Sunday, July 1, 2012

How I learned to beat my anxiety disorder

I have anxiety.  Officially, I have Anxiety Disorder Not Otherwise Specified.  Much like PDD-NOS, it's an incredibly vague form of a disorder where the symptoms are all there but don't present the way they might in a more specific version of it.

For years I was on a medication for it to help calm me down and let me function relatively normally without being paralyzed by anxiety attacks, a very low-dose anti-psychotic.  It worked well, but every time my doctor took me off of it, I'd spiral into constant paranoia, lose some of my functioning ability and have panic attacks.  On it, I had very few side effects and it allowed me to shake off the anxiety fairly easily, so keeping me on it was a no brainer - it helped far, far more than it could possibly hurt.

In April, after being on it for years, something changed.

I started having weird movements in my neck and shoulders where I would suddenly jerk and twitch without meaning to.  It was subtle at first but came on harder and harder until I had to call my psychiatrist.  He decided to pull me off of my medication until he could see me again because he was afraid the medicine might be causing tardive dyskinesia, a side effect of long-term use.

This made me really worried - how would I be able to complete finals without my medication?  How could I focus when I was constantly paranoid someone was hiding in the walls, waiting to kill me (one of my frequent paranoia subjects), or I was too scared to open doors for fear someone was standing behind them?  Very reluctantly, I followed his orders and slowed then stopped the doses.

Once the withdraw symptoms were gone, it felt like waiting for the inevitable.  I was practically counting down the days to having a freak out and crying in a corner, too afraid to move.  I had nightmares several times a week of my anxiety returning and failing my finals - not having my anxiety was causing me anxiety!

My finals came... and they went.  And no anxiety sprung up to slap me down, even a month, two months after being taken off my medicine.  I was very cautiously excited, and eventually was able to get in to see my psych.

This is the awesome part: My anxiety is now under control naturally.  Three months later and I'm going strong - no medication, no desire for it again.  See, while I was worrying about my anxiety coming on during my finals, I was inadvertently teaching myself a coping skill by making lists and plans just in case it happened.  I was listing off what I needed to do if it came back, how to deal with it, how to calm myself down and focus on the future.

I also taught myself a skill accidentally.  One day I was starting to have a little paranoia when I went to open my door.  No one was home but me, and as I put my hand on the doorknob, I had a flash that someone would be standing behind it.  By the time I had this flash, it was too late - the door swung open.  I winced, then looked - empty!  I started laughing and laughing, and realized that if I just did something I was afraid of and it turned out okay, I felt better.  That led me to start doing my own version of desensitization therapy by confronting my fears and realizing that they're not real.

Every day I experience anxiety.  Anxiety about work, finding an internship, doing things, talking to people, getting somewhere on time, remembering things.  But now instead of letting it control me, I try to take a deep breath and learn how to either control it or remind myself that I can't control it and that I shouldn't worry until it happens.

This is how I did it - how have you dealt with your anxiety?

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