September 17, 2018

The brain has a weird way of tricking you that it's cured

The first time I told my doctor about my sleepless nights, my shallow breaths, and my heart continually pounding against my chest was about three years ago. I didn't know what to make of it at first, and I hesitated to tell anyone about it, too, because I didn't think it was necessarily that bad. Or at least it didn't feel urgent enough, like how people with anxiety in movies present themselves. There wasn't any alarming background music or any particular challenge that I was about to face. I was like that fabled frog that wasn't aware of the water gradually boiling around it.

I've also read somewhere, as you do when you spend enough time on the Internet, that people who take anxiety medication were people who couldn't get themselves to eat or go to work. And that wasn't quite me either: I could still work, talk to friends, and take care of myself. On the outside, I acted normally around other people—as much as I could, at least—but internally I've found myself stuck in a never-ending thinking loop of what my therapist calls "what-ifs."

I was in a constant state of dread although it would never get to the point of becoming a full-blown panic attack. I felt on edge, like someone who's had a little too much caffeine to drink. It felt like every thought I had piled on top of each other, and I just didn't know what to do with them.

What if this anxiety all in my head?

What if I never become successful?

What if I never get to do the things that I want to do?

What if I die tomorrow? Will people remember me for anything?

You know you're in a special place in hell when you start worrying about all the worrying you're doing. Also, I didn't even know what "successful" even meant. But the thoughts lingered anyway. I wish it were more like the shit-the-dishes-in-the-sink-are-piling-up kind of worry, but I find it to be more intense like the shit-I-forgot-to-turn-off-the-oven kind.

When I finally started taking my medication, things did genuinely start getting better. I felt a sense of ownership with the thoughts that I had like I controlled them instead of them controlling me. Instead of everything being urgent and important, I felt like I could prioritize and sort them. My doctor also advised that I go to therapy, but I hesitated a bit.

Aren't people in therapy ... broken? Has it really gotten that bad? Am I actually that fucked up? Do I actually need this?

The notions that I had about therapy all came from—surprise—the media. Fortunately I went with it. It turns out that therapy was the best investment I ever made for my mental health. It was like I had a coach: I learned how to confront and deal with my emotions, and I learned some tricks on how to stay calm.

A couple months back, I was talking to my doctor about possibly weaning off my medication. I've been feeling pretty good for years, and I was on such a low dosage that I thought it might be good to try pausing the medication for a bit to see if I can do without it. My doctor agreed and decided to decrease my dosage in the span of a month and a half.

I started to feel physically weak and lethargic at first, and I felt like I was learning how to walk all over again. I was talking to a friend who went through the same thing, and she said, "The brain has a weird way of tricking you that it's cured, huh?"

Because of the skills that I learned in therapy, I felt—I feel—like I'm at a much better place than I was three years back. It's still tough, but now I know how to breathe and journal and be mindful. I can now think through my feelings and what-ifs that are bugging me.

I don't know if I'll go back to retaking my medication, but I found that the benefit of not being on medication is that I can cry now. I found it difficult to cry for the longest time, and, as weird as it sounds, I did miss having a good, ugly cry.