1997, Ogden Theater, Denver, Colorado. I was with a number of friends at an alternative rock concert, enjoying the latest song from the group Blur. Their latest hit Song 2 was thumping and the whole room was jumping as one to the beat. I was enjoying every minute of it, my heart was beating fast and the music was fueling every inch of my soul (as cliché as that sounds…). Suddenly, I felt the room closing in on me, my heart began beating much faster than it should have, I couldn’t breathe, and I just HAD to get out of the room. I was allowed to leave the theater to get fresh air, and when I returned to the theater I simply couldn’t enjoy any more of the concert. It was my very first anxiety attack, although I didn’t know it at the time.
Fast forward 15 years. My second child was born in August of 2012. With his arrival, my husband and I realized that we needed to be closer to family, so when my son was four months old, we moved across the country and settled near Fort Lauderdale, Florida, close to my husband’s parents. I had suffered with anxiety off and on for the previous 15 years, and I knew that major changes in one’s life could make anxiety much worse. I drank calming tea, exercised, tried to eat properly, and my anxiety was manageable. I breastfed my son, and my period didn’t come back until he was a year old. I could tell the first time I ovulated, because I had extremely painful mittelschmerz, which I had never really experienced before. The next month my anxiety increased to the point that for days at a time my heart would beat out of control and I had trouble breathing. We did not have insurance, so I went to a walk-in clinic, with the hopes of receiving medication to handle my nerves. They could not help me; they said they would treat depression, but not anxiety. I would have to wait a few more months until my husband was able to sign up for insurance. Meanwhile, I thought it was all in my mind, I thought that I just needed to route out my fears and all would be well. The next year, my new doctor seemed to confirm that suspicion, when she asked me point blank: “What are you afraid of?” I started to cry, so many things around me set me off, the traffic, the bugs, the heat, etc. If I could just stop being afraid I wouldn’t feel so out of control. She felt my neck, informed me that my thyroid was enlarged, so maybe my problem was hormonal? She had my blood drawn and a few weeks later informed me that my hormones were normal and my Vitamin D levels were low. She prescribed me high levels of Vitamin D, an SSRI, and to follow up with an endocrinologist about the enlarged thyroid. I thought I felt some relief after taking the Vitamin D, but later realized that my anxiety continued to return. I wasn’t consistent with the SSRI as I thought that I could “think my way out of it” and work on overcoming my fears. When I would see the bugs that plagued my mind, I reminded myself that they were just bugs, that they could not hurt me. When I would go out and deal with the awful traffic, I learned how to manage myself defensively, I learned to anticipate other’s actions and avoid situations that induced panic. A major part of my anxiety was home-sickness. We planned a trip to go back home to Colorado the first couple of weeks in June of 2014. We had the most wonderful time, and I thought surely that this was the remedy I needed to overcome my issues. When we returned home I fell completely apart again, much worse than before. I no longer felt the palpitations in my heart, the fear and anxiety were gone, but they were replaced by something much more sinister: depression.
Before the depression hit, I would have a couple of “good” weeks before I got hit with the bad weeks. When the depression arrived, I would have just a few “good” days before I would feel completely exhausted, I couldn’t get out of bed, I cried every day and I just wanted to give up on life. I didn’t realize the connection with my menstrual cycle at first, but after tracking my symptoms for awhile I started to notice that I would magically feel better when my period would arrive. After reviewing my symptoms I realized that it was cyclical, and figured that managing my hormones should solve my problem. I had great experiences with midwives when I was pregnant with my children, so I made an appointment with a local midwifery group for a pap smear and birth control prescription. After explaining my symptoms to the nurse, she immediately said “Premenstrual Disphoric Disorder.” Premenstrual WHAT? I thought I knew a lot about my cycle and various disorders, but I had never heard of this. She told me to take my SSRI medication regularly, and that I could take the birth control continuously, as to avoid the ups and downs with the hormones.
The first month on this new regiment, I felt INCREDIBLE. Was this my “happily ever after?” Was this the solution? On Monday I’ll post what happened next, and the video that changed my life.
The picture below is basically how I felt most of the time towards my loved ones…