Not Done Yet

Poutre The panic attacks had stopped. I was sleeping at night. It was great. It was flat-out wonderful.

And it meant more hard work.

What does your body do when it’s adapted to constant crisis and you try to rewire it? Confusion. Dogs and cats living together. Anarchy.

Well, maybe it’s not quite that bad.

I spent the first month or so in a sort of emotional decompression sickness. (I called it the Mental Bends, and Calm Therapist looked at me sort of blankly. I found it funny though.) I just didn’t know how to handle the relief. I would expect a panic attack, get all ready for it…and nothing would happen. It weirded me out, intensely. I didn’t want to leave the house (I mean, even more than usual) because if I wasn’t having panic attacks, surely a whopper of an attack was lurking out there in the world, waiting. Just waiting for me to be stupid enough to try and go somewhere or do something. Sometimes I could even feel a panic attack trying to start itself, only to spontaneously ease before it ever got started. Feeling your own internal chemistry fight with you is an exotic and exquisitely terrifying sensation.

Despite that, life went on, kids had to be taken to school, and groceries had to be bought. So I spent errands etc. in a sort of fugue state, hyperalert for any hint of an impending attack. It eased bit by bit, over the span of about a year.

Yes, a year. These things don’t happen all at once. Eventually, I was driving one day and I realized I hadn’t thought about where to pull over if an attack hit for a while. It was incredibly liberating. There was also a period where the endorphin highs from running got so intense I was a little afraid of them. The feeling-good frightened me in a way feeling crappy had never managed to do. Fortunately, my body adjusted quickly to that, and the endorphin rush went back to normal (very pleasant) proportions.

Therapy also got…harder. Not more intense, precisely, but now that I wasn’t in crisis and just treading water, there were things that I needed to do to address deeper issues. Training myself to act in a healthier manner, stopping and redirecting unhelpful thoughts, trying not to work myself into a downward spiral of shame and self-blame, exercise after exercise to teach myself that I had rights as well as obligations, that I could say no and refuse to interact with people whose only goal was to hurt or use…it was a pretty tall order.

The meds helped. If I wasn’t drowning in anxiety or perpetually sleep-deprived, I suddenly had energy to defend myself against more insidious inroads on me. It’s no wonder that certain people fell out of my life during that time (and into the black hole of Your Emails Are Filtered So I Don’t See Them, Thank God) and my relationships with other people became much stronger. Calm Therapist recommended Byron Katie’s The Work. While I had some purely personal reactions to her story, I found the simplicity and directness of the four questions incredibly useful.

It wasn’t the incredibly intense emotional battle therapy had started out as, and I’m not going to lie. I resisted sometimes. Living in crisis for so long addicts you to adrenaline, and when an addict craves another hit it’s never pretty. Calm Therapist and the few friends I’d been able to trust with highly personal information kept me on the rails, usually with applications of “Stop running in circles and barking, Lili. Just calm the fuck down.”

*winces a little in embarrassment*

Yeah, some of those weren’t pretty. They receded more quickly each time. It is a hell of a lot easier to learn new habits when you have energy to spare and aren’t struggling just to survive.

Each time I visited Frau Doktor, she would ask about my sleep, any other side effects, etc., etc. Each time, she also asked about my writing.

During the initial consultation, we talked about how I made a living writing, and she was concerned that maybe the meds would disrupt my creative output. I didn’t think it likely–words got to get written, son, or we don’t eat–but still, hearing her concern each time made me more concerned. Turns out I needn’t have bothered worrying (when did that ever stop me from worrying, I’d like to know, but still…) because all that extra energy, not only channeled into teaching me better coping mechanisms I’d lost out on learning earlier, also translated into the ability to write more. Not necessarily better, maybe, but certainly more.

…I’d speak a little more about how the meds actually did affect my creative process, but I’m not ready for that right now. Suffice to say they did not have a deleterious effect, period.

When I consider it, the decision to take the goddamn pills was really a very small part of that entire process–going into therapy and retraining myself, rewiring my responses. It FELT huge at the time, but there was so much around it that was much bigger and had much more lasting effects on who I am and who I’ve become.

So why did I say anything at all?

I want to talk a little bit more about that, but it’s going to have to way for (say it with me) the next blog post.

Next: Why I Said Anything At All About This

photo by: Raphael Goetter
  • No, that actually makes sense. The pills were A Big Deal to you, for reasons that had to do with your fears and your experiences. In the event, all they actually did was serve as a brace or a cast, while you did the work of long-term healing.