secure jobs in this economic struggle, in the state with the worst unemployment in the nation for the last 6 years running (Michigan) and we have been blessed financially as well.  Even so, I prefer to live slower, cheaper, not the high-life that other young people in our situation would live, and I attribute this to anxiety.  Anxiety really put my life in perspective and I believe it was a way in which God has used me, and I’m sure will use me in the future.  I often call it my “thorn in my side.”  It still is.  Paul didn’t have his thorn taken away, and I’m not sure if I ever will either.  I don’t question God why I have this; I don’t think it’s our place to do so (or at least our place to demand an answer).  I could just as easily have Leukemia, or an inoperable brain tumor.  Instead, I have anxiety, and now I have to go create some lesson plans.  J            ttfn!
Comments (9)add comment

Honeyface said:

You are really an inspiration and your wife seems extremely supportive, which is a wonderful thing to have when you are dealing with anxiety. I loved when you wrote "I don’t question God why I have this; I don’t think it’s our place to do so (or at least our place to demand an answer)." I have had to deal with anxiety for a lot of years, on and off, and I would often ask God why, but you are right - He doesn't have to answer, there is a reason and I just have to trust Him. Congratulations on getting through this past year, seems like you did all of the right things. Being open and honest with those around you is a huge burden lifted, you don't have to pretend, and if and/or when you have an attack, if those around you are aware of your situation, they can understand better - it doesn't put so much pressure on you. (Okay, I know huge run on sentence - I guess I'm a little intimidated, you being a teacher and all!!) Best of everything to you and your family - I am very happy for you.
April 07, 2009
Votes: +0

tsuki said:

God had his plan for you as a teacher; to teach us and others acceptance of this devastating disorder. See how many people came out in the open after you shared? CONGRATULATIONS on your success. You're an inspiration!
April 11, 2009
Votes: +1

dreammessenger said:

Thank you for sharing your extraordinary story with us. As a male who also suffers from panic attacks, I can definitely relate to your words.
April 23, 2009
Votes: +0

grace75 said:

Thank you for sharing your story. You are so fortunate
to have reached a point where you are no longer incapacitated
by anxiety. We share a lot in common. I too am
originally from the west side of Michigan, and I can
relate to your being glued to Christian radio - some days it's the only thing that gets me
through the day. I suffer from severe social anxiety,
OCD, depression, and (I suspect) ADD. I have always
struggled with these issues to one degree or another,
but in my mid 20's came the turning point - I had a
full blown, severe panic episode much the same as
you describe - I could literally feel the sensation of
a switch going off in my brain. Right now, I do have
help from medication, but I am limited to what I can
take because of pregnancy concerns (my husband and I
have been dealing with infertility for the last five
years). My experience with anxiety has been pretty
isolating, and has really restricted my capacity to
socialize in every type of situation. Any advice?
April 29, 2009
Votes: +1

ChristineB said:

We've made it
Thank you for writing this. Thank you for being real about your story, and for putting into words what so many of us suffer with, every day sometimes.
I got sick the same time you did, in fact I remember seeing you join here the same time I did. This was exactly one year ago. I hate April, it was the beginning of a year of absolute hell. Without getting into details, so me as well this all came out of the blue, it was probably piling up for a long time, and then bam, it just happened, I remember the exact moment actually, I was conducting an interview, I had to excuse myself, and all I could do was focus on escaping, so I left. I went home. I didn't know what was happening. I got so sick, could not eat, could not sleep, actually felt I was living a nightmare and that I would wake up. I actually questioned over and over if its possible for a person to lose their mind. This lasted for 8 months. I lived every day in terror of it happening again, I was averaging 5 attacks per day, and my lowest of lows was crying on the floor, doing everything possible to not tug at my husbands leg begging him not to go to work. I had numerous visits to the hospital, and was even lucky enough to spend the night on the mental ward. Wow, what a wake up call. 28 years old, just married, and on my way to the loonie bin.
Anyways, I went on leave from my career in HR and I was off for 4 months. I went part part time in August, and really just stuck it out. Slowly, and I mean very, very slowly, after many crying sessions, more trips to the doctors, more medications, I began to function. I didn't feel like myself, and to be honest, there are days I still don't. You are right when you say this sucks, cause I can clearly say it took the wind out of my sails. A year ago, I didn't think I would even be alive to be writing this a year later. I cry sometimes not because I feel sorry for myself, but because it terrified the heck out of me, it shook me to my core and I am a very down to earth, logical, and intelligent professional. So, to this day, I still ask why me, it doesn't seem fair sometimes, but then if I can offer any advice into what I have learned, it's that there are way more questions than answers, and sometimes we'll never know why this happened. I fear every bad day that I have that its returning, and I do everything to try and live a healthier lifestyle, by exercise, getting enough sleep etc.. Asking myself what colour curtains will match the carpet, really seems ridiculous and so trivial now, it almost makes me laugh.
I live each day now knowing that you can't plan your whole life, cause life happens. I've had to put lots on hold, such as might night schooling and family planning at the time, and its only now, that I am building up my confidence again, and re-claiming what once were my dreams.
We are all survivors of this. Each day we are happy, and functioning, and able to enjoy life, is another day of survival.
April 30, 2009
Votes: +2

aprakash said:

Thank you!
Thank you for sharing your story with us and congrats too on being a survivor. I was particularly drawn to your story because I too grew up in a loving family and was close with my two sisters. I was never particularly anxious either until probably high school but I just attributed it to school and text anxiety. I was a high achiver and was always told that I could do anything I wanted which was great! However my first panic attack occurred while in my first semester at GA tech and of course at that time my parents and I did not know what was going on. I pulled myself together and my dad helped me now be anxious about school and the next four years I went away to UGA and did fine. To make a long story short the next time it happened again was in med school..after I thought I had become less worried about grades but as you know it's the physical symptoms and constant worrying that gets to you. I underwent counseling and I totally understand why that happened I learned to be a more laid back person that there was more to life than school and I learned not to define myself by school/work. So 10 years later I'm now a practicing physician and have undergone mahny transitions without any panic attacks have loved my life and then boom it hit me again in october 2008--This time in a totally different situation-my first serious relationship! I couldn't believe it and I couldn't understand I thought my panic was always due to school...but because it happened again I was taken aback. I recognized the symptoms and quickly went to seek help but I did have to take 6 wks off and I too did what you did---read books on anxiety to try to take control of the situation---and I could not believe that I had to stop my liefe again. I went into situational depression-BUT by the grace of God and my family this time I was able to pull myself out of it in about 4 weeks. I too was afraid to go back to work---but with my counselor I realized that I had to just accept that I have this condition as someone in lifehas diabetes...she also told me anxiety is a part of me but not who i am. II have been doing great since january now but I also wake up every day now and say a prayer and know that living in the present is all you have. Also that I'm glad I dont' have anxiety daily as some people do. I still don't know why this happened again but as another member said we don't always have the answers. I also see so many patients i my cliic with depression and anxiety and having gone through this I empathize with their pain. Initially when I started working again and saw several patients with anxiety I would get teary eyed because I knew how that felt. I wanted to take their pain away because life is meant to be enjoyed not endured right? I am so glad that I found this website because although I'm a doctor and knows there is anxiety and depression you always think your situation is unique but really we're all the same and are special people on this earth here for a reason. Being mindul I think of our feelings and knowing that even if panic arises we can definitely survive it!
May 15, 2009
Votes: +1

jameslunderwood said:

Been There (Am There)

Your story is one that is very special to me. I, too, am a panicker and a teacher. I teach high school math and Bible and even teach an AP Calculus class. Sometimes it can get to be too much. I had my roughest episode with panic and anxiety when I was 20-22 years old and have
been better for years (I am 27 years old now), but it
has been coming back stronger on me this summer.

I decided to get back on to the panic bulletin boards
and your story is the first I saw - thanks for sharing.
It is wonderful to be able to read the story of someone
so similar to me.
July 22, 2009
Votes: +0

boobookitty said:

good survivor story! i'm so glad that you are doing better now!
March 02, 2010
Votes: +0

Anxiously said:

Oh my goodness, I am a teacher too! I am on my 7th day of trying to get dressed and get out of the house. I visited the doctor two days ago and it was determined that my abrupt stopping Prozac in mid November has brought me to this hellish existence. I am back on Prozac and now Ativan, but I can't even go to the pharmacy and pick up the Rx for Ativan. I do have Xanax and have been taking it a couple times a day, but I am so groggy.
I must return to work on Monday and my students will be so happy to see me. They think I have a back injury.
I have a bountiful life, yet the fear smothers me. I am a spiritual person, though not religious. I feel that someone should slap me and tell me to "snap outta it".
Your posts have given me such hope. It's hard to admit a mental issue and I am comforted by all the survivor stories
January 27, 2011
Votes: +0

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