Anxiety shmanxiety, no brain is going to tell me what to be afraid of.

At the end of my high school years, as I was applying for colleges, I started having these strange, random moments of panic. I didn’t know anything about anxiety or panic attacks, had no clue that what I was experiencing was related to the stress of the decision I was in the process of making. For me it seemed insane, I would be reading a book or daydreaming on my way to school and all of a sudden I would be in full on panic mode. I brushed it off each time and after I started college it faded away and I thought nothing of it. Then, as I was finishing college they started up again and I finally decided it was time to see someone about it.

By this time it had gotten so bad I would randomly start hyperventilating in public, and I was in a constant state of terror, never knowing what would set me off. Because the things my mind would obsess over were not at all related to my current situation it seemed like it was completely random. I would be reading happily and all of a sudden I would feel my mind plunge over the edge into this chasm of horrifying thoughts. Always the same worry, this overwhelming fear of death. Not dying, not pain, but the status of being dead. No longer breathing, and most importantly, no longer thinking. How could I even imagine no longer thinking? How do you think about not thinking? My mind is what tells me I’m alive, the idea that I won’t be here or anywhere or feeling or thinking anything is just absolutely terrifying. I would be frozen, unable to move, doing everything I could to force my brain out of its trap. To no avail, once I was over the edge and into the deep end there was nothing I could do to get out. Finally I would exhaust myself and fall into a coma like sleep, if I was lucky.

I ended up seeing a psychologist and then a psychiatrist, both immediately diagnosed me with classic anxiety disorder. The psychiatrist especially was very comforting, I spoke with him for five minutes, crying and choking on my sobs within the first two, and he immediately knew what the problem was. He told me that I was experiencing panic attacks related to the stress I was under and he explained the science of what was going on in my brain when I had these emotions. He prescribed me zoloft and klonopin, the former as a long term solution, the latter as a short term. I and my family were hesitant. Though I trusted my doctor, understanding that these thoughts were due to a chemical imbalance in my brain was difficult to process. How could thoughts be affected that way? It just didn’t compute, but I figured I had nothing to lose so I followed his directions and started taking the medication. In one week I called him back, crying again but this time joyfully, I felt like myself again. I could read, watch movies, talk about the future, and no breakdowns. I was beyond overjoyed, I was ecstatic. I had my life back.

Years passed and I continued taking only the zoloft, a minimal dose that allowed me to control these symptoms but didn’t leave me feeling numb as higher doses tended to. After a while I felt stable and went off the meds, thinking that I was balanced now, I knew the science behind what had happened and I believed it was a temporary problem that should be a non issue now that I wasn’t in the middle of major life changes. The result was that all of a sudden I had a hair trigger emotionally, the death related thoughts didn’t start up again but rather I would find myself tearing up at the silliest things. Commercials would have me sobbing, stupid internet videos would leave me melancholy and weepy for hours. But I thought, no panic attacks so that’s a good sign. But as things changed in my life, as I found out about my fibromyalgia, as I decided to go back to school and then move to LA, I found the death thoughts creeping in once again. Not full blown, no hyperventilating, but rather I could feel my mind skittering on the edge, trying desperately to grab hold of something so as not to plunge into that awful darkness. I held out as long as I could before caving and making another psychiatric appointment. I went back on the meds, evened back out, and all was well with the world.

But after all that, even knowing why this was happening and the simple solution to fix it, I was still hesitant about taking the meds. Such a stupid issue, but one that I don’t believe I’m the only person to experience. For some reason when it comes to mental issues I find myself saying, “I can push through this, I’m strong, these are just thoughts.” They’re not just thoughts, those thoughts are merely the symptoms of a physical problem. That’s the key, remembering that it is a physical problem. I’m not weak for having these thoughts, I can’t just force myself to “pull it together” and “calm down.” That’s not how these things work.

The mindless terror of a panic attack is not something easily explained to those that have never experienced them. You can’t break out of it. You simply can’t. You are absolutely powerless, a bystander watching as a some horrific accident unfolds in front of you. You stand, transfixed, as the car crashes and bursts into flames. And the worst part is watching this horror and seeing that, even as you stand to the side and watch, you’re also in the car.

It’s ludicrous, that these thoughts and emotions, these feelings that have no tangible qualities, are the result of a chemical imbalance. And so you try to push through, to tell yourself you’re fine, but you’re not, not at all. Because reading The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy shouldn’t set you off in a terror spiral. So if a little pill will solve this problem, then trust me, just take the pill. Even if you think you can cope, think you can overcome and win this struggle, listen to me, and just take the damn pill. You can thank me later, when you’re able to watch banking commercials without breaking down in tears.


Starting the new year off with a purr.

My husband and I are cat people. Not that we dislike dogs, (or are part of the Cats touring company), we just tend to prefer purrs to barks. We had adopted an adorable little cow looking kitten about two months old when we first moved in together. Her name was Proton and she followed us across the country happily, she was very trusting and completely comfortable as long as I was nearby and calm. Long car rides were no issue, and by long I mean five days full of driving. She was always easy, loving, happy. And, on rare occasions, she quacked. We were happy to give her a forever home, and expected her to be our only pet for years. Until the fourth of July this past year when we happened upon a tiny mewing bundle of night, purring her heart out while all around her it sounded like a war. My husband fell in love and turned his unfailingly convincing puppy dog eyes on me, how could I refuse? I wanted her just as much, though first I needed to make sure she was healthy, had her shots, and was not someone else’s who might be missing her. So we scooped her up, took her in and to the vet the next day. She was not microchipped nor spayed so we decided to keep her, and get her all the health updates she needed. This little six month old girl became Electron, a feisty little jumper who was a complete cuddlebug.

In October we found out we’d be moving to Hawaii and discovered that we didn’t have enough time to quarantine them both at home before leaving so a friend was kind enough to take them in for us temporarily until I figured out what we needed to do to get them over here. My friend was very kind to take them in but I felt guilty for saddling them with her, even though she clearly fell in love with them herself.

After arriving here in Hawaii and getting settled in the house I started to look into how to bring them over and even the best case scenario worried me. It isn’t the cost that bothered me but the fact that they would either be under the plane, being subjected to all that noise both during loading/unloading and flight, or stuck in a carrier for hours in the main cabin. Neither seemed like experiences that would leave them well off and I worried that the stress of it might cause irreparable harm. I love those two to bits and the last thing I want to do is hurt them out of my own selfishness. So, I had a long chat with my friend and it turned out that rather than feeling stuck with these two kitties, she was miserable at the thought of losing them. So, it seemed natural to have her keep them, with the stipulation that I get regular pictures and updates, which she has been wonderful at providing. Seeing the two cuddling on top of her assuages my guilt and I realize that this was the best decision all around.

The only problem is now I have no cats, no snuggle buddies, no purring to put me to sleep when my husband is away. So, we discussed and decided that once the house was far enough along we would look into adopting a young cat from the humane society.

Then, today, I had a bad day. My lower stomach was cramping and I was in intense pain for most of the day, though there was no reason for it. One of the other lovely issues I’m stuck with is the fact that my ovaries insist on forming cysts when no one is looking and then apparently they use a melon baller to scrape their way out of my body to freedom. It’s unpleasant to say the least. I’d been free for a year or so, until this morning it just hit me and it was all I could do to force myself out of the fetal position and upright to run errands. In this situation I know what helps, a furry bundle of purr to snuggle up to. There’s simply nothing better, especially when there isn’t really anything to do but wait out the pain. I have a doctor’s appointment this week but until then it’s grit my teeth and suck it up. So, since we didn’t have any cats currently in the house and my enormous stuffed moose wasn’t doing the trick, we decided to just go and see what the humane society had. I thought we’d play with some kittens, I’d feel better, we’d go home. (I can be so naive sometimes). That was the plan, at least, until we started actually playing with them. I found a tiny two year old orange tabby who head butts as if her life depends on it and purrs almost violently when you pay her any attention at all. She was exactly what I wanted. Then I looked over to see my husband on the floor, with a gorgeous tuxedo cat twining around him, purring his heart out. And, of course, I get the puppy dog eyes again. I just can’t say no, besides, better to have two so they can have someone to play with the rare times I’m not home. Also, why do I always have to be the one to say no? I want all the kitties too! So, long story nowhere near short, we took home two cats today. The young orange became Ipo, meaning sweetheart in Hawaiian, (or secretly I can call her Hipo, pronounced the same but meaning hiccup in Spanish. Which entertains me to no end), and the tuxedo became Bubs, (an homage to the amazing cat loving Bubbles from Trailer Park Boys).

Now, at this insane hour of the morning I’m lying in bed with Ipo on my feet, purring so hard she keeps falling over. Bubs wanders in and out, coming up for a quick cuddle then going off to explore more of the house. Tonight was an intense night here, a massive storm came through, with wind battering at the windows and torrential rains pouring down. The two have understandably been skittish to start, hiding behind the couch or in a corner until we finally coaxed them both out. They each love snuggling so the promise of being pet is more than enough to lure them up to bed with us. And, though I’m in pain and exhausted and apparently catching a cold, I couldn’t be happier. I’m not a cat mom, I don’t call them my furbabies, but I feel like we are a family again. The benefit of having something so small depend on me allows me to push aside some of the pain and rise to the challenge of taking care of them…it’s immeasurable, absolutely immeasurable.

So, unexpectedly, which tends to be our style, we now have two cats. We’re starting out the new year right, building a home and a family and it is really starting to feel like it. Though I never expected to settle down so completely the feeling of putting down roots here is so fulfilling, and these two are an important piece of the puzzle. I finally feel home.