Isn’t it crazy how different your life can be from one point to another? I look back on my life at this point last year, and I hurt for what that girl was about to go through.
Life already wasn’t perfect for me at that point; I had graduated college for one thing. And that’s a wonderful, amazing thing to accomplish, obviously, but it just left me… floundering a little bit. I’ve talked before about how school really provided a lot of the framework for my life and time, and when I graduated I was suddenly faced with a world of utter uncertainty. On the other hand, I was happy because I re-fell in love with my novel and started working on it constantly. Then, shortly after graduating, I began getting sick every time I ate. This time last year, I literally could not eat without feeling like I had to vomit shortly later. I lost a great deal of weight in a period of two or three months and essentially lost my appetite, and it took a very long time to finally figure out the problem and treat it properly.
In September, my best friend died. My cat Boo was my most faithful, loving companion for 16 years and losing him simply devastated me. I couldn’t sleep at night; instead, I would lay on my couch and just cry, always trying to muffle my sobbing so I wouldn’t wake anyone up. The littlest things would set me off and at times it felt like I truthfully was never going to be able to function normally.
Finn became so affectionate and sweet after we lost Boo, like he knew how much I needed him– but he just wasn’t Boo. Getting Gus in November both helped and hurt, as well. He is a hilarious, energetic, mischievous cat that keeps us on our toes, so it was a good distraction. But on the other hand, it felt so painfully wrong. Boo had only been gone two months; how could we get a new cat? Gus got worms only a few days after we got him and I had to take him to the vet. They put me in the same room where they’d told me Boo had a tumor– I cried in the room until the vet got there, and then cried the entire way home.
I wanted to take Gus right back to the Humane Society. I suddenly felt the most overwhelming panic– what was I thinking getting a new cat, one that was only going to get sick and die and shatter my heart, just like Boo had? I already was feeling this agonized resentment mingled with love towards Finn, and then I just added one more cat to feel that about.
None of this was their fault, of course, and they’re both wonderful, amazing cats that I love deeply (Finn is laying on my arm and half on my laptop as I type this, purring happily and blocking half my view of my keyboard). But I was going through some serious grief and trying to cope with it. I was finally beginning to make some sort of sense out of life again at the end of November; holidays always help cheer me up and I love Thanksgiving.
Then, two days after, my youngest dog Cash died in my lap. I know I talked about it before, but the memory is just so strong in me of how it felt as I kept bending over and clutching my stomach and saying over and over, “I can’t stand this, I just can’t stand it.” There was literally so much pain and hurt and devastation inside me that it just didn’t seem humanly possible that my body could contain it all. How could this happen? An already uneven world suddenly tipped completely upside down, jumbling and jarring and setting into chaos everything within it.
By this point, I’d already been applying for jobs and getting rejected–repeatedly. Over the next few months, my nana had a stroke, we found out my uncle had cancer and his Hepatitis C (got in the 80s from a blood transfusion, before they screened for that) worsened considerably, and I hurt my quad muscles and ended up not able to play soccer for almost four months.
After Boo had died, I suspected I was depressed. When Cash followed him so soon after, I was pretty sure of it. But I thought it was something that would just get better.
Every night seemed endless for me, because I couldn’t stop reliving all these bad things that had happened and crying about them. I slept poorly and never felt rested, so I was tired all the time. I lost my appetite again, and I just felt upset a lot. I have ALWAYS been a cheerful, happy person. I am passionate and enthusiastic about life, and there are so many things I tend to get excited about. But my novel that I’d been so feverishly working on seemed stupid and awful, and I abandoned it. I just started watching movies on my laptop at night, just to try and distract myself from the bad memories. I started re-reading all my favorite old books to give myself something to do when I couldn’t sleep.
Another thing I started to notice was how anxious I felt all the time. As morbid as it sounds, I started just being swamped by this overwhelming worry that my loved ones were going to die unexpectedly. I thought about it almost constantly, and I couldn’t make myself stop, no matter how hard I tried. I’m not the type of person who can hold a grudge or stay truly mad at someone for a long time; I just don’t have the personality to sustain it. I’m a happy person.
But that was no longer true. I wasn’t happy; in fact, I just felt terrified and upset and off-balance all the time. I also started getting sick chronically again. The day I left the vet after hearing Boo had a tumor, I bawled the entire way home. I was by myself and when I got back I got horribly sick and eventually passed out for a minute. The night before Boo died, I threw a screaming hysterical fit for hours and made myself sick again. After Cash died, I was so angry, and I just wanted to lash out at everyone and everything. I was aware of this, even as I couldn’t stop myself from feeling like it. I would feel so furious, and then suddenly I’d be in the shower and I’d just start crying.
One night I came home from soccer (before I got hurt), and my mom was afraid that Gus had eaten something poisonous. I started feeling sick and so I got in the shower, because that used to help when I was having all my stomach issues. I ended up getting dizzy and sick and my mom and sister had to help me out of the shower. I started bawling, and I kept asking what was wrong with me. I laid on the couch in my towel and cried and cried; I just couldn’t seem to stop. At some point we read in the paper that someone had seen a mountain lion only a few miles from my house. For a whole month, every time I heard my dogs bark outside at night I eventually went out there with an air rifle and a flashlight, convinced they’d been mauled to death. When my nana had her stroke, I got horribly sick again, even though she ended up being fine. My cat Finn also developed a horrible cough, where he would sound like he was choking and hacking but never cough anything up. He gulped and swallowed constantly, and at night he would often wake me up with a coughing fit and send me into a panic attack. I took him to the vet and they guessed it was bronchitis, so they gave him an antibiotic to take. It seemed to help only moderately, and then he went back to doing it and I kept panicking.
One day, I went outside and found a huge lump on my dog Riley’s hip. Quite simply, I melted down. I was home alone again, and I got sick and started crying and became convinced it was cancer and he was going to die just like Cash and Boo. By the time my sister got home, I was desperate and felt out of control. We called and scheduled an appointment for the next day at the vet.
When we got there, it didn’t take long for the vet to tell us he didn’t think it was cancer. Apparently it’s very common in older dogs to have lumps, and as this one was right over his hip the vet figured that he’d simply lost a lot of the muscle on his hip joint and scar tissue had built up to protect it.
Riley was okay, but I wasn’t. Increasingly I felt this almost constant sense of overwhelming doom, like at any moment something horrible was going to happen. I was sick and anxious and upset almost all the time, and was home constantly by myself. I kept getting rejected by jobs and my family was all at work, so it felt like all I did was sit around and think about awful, horrible things.
I kept making excuses for why I couldn’t see my friends or go anywhere, because I was afraid something might set me off and I’d have a panic attack. I never wanted to leave the house; I just wanted to lay in bed. I was essentially just a shambles.
The next time some little, silly thing set me off, and I found myself crying and upset, I talked to my sister. As you’ll know if you read my blog, my sister is my best friend and there is nobody more important to me in the world. I share everything with her. And though I’d talked some about what I was feeling–it was impossible to miss– I’d never really come right out and said that there was something wrong, because she was having stress of her own as she’d taken a long-term sub. She was busy and tired most of the time, and I just didn’t want to bother her–I also didn’t want to admit something was wrong with me.
When I finally spoke up, my sister– who has a degree in Psychology– told me she had suspected I was depressed for a long time. We both agreed that something needed to be done; it was starting to affect my daily life and I was getting to a point where I felt like I couldn’t even function right anymore. I was having panic attacks weekly, sometimes two or three or four or even five times a week.
One night I sat down and just opened up to my parents. I told them how I felt scared and anxious all the time, and how I thought something was wrong and I needed to get some help. They were wonderful, just like my sister–loving and supporting. I had a doctor’s appointment only a couple of days later. My doctor told me it sounded like there was absolutely something wrong, and she recommended me to a counselor so she could diagnose me and then my doctor would be able to treat me appropriately.
I felt very apprehensive about going to a counselor. There truly is an enormous stigma around mental health issues in our society; even though if someone told me they were going to counseling for depression or something like that, I would NEVER think ill of them, somehow it seemed like people would think I was lying or over-exaggerating or just crazy.
My counselor was incredibly nice. I saw her three times, and over that course she gave me tests to take so she could diagnose my problem. Turns out I had GAD, or Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and it had gotten so bad that it was causing me to have Panic Disorder as well. I also was suffering from a moderate to severe case of depression.
It was so terrifying to hear this put into words. It felt like I was doing something wrong, or I was being a baby, or just overreacting to everything. On one hand, I didn’t want to hear it and I didn’t want to talk to a counselor or a doctor.
On the other hand, this was a nearly unfathomable relief. To actually hear a qualified professional tell me that, yes, there is something going on here and you aren’t just making it up was liberating. She explained to me that essentially what had happened is my brain’s coping mechanism had just gotten overwhelmed and basically shorted out. I could no longer react and cope with things appropriately, so the littlest things were setting me off and I was overreacting enormously and having panic attacks. She referred me back to my doctor with this diagnosis.
My doctor explained things to me. Depression, and the other things I was feeling, were being caused by a lack of serotonin in my brain. It’s the chemical your brain creates that makes you feel happy essentially. What was happening is that my brain was creating the normal amount of serotonin, but then reabsorbing it way too fast so it wasn’t staying in my brain. She discussed with me how medication could help get me back to normal.
I didn’t like it. I resented the need for medicine. But she explained to me how it was the same thing as taking an antibiotic for an infection. I think that’s what is so hard for us to realize; that taking care of your brain is just as important as taking care of your body, and both can get sick and need to be treated. I still didn’t like it, but I knew I needed to do something.
My doctor gave me something called a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor–or an SSRI. More specifically, she gave me Zoloft, which I take daily. This would stop my brain from eating up the serotonin too fast. She also gave me something called “Boost Bars,” which were little pills to take in case of a panic attack that would work almost immediately.
In the beginning, I had to take them fairly often. We thought a tornado might be heading for Mustang, and so I took a couple. Quite a few times Finn woke me up from a sound sleep coughing horribly, and I had to take them. Various other things would start to set me off, and I had to take them.
But since I first went to the doctor a few months ago, I have only had a panic attack two or three times. I feel unspeakably better–I’ve felt like myself again.
My life, which for so long seemed to be on a downward spiral, slowly began improving. Little things started happening.
I began bringing Finn in the bathroom with me while I showered, because I read somewhere that the steam could help with something called kennel cough, which we think is the most likely culprit. It’s incredibly common in animals that come from a shelter or a rescue, which is where we got Finn, and there’s just not really a cure. It periodically acts up. But since I’ve been having Finn in the bathroom with me, his cough has gotten a hundred times better.
My nana has been doing very well, and after the last stroke they finally prescribed her some regular medicine to take that will help her from getting another.
I met my idol (and future husband) Steven Adams randomly at the mall, and he really was incredibly nice and took a picture with me:
Don’t mind the height difference
Incredibly, I finished, edited, and self-published my book, and the support and encouragement I have received has been overwhelming (that’s my next post). I published it exactly one month before my 23rd birthday and fulfilled one of my deepest dreams.
And then, like a miracle, not ten minutes after I met Steven Adams, I got an email asking me to come in for an interview to the bridal shop I had applied to on a whim and without hope for getting it.
The interview went really well, and they seemed incredibly nice. A week later I had a second interview. Then I took a wonderful, amazing vacation with my family to Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon(!!!). A few days after I got back, I got an email inviting me to become an employee of Meg Guess Couture Bridal.
Today marked one week since I started at the shop, and it’s already been one of the most wonderful experiences of my life. One of my biggest fears was that the people who work at a bridal shop would be snooty or hateful, but they are exactly the opposite. Meg is one of the nicest, most encouraging people I’ve ever met and I love all of my coworkers already. Every day has been different, and an adventure, and I love it. I’m excited to get up and go to work in the mornings.
Even more amazing, the evening after my very first day, my very first best friend Brenna got engaged, and a couple days later asked me to be her maid of honor.
It’s like after months of seeming famine, suddenly there is feast. Life is bright and exciting and filled with possibilities again. I feel happy and passionate and enthusiastic about the things I am doing, and surrounded by my wonderful loved ones. I laugh and smile and enjoy life again.
I guess the reason I waited so long to talk about my anxiety was because I didn’t know how to talk about it. I felt embarrassed and confused and overwhelmed by it. But after steady medication and a couple months of life being good instead of bad, I finally feel like my old self, and it’s so important to me that I share my experience. I want to make sure anyone who has gone through the same things doesn’t feel stupid, or crazy, or melodramatic like I did, and I want them to know that it IS possible to get better, no matter how bleak or hopeless life seems. I was never suicidal, but I have an all new understanding for people who feel that way. Some days it just seemed like I didn’t want to be here. To people who feel like that, and that the only answer is to end things, I beg you– try counseling. Try medication. Try just talking to your friends or your family or even a random stranger. That’s the hardest part to overcome, I think, the trying. Because after awhile it seems like what’s the point?
But there IS light at the end of the tunnel. Looking back on where I was this time last year, I still hurt, so painfully, for what that girl would have to go through. But the only constant characteristic of life is that it changes. I have grown into a whole new person. I named this post The Metamorphosis because of one of my favorite short stories of the same name by Franz Kafka.
The basic plot is that a man suddenly wakes up one morning and realizes he has been turned into a bug. There is no explanation for this change, and he slowly loses his humanity as he struggles to continue living life exactly as it was before the change. Eventually he becomes so lost to humanity that his family becomes terrified of him, and ultimately causes his death, which he accepts willingly.
The sudden dark turn that my life took was as bewildering to me as if I had suddenly woken up and turned into a bug. I felt the same sense of unfamiliarity with my own self, as if without my permission it had changed into something I did not recognize or understand and had no control over. Life felt absurd and pointless, and it seemed as if I was trapped in a dark room alone simply waiting for what life might throw at me, much like the main character in Kafka’s story was. I struggled miserably and in vain for months to try and regain the patterns of my old life, to keep going on as I had been.
But that was the thing– I was not as I had been. I had been irrevocably changed, without warning or permission, and the person I was had essentially died. I had to accept that I was not the same person.
I don’t know what lies ahead for me. Maybe at this point next year I’ll look back on myself at this point and feel the same agony for what I will face. Or maybe I’ll look back at this point and think what an amazing, wonderful adventure I have to look forward to. I have no idea, of course, but I do know that life is series of peaks and valleys. I could be facing the Mariana Trench, or I could be about to climb Mount Everest. I’m sure you’ll hear about my view when I know.
Either way, I’m looking forward to my next metamorphosis.