I’ve recently come to some significant revelations about my dark, lifelong anxiety, and I’m hoping these “breakthroughs” will lead to better treatment and a more robust set of coping skills.
First things first. As will no doubt have been amply gleaned from this blog, I suffer from chronic anxiety, sometimes reaching the point of suicidal ideation. Nighttime seems the worst. When things get still and quiet and dark–when the whole world is asleep except me–the blackness bubbles up to the surface of mind.
Financial worries. Stress over mundane matters like keeping the house tidy. My daughter’s grades in school and her future. My wife’s health. Accidents that might happen that we would be circumstantially or financially unprepared for. Job loss. Homelessness. What it would feel like to blow my brains out (would it be less painful to shoot oneself in the heart?). Where I would carry out suicide and how I would write and deliver the note. (Should I e-mail the local police right beforehand to tell them where they’ll find the body, to prevent anyone seeing it and being traumatized?) How badly my suicide would hurt my wife and daughter. Soldiers getting their legs blown off in combat. What it would feel like to be skinned alive. What must have been going through the mind of Bernhard Knipperdolling as he watched the torture of John of Leiden, being so terrorized by brutality that he attempted to strangle himself with the iron cage around his own neck.
You know, that sort of thing.
This affliction of anxiety began more than 30 years ago, when I was about 9 or 10 years old. Round about Christmas time one of those years, I noticed small bumps on the underside of my penis, near the base. Now, even though I grew up in a fundamentalist home where sex was almost never mentioned, I had been sufficiently exposed to information on sexually transmitted diseases to be stricken with the horror that I had one (even though I had never had sex!). I spent that Christmas utterly devastated. And silent. I believed my parents would punish and demonize me if I confessed to having an STD, so I couldn’t say anything. I had to resign myself to a life of disease and ostracism. I did my best to be cheerful, but I was dying inside.
At about age 12 or 13, I suppose, I was riding in the back seat of a 2-door car when the idiot teenage driver (a friend of my brother or sister, I think) decided to do donuts in an open parking lot. He sped round and round, faster and faster. And round and round again. I started to panic. I couldn’t get out. It being a 2-door car, I was trapped. He just. wouldn’t. stop. the car. from whizzing about in circles. It was horrible. I guess that was my first episode of cleithrophobia and fear of loss of control.
A couple years later, around age 14, I experienced my first episode of clinical depression. I don’t remember what triggered it nor do I remember what day-to-day life was like at that age, but I do remember that was the first time I tried to commit suicide…
I had heard my dad mention casually one day, probably as we were fueling up the car or something, that gasoline fumes can be lethal. So I started ruminating… I could soak a cloth in gasoline, wring it out, then lie down peacefully on my bed, placing the rag over my face, and inhale deeply until unconsciousness and death came. I would post my suicide note on the wall above my pillow.
I never did it. It was just non-intentional ideation. I did, however, avail myself of a random chance that arose one day when I was mowing the lawn. I was fueling up the mower with an open jar of gas. “Huh,” I thought, “let me just inhale really deeply and it will look like an accident.” So I did that.
I was attempting suicide.
Obviously, I just got really dizzy and spilled the gas. Never tried it again.
Fast-forward a few years. I join the Army, at age 17 (see my lengthy post on THAT one, ha ha). I was SO obsessed with being a good soldier–with graduating Basic Training–so fearful of failure and so despondent from being abused and not in control, that I sunk into a deep depression. I didn’t understand how the other trainees could take things in such stride. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my ultimate failure in the Army was in large part a consequence of the undiagnosed mental illnesses of anxiety and depression.
At age 25 I married my wife, and we moved in together. As a young couple still in college, we clearly didn’t have much money. I took a high-paying job in a call center due to my bilingual skills, but it was a nightmare. Toxic, competitive, and extremely stressful. I constantly worried about being undermined by coworkers, screwing up hugely, and then being fired. (These were actually not that unreasonable, given that workplace!) Deep depression set in. One dark winter day I walked around the quiet snowy trees behind our apartment, utterly defeated and hopeless. I’ll always remember that. But we HAD to have the income, so I stayed as long as I could at that job. Turned out that “as long as I could” was a couple of months. Another failure.
I was drinking a fair amount throughout college. Never really binge-drinking in the party sense, but always looking forward to that tall boy at the end of the day.
Then came the move to Texas. Hoo boy. Just me and my wife against a strange new world. 1,000 miles away from anything I had ever called home or comfort. Sink or swim, do or die.
About 18 months later came my wife’s pregnancy and the purchase of a house. HUGE responsibilities, HUGE commitments. I was overjoyed, but even happy stress is still stress and increases anxiety.
When I got ill with viral meningitis in 2004 is when the addictions began. Benzos and opiates just made it all go away. Relief. Comfort. Escape. But what followed was 7 years of horror, yadda yadda yadda.
Got clean in 2011, but anxiety and depression have still been my constant companions, since.
Which brings me to the present…
I have long suspected that I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and when I FINALLY–after 9 years of treatment and rapport-building with her–told my shrink the History Of All My Fears, she basically diagnosed me with it and put me on Buspar (buspirone), a non-habit forming anti-anxiety medication.
That was 3 weeks ago.
I have felt SO MUCH BETTER since then. The anxieties are not gone, of course, but things feel…manageable!
I’m hopeful. For the first time in many years, I feel truly, thoroughly HOPEFUL.