My anxiety disorder isn't something that I'm particularly comfortable talking about, but with the recent suicide of a young video game journalist sparking a run of other people in games talking about their own struggles with depression and anxiety, I thought I'd lend my voice to the choir.
In early 2010, I was riding my horse one day on a beautiful spring day, enjoying the sunshine and the time I share with her on the weekends. I finished up the ride and was walking to tie her up and remove her saddle, when all of a sudden I felt sicker than I've ever felt. My head was spinning, my ears were howling with a horrific sound, I felt like I was going to pass out, vomit, and die. I tied my horse to the nearest fence and stumbled to some ladies who were sitting at a picnic table nearby and just sat next to them. I couldn't talk, I couldn't lie down, I couldn't cover my face or shut my eyes. They brought me water, assuming that I was dehydrated, but it didn't help. Foolishly, I tried to drive home but made it three blocks before going to the nearest gas station, running to the bathroom, vomiting and collapsing against a wall. I was sure I was going to die. I called my boyfriend (who is now my fiance) and he rushed to pick me up.
The next couple of weeks were awful. I was a constant mess. I spent much more time feeling like I was on the verge of throwing up than I did actually vomiting. I couldn't breathe unless I concentrated on breathing. I was dizzy to the point where I couldn't even take our little dog out for walks. I could feel my heart beating in my chest, would have strange tastes in my mouth, my legs would go weak and numb. I went to the doctor several times and they thought I had either a serious ear infection or something pushing against my inner ear causing me to be dizzy and nauseous. I couldn't work. I would dread going to sleep because it was the worst while I was trying to fall asleep. Luke was helpless and did what he could to make me feel better, but I was pretty certain I would either feel this way the rest of my life or collapse from exhaustion. I remember one particularly awful day where I stood in the bathroom crying and asking him, "What if I feel this way forever?". He was always confident that I'd get better, that this would pass.
When I couldn't handle it any more, and I couldn't miss another day of work, we went to the emergency room and I ended up having an emergency MRI. I thought it was a brain tumor by this point. After waiting for awhile, the doctor came to me and said that everything looked fine. He brought me a few Xanax pills and asked me to take one and tell him whether or not it fixed my symptoms. I was skeptical, but it did. I was perfectly fine 5 minutes after I took the fast acting pill. He told me that he believes I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and that taking a daily pill to stabilize the chemicals in my brain could make it all better. I was prescribed a low dose of Lexapro, along with prescriptions for Xanax and Klonopin when things are feeling particularly bad.
I was dumbfounded. People like me don't have anxiety issues. I'm not a "crazy person". I'm not stressed out, I had nothing in my life that I was concerned about. I had a wonderful stable relationship that I'd been in for 3 years, we had a great apartment, my job was going well, money was plentiful, I had a new horse that I loved. I had no real worries or concerns. And now this? I have an anxiety disorder? How could that be, when I'm happy and cheerful and optimistic and everything in my life is the best it had ever been?
My anxiety disorder is mostly in check. I still take that same low dose of Lexapro, and I have Xanax pills in case the occasional panic attack sneaks through. I haven't had to take any Xanax aside from maybe 1 every six months. Recently, I tried to wean myself off the Lexapro and started having panic attacks again. I've succumbed to the fact that I might need to be on medication for this for the rest of my life. Could it get worse? I have no idea, and I hope not. But I went from not understanding people at all who say they have panic attacks to intimately fearing them and empathizing greatly with anyone who has anxiety.
It's those stigmas that are the most scary about mental disorders. I admittedly was one of those people who thought it was only for "crazy people", not normal, fully-functioning, successful people. After being out of work for two+ weeks I didn't want to tell my employers that it was "all in my head". I wanted what I considered a valid excuse, that I had something physically wrong with me that is now cured. Not that I was put on 'crazy pills' and that there is something jacked in my brain. That was admitting a sign of weakness. So I mostly made something up. I told a couple of people I was closer to what was really going on, and they felt it was totally out of character for me. Unbelievable, even. I called my mom and told her, and she admitted to me that she's been on meds for anxiety for 30+ years now. Would have been nice to know, but she was also affected by that stigma. She didn't want to admit to her daughter that she wasn't perfectly fine all the time.
But it's important to talk about this stuff. I want people to know that you can have an anxiety disorder and still ride and show horses. You can still be a Studio Director at a successful video game company. You can still have a great relationship with your significant other. It affects me because I get nervous before interviews, before meetings where I have to present, before social gatherings where I'm expected to be at my best. But I'm afraid to talk about it, because I don't want potential employers to force those stigmas on me. I don't want them to think I'm not capable or competent because of it. I don't want people to shy away from wanting to be my friend. But I also don't want people to be afraid to talk about their mental issues and therefore end up committing suicide or hurting themselves like Matt Hughes did.
We have to talk and we have to be here for each other.