Nov 14, 2010

My Darkness

As my YA novel, AMBER FROST 's release date is approaching (Dec.7), my days are getting busier and busier.  Lately it feels like each day is becoming a little more stressful. The pressure on my shoulders weighs me down a fraction more. It’s nothing I can’t handle; pressure has always brought out the best in me but it is causing the shadows in my past to stir…

This week I’ve decided to write something a little different than what you may have come to expect from me. I think some of my best writing comes out through the more honest, expressive and ultimately, more frightening pieces to write and to share.

And so I begin.

I’ve suffered from anxiety and panic attacks for most of my life. The first time I can clearly remember dealing with anxiety was when I was about six. I was terrified to be left alone at night time. I would become overwhelmed by anxiety and fear when I was trying to fall asleep. This manifested in several ways; a fear of the dark, night terrors, to some extent insomnia. At the age of six, my anxiety was lessened by a very special teddy bear that my Mummy gave me to sleep with – I still believed in the power of my Mummy’s magic and took comfort from the companionship of a cuddly, stuffed friend. This reprise wouldn’t last forever though.

For the first eighteen years of my life, I also suffered from social anxiety disorder; in other words, I was excessively, almost debilitatingly, shy. I was terrified of looking stupid in front of other people. I imagined that no one liked me, and the idea of having to speak up in front of a group of my peers was a real, living nightmare to me. In my teenaged years, my social-anxiety slowly lessened. I never got completely past it until I was about 21 though, and that was because I finally started taking medication for my disorder.

And then there were my panic attacks too. I started having panic attacks when I was thirteen years old. There was no definable trigger for me. I would suddenly start to feel dizzy or “strange”. My pulse would start rapidly increasing and I’d find it hard to catch my breath. A wave of terrifying fear and the certainty that I was about to die would hit me. I would struggle to breathe. My hands would start to tingle, then fill with painful pins-and-needles pricks and finally would curl into rigid claws as I hyperventilated. I would feel like I was about to pass out and would sometimes become so dizzy that black spots would appear in front of my eyes and the world would suddenly feel distant and far away, fuzzy even. It could happen anywhere at anytime; the fear of it alone was enough to cause a panic attack if I thought on it too long. My panic attacks lasted anywhere from less than a minute to half an hour and at the worst point, they occurred several times a day.

Eventually (when I was about 21) I began taking medication for my anxiety disorder. I was amazed with the results. I hadn’t even realized how bad I’d become; I had forgotten what it was like to live “normally”. Having said that, after taking medication for about 4 years, it was very difficult to come off it and I suffered through some pretty strenuous withdrawals when I did eventually wean myself off.

I made the decision to stop taking medication when the Hubbie and I wanted to start trying for a family. Amazingly, I never once suffered a panic attack while pregnant. I was very concerned about the possibility of post-partum anxiety but that wasn’t an issue for me either. In fact, I haven’t taken any medication in over three years now and this is the least amount of anxiety I’ve ever had to deal with in my life.

It doesn’t mean I’m completely better. Likely, this is something I will always deal with to some extent but right now it is more than manageable and I’m feeling pretty good about how things are going.

So that’s my experience with anxiety and panic attacks, and medication too for that matter. This disorder is a lot more common than you think (I’ve met dozens of people in the past few years who at some point have suffered from similar conditions) and it’s also often misunderstood. Anxiety can manifest in many different ways. It is often (as it was for me) a quiet and private struggle that many people dismiss though at times, my disorder was quite serious and without a doubt, affected every part of my life.

The Hubbie likes to joke that I’m “crazy” and I’m ok with that. We both know I have issues – who doesn’t? In all seriousness though, I’d love to take away just a little of the stigma associated with mental health conditions, medication and therapy. So here I am, throwing my own experience out there, as frightening as it might be. I just hope that you might gain something from hearing a little about it and will maybe understand who I am, just a little bit more.