Saturday, July 16, 2016

I'll Tell You What' Up, Doc.

So I'm in therapy.

Ugh, therapy. I dread it as though it's an hour-long family reunion. All I can think of are the screaming kids, the awkward conversations with elders who couldn't hear your conversation with a bullhorn, the marshmallow and canned fruit "salad," and my uncle putting on a three-hour slide show of his world travels. Once I get there it isn't that bad of course (with the exception of the slideshow), but the anxiety I get leading up to it is enough to put in therapy. 

Actually, it is enough to put me in therapy. Because anxiety is my issue.

I remember my first anxiety attack. I don't remember how old I was, but I think around eight years old. It was the morning after a friend slept over at my house and we were playing before it was time to take her home. I went upstairs to get a toy or something, when all of a sudden, out of nowhere, I needed her to get out of my house. Now. Right now. Getoutgetoutgetoutgetthefuckout. 

Why? No idea. We hadn't had a fight, I wasn't sick, the house wasn't on fire.... there was no reason I can think of, to this day, why that happened. But after that, it happened over and over again, for several years. This was the eighties and you didn't get help for your kids unless they were burning down buildings. Hiding and denying mental illness was always preferable to getting treatment back then. (In my parents' defense, though, access to child psychology was assuredly lacking in rural South Dakota in the 80's.) 

I was talking to my sister the other day. My niece has started showing the same symptoms I had, and at the same age. We talked about her behavior, and it all sounded very, very familiar. My sister asked me what did I think she should do, since I had gone through this myself. I asked her if she was anti-meds? She said no. I asked if she was afraid of detrimental effects if my niece went into therapy? She said no. 

"Then why aren't you taking advantage of every tool in the toolbox to see if one will help?" I asked. 

A light bulb went off in her head and she said, "You're right! Why am I not doing this? I just hoped it might be a phase...."

phase |fāz|

• a stage in a person's psychological development, especially a period of temporary unhappiness or difficulty during adolescence or a particular stage during childhood.

I dislike the word "phase." It's the word we desperately cling to when a loved one's behavior becomes worrisome in order to buy us time in the land of Denial. It prevents us from taking action and allows us to laugh off troublesome behavior to our friends as we roll our eyes and say knowingly, "I'm sure it's just a phase." 

But it's hard with kids because they do go through phases, sometimes it seems like a dozen in a single afternoon. And you don't want to throw your five-year-old daughter into transgender therapy and hormone treatments if one afternoon she says she'd like to have a penis. It's a delicate dance between staying out of denial and yet not overreacting. 

Anxiety is rarely a phase, though, as I've experienced in my life. I've found many ways to deal with it in my thirty-seven years, both healthy and unhealthy: drinking, exercise, sleeping too much, drinking, procrastinating, eating well, eating terribly, and more drinking. Basically, I led a life wrought with poor decisions and destructive behavior with just enough brief periods of progress and personal growth to get me through to my thirties. 

Once in my thirties, though, I got serious about my health and turned everything around, which has worked out very well. Until recently.

For quite a while, my dissatisfaction with my job had me slowly slipping backward into Anxiety World, but my promotion in March suddenly made my regression go from a gentle slope downward to hanging onto a creaky little branch over the side of a cliff. 

Suddenly it was hard to get to sleep at night. I have no appetite and rarely have a bite of food before 9pm. I pace. I can't make simple decisions. I don't exercise. Getting out of bed in the morning is the worst. I avoid leaving the house. 

And what did I tell myself these last few months? THAT IT WAS A PHASE. That as soon as I got into the swing of things with this new job, I wouldn't be as anxious and I'd once again find my healthy routine and everything would be sunshine and unicorns. 

What can I say? I'm a slow learner. 

A few weeks ago, it was a perfectly sunny, lovely Sunday morning, my favorite time of the week. As we were making plans for the day, my husband and I had a disagreement. It was a little disagreement over something trivial, but it didn't matter - I was a frayed rope that had been pulled taught for so long, it took almost nothing for me to go over the edge and rage over the tiniest little thing. And I did. 

Later, my defeated husband said, "You know, we were having a great morning. It's a beautiful day. Why did you have to make such a big deal out of this and ruin it?"

He was right. And that's when a light bulb went on over my head as I thought back to my conversation with my sister. I wasn't taking my own advice. Sure, the job situation might be a phase, but I've known all my adult life that my anxiety is not. I'd lost my grip on it and it was starting to affect not only me, but my family. I wasn't using the tools in my own toolbox. 

The next day, I stopped making excuses and made an appointment with a therapist. I long ago let go of the social stigma that comes with being treated or medicated for mental illness. Once I got older and realized how fucked up everyone is - and I mean everyone - a little anxiety and alcoholism no longer seemed like such shameful secrets. I once heard someone say they were terrified of having their family find out they were in A.A., but for some reason they weren't terrified of their family seeing them once again falling down drunk on a Tuesday morning. My situation wasn't dissimilar: Having anxiety isn't what should make me ashamed. But ruining a beautiful Sunday morning with my husband because I refuse to take responsibility for my anxiety, though? That's shameful. 

So I'm going to try to dig myself out of this hole. And my first step is to get on the couch.