A long post for a long absence

I wrote a post addressing some of what’s going on in my life right now a couple of weeks ago, published it, and then immediately took it down.  That post was kind of a knee-jerk reaction to something that happened earlier that day.  Now that I’ve had some time to adjust, process, and react, I feel like I’m ready to write about it.

On Friday, September 12, I finally did something my fiance had wanted me to do for close to two years: I talked to my doctor about the anxiety and depression that’s been a constant in my life for the past several years.  It’s one of those things I have never disclosed to a doctor because I’ve been ashamed.  I’ve only been comfortable discussing it with a few people in my life, and most of them told me I was overreacting or being dramatic: “everyone feels that way sometimes, you’re no different”, “it’ll get better when you get a real job in your field”, and my absolute favorite, “get over it and quit making excuses”.

In college, and especially in grad school, I typically dealt with my anxiety in one of two ways: I stayed home and hid from the world, or I went out and got embarrassingly drunk.  When I felt good, I was tremendously productive and people really seemed to like me.  I could blow through two or three hundred pages of dry course readings and actually retain the material, write twenty or thirty pages of term papers in one evening, socialize with people I barely knew.  But this was not something I could maintain long-term–I’d have a few good days and then crash hard, either sleeping twelve to fifteen hours straight or not sleeping at all and drinking so much coffee I couldn’t get my hands to stop shaking.  They call alcohol a social lubricant, and when I went out drinking alone or with friends, it made me friendly, personable, and loud.  I felt like I needed to go out and be around other people, and in order to tolerate the experience, I’d have to drink so much it was hard to stagger home.

It all got worse after I got out of grad school.  I went back home to the job I’d held the previous summer, which I had enjoyed a great deal, but instead of the 30-40 hours a week I’d gotten that summer, I was only getting between 12 and 20 hours, because the store wasn’t as busy.  I was looking at jobs in both of my fields all over the country and getting discouraged because I wasn’t going to be able to save enough money to move if I got any of them.  I moved back to Mount Pleasant that fall in hopes of finding a job there, because I knew I probably wouldn’t be working much, if at all, at home that winter–and despite years of successful retail experience and applying at every store in town that even hinted they’d be hiring, I never got a single call back.  I did some freelance writing and editing, but didn’t make a whole lot of money.

Dallas’ mom asked me to move to Georgia and stay with them while Dallas was in Europe, so we (over)loaded his truck and came down in May 2013.  By the time he left for Romania in July, I was working and feeling like a useful member of society for the first time in a year.  It’s kept me busy, and I’ve really enjoyed it, but I still want more.  I want to be back in history, museum work, or doing something with education–not necessarily teaching, but maybe some sort of student support role in admissions or academic advising in a higher education environment.  The thing is, there aren’t a whole lot of jobs in history and museums right now, and I don’t have the degrees and required experience for a lot of the student affairs jobs I’ve seen lately.  Even if I really, really, wanted to go back to school, I don’t have the money or stability to do so right now–I have a ton of student loans that I’ll probably be paying until I have a college-aged child, and I have no idea where Dallas and I will be, geographically, in the next several years.

And all that time, I was tuning Dallas out as he told me “I really think you need to talk to the doctor about your anxiety”.  In retrospect, I realize it put a ton of stress on him, stress he really didn’t need, to make him deal with me being panicky and afraid of everything and of nothing at all.  Things started to get worse this summer–I was under a lot of stress and started having panic attacks for the first time in a few years.  I spent a lot of nights awake, with my fists clenched and every muscle in my body so tense that it hurt to exist.

I think the final straw, that one moment that led to me admitting out loud that I needed help, was when I read a job description early last month.  I met, and in some cases exceeded, every one of the criteria the museum listed when they described the ideal candidate for the position, except that it was in an art museum and my background is in history.  Immediately my brain started working against me–I had never worked in an art museum, nor had I visited many.  Surely there had to be better candidates out there than a historian who hasn’t worked in her field in five years.  They would just laugh at my cover letter and resume.  After sitting in our bathroom hyperventilating in our bathtub (something that’s almost funny in retrospect) I made myself spend several hours assembling my application packet and I applied for the position, but haven’t heard anything back, and at this late date, I don’t really expect to.  It did make me wonder how many opportunities I’ve missed these last several years because I’ve been afraid to try.  The anxiety over all the bad things that could happen has overshadowed the possibility that something good might actually happen to me.

I’ve tried meditation and yoga, breathing exercises, following suggestions in dozens of self-help guides.  I even met with a counselor a couple times the last year I lived in Michigan, but stopped going because I really couldn’t afford to go.  I eat right, exercise, and take care of myself–my doctor told me that all of my blood work was “amazing” when I went back on Friday for a follow-up appointment.

So now I’ve been taking an antidepressant called citalopram for a little over three weeks.  The first couple of weeks were terrible.  I guess a lot of people find it makes them a little sleepy, so my doctor first suggested I take it at night.  I found that I was waking up between 2 and 3 every morning and never being able to get back to sleep.  Since I switched to taking it in the morning instead, I’ve been sleeping much better at night.  I was also a little twitchy when I first started taking it, but it wore off within about a week and a half.

I no longer constantly feel like I’m drowning.  I still don’t feel up to tackling high-pressure social situations, but I’ve felt a lot less anxious at work, which can get a little stressful.  I have an interview tomorrow for a second job, just to make a little extra money over the holiday season, and I’m pretty hopeful about my chances.  It’s actually a second interview–I already had a phone interview and only stuttered once.  Usually I feel as though my tongue weighs a thousand pounds when I’m in an interview situation, but the phone interview actually wasn’t that bad.  I’m a little nervous for tomorrow’s interview, but I’m also excited for this opportunity.  Extra money is always a nice thing to have.

Dallas and his family have been really great through all of this.  I know I’m not the easiest person to live with, and some times have probably been worse than others.  I’m not saying my new medication is a miracle or anything, but it’s making a big difference for me.  It’s kind of crazy how enjoyable life can be when it doesn’t feel like my anxiety is choking me.  It’s a really nice feeling, that’s for sure.

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