I had a relatively “Leave It To Beaver” childhood. I grew up in a small town. My parents are still together, and my family is close. I played 3 varsity sports, was in the theater program, and on the debate team. I got good grades, and I was a dancer until I was about 15 or 16. My family vacationed once a year.
I never went to summer camp because, as my dad put it, “We owned a summer camp.” Which was kind of true. We own a resort that always has kids staying there. We lived outside of town, so I felt a tad isolated. And my parents were semi-strict, but all around, I would never ask for another way to be raised.
I started dealing with depression in my late teens, and anxiety came a few years later in college.
At first it was extremely difficult for me to find a doctor that I liked; one told me bisexuality was a phase, another told me to go on welfare, while another offered only that I should quit drinking (I was 24). I went on and off medications, and I will never know if any of them worked since I was drinking a lot of alcohol with each one.
I spent my 20’s as the quintessential party girl. I had an amazing time! I experienced all sorts of things, and I had some great friends. I also drank and smoked to excess while avoiding anything too serious. I was definitely self medicating, and I convinced myself I was happy – looking back I truly want to believe I was.
At 28 I was hitting the end of my stride; the lifestyle was getting way too crazy. The black outs were a regular occurrence, and my hangovers lasted 2-3 days (most of the time I would get agoraphobia and never leave the house during that time). I would drive to work still drunk from the night before, and those “great friends” had turned into acquaintances I could drink with.
I met a guy. He was totally ready to jump right into the party scene. He moved in to my place, a little apartment on a street that had ALL the bars within walking distance, so naturally, we went out every night. I wouldn’t have called our relationship stable or healthy, but then again, neither were we.
Right before my 30th birthday, we moved about 20 minutes out of town. We hoped it would give us a new chance. Keep us out of the bars and help us grow up. It worked for him. He wouldn’t drink when we would go out, so he could drive home while I got shit-faced.
When I went out alone, I would still get pretty wasted and even drove home a few times. Our relationship was suffering more than ever, my job had grown increasingly frustrating, and I was completely miserable. I hated everything and everyone – most of all myself. It almost sounds too cliche to be true.
On Mother’s Day 2015, I awoke with my typical Sunday hangover except the hollow feeling in my gut was greater than usual. I showed up late to family brunch, likely still drunk. The anxiety was growing. I had a mimosa with the meal hoping a little hair of the dog would help get me through it.
It made things worse (little did I know it would be the last drink I would have for a year). I barely finished eating, immediately went home, and puked it all up. I crawled into bed and shook the rest of the day. I took a Xanax when it got dark enough to fall asleep; I prayed for relief in the morning.
I woke up, but there was no change.
Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday passed, and the only change was that night terrors had come. I was having hour long anxiety attacks each morning from 1 or 2 A.M. until 5 A.M. I was exhausted. I decided the next week that I had to see my general practitioner.
She had previously prescribed me Xanax for my occasional anxiety attacks. I assumed she would be able to help me or refer me to someone that could. She didn’t know what to do with me.
She prescribed me an anti-psychotic. I am not psychotic nor have I ever been.
She told me that this pill could be used for anxiety, even though one of the side effects is anxiety attacks. She told me to wait a few weeks and come back to touch base, and see if the medication was working. I trusted her and left her office cautiously optimistic.
I made it two weeks. The anxiety attacks had not subsided. I was barely functioning. She adjusted the dosage and added lithium. I felt like Jennifer North in Valley of the Dolls. I was supposed to wait a few more weeks, and I was seriously struggling.
The medicine made me so exhausted. I would almost fall asleep on my morning commute and had to drink excessive amounts of caffeine to make it through my day (yea, caffeine with an anxiety disorder – genius, right?).
I was in the doctor’s office at least once a week. What I didn’t realize was that she was out of her depth. I was slightly better, but I couldn’t live. I was in bed the second I got home from work. I couldn’t do anything around the house, I was going days without actually eating (because it made me anxious). All I could do was sleep… and cry.
I cried all the time. I never left my house. I lost a lot of friends and missed everything. I was petrified of everything. I felt totally isolated.
At this point I have to give a MAJOR shout out to the boyfriend! He had zero experience with mental illness. He definitely didn’t understand it, but he held me every night while I shook and cried and hit myself during the anxiety attacks. He cleaned the house. He cooked. He gave up his life to take care of me. He was amazing. Without him and my parents I never would have survived!
July was the final straw with my general practitioner. I was paying to see her every week, and I wasn’t getting anywhere. Three days after I saw her to adjust my meds, for the umpteenth time, I was having a difficult time.
I tried to call her and was told she wouldn’t take my call. I explained that I had been in two days prior and just needed a quick verbal consultation. Her receptionist told me she would call me back. She never did. This was the second time it had happened.
After that I called six psychologists’ offices. I couldn’t get a call back. I was astounded. It’s a hot button topic, mental health, but I couldn’t get any help! I was feeling hopeless and ready to commit myself to the local in-patient facility.
I thought about quitting my job and collecting disability, but without my job, I would have no insurance. I was in so much pain! I didn’t want to kill myself, but I didn’t want to exist any longer. My bed was the only place I felt OK.
I finally got into an office. The doctor barely noticed I was there while he asked me the necessary medical background questions and logged them into a lap top. I had to tell him twice that I had, in fact, never been committed. He adjusted my medications, ordered some blood tests, and advised me to come back in a month.
I did feel slightly better with the recent adjustment, but when I went back for my second visit, I told this doctor I wanted OFF the anti-psychotic. I was starting to notice word loss, memory issues, and a general fuzziness. I didn’t feel like a person, and the anxiety attacks were still a daily occurrences. He didn’t acknowledge my request and took me off the lithium instead. I was prescribed an alternative to it.
I did start feeling better but no huge advancements. The anxiety attacks were every other day instead of daily. I was still exhausted, that “fuzziness” was getting worse, and I had developed INTENSE acne! I started seeing a dermatologist, an acupuncturist, and a reiki practitioner.
I had 2-3 appointments every week. I was working really hard to heal.
The acupuncture and reiki were great. They were providing me with the only relief I had felt in months – even if it was only for a day or two, it was worth it! I also started meditating with this great app, “OMG! I Can Meditate,” which was so helpful.
Flash forward to October, and I am back in the doctor’s office for a checkup before I flew to Charlotte to see my brother and sister-in-law for the weekend. He had the results of a recent blood test and told me I could stop taking the anti-psychotic all together. I was psyched!!
That is until I was 30,000 feet in the air having withdrawal symptoms and an epic anxiety attack! My mother looked on helpless and worried as I silently sobbed, shook, and gobbled a couple Xanax to try and calm down. The flight was only an hour and forty-five minutes. I spent an hour and a half freaking out!
I tried everything! After a third Xanax, healing crystals, meditation, and essential oils, I still couldn’t pull it together. By the time we got off the plane and to my brother and sister-in-law’s house, I was heavily sedated and immediately fell asleep.
I stayed pretty sedated that whole weekend, determined to let the drugs flush out of my system. I gave that up the next Saturday night as the impending flight home approached. I got back on the anti-psychotic – the flight home was uneventful.
This was my lowest point in my recovery. I thought I was never going to get better.
I thought this was the only option available, and I had to take what I could get, that THIS was as good as it was going to get. Welcome to your new life Lia!
I quickly realized this doctor was useless. I had to remind him at least 2 times every session I had never been in a mental hospital (still). He didn’t care about me. I was a dollar sign to him. I had also left my therapist who was a nice enough fellow but kept insisting I exercise, as if it was the ONLY way I would feel better. I am sure he was right but the medicine was leaving me so drained that I just couldn’t.
I got sick of hearing it and tried another woman. She began by opening up and rehashing every wound I had ever had in my entire life – I did not want to talk about being beat by a boyfriend in 2007, I did not want to talk about the time I got roofied at a bar, and I did not want to talk about my friends that had died. I had addressed and come to terms with all those things years before.
I wanted to talk about how to heal myself now.
December rolled around. I had done one or two holiday activities but nothing crazy and had been home by 8 to go to bed. People noticed I was acting weird. They could tell I was jittery and shaky. I was completely uncomfortable in my skin and the acne, which wasn’t going away, was making me even more self-conscious.
I just wanted to stay in bed.
The thing was, I couldn’t. I had to continue with my process. On a “good day,” I got ambitious and booked my first vacation with my boyfriend to Florida at the end of February. I thought about canceling it, but I didn’t want to lose the money.
Thankfully, the woman who does my acupuncture recommended a different doctor. I called this doctor, but she wasn’t taking new patients. She recommended a second doctor who was moving in a couple of weeks, so it would’ve been pointless. She recommended a third doctor. The third doctor was taking new patients, and I made an appointment for January 7th 2016.
I had been sick for 242 days when I had that first appointment. I went to my first appointment with low expectations. I stepped into her office and sat in her big leather chair. She asked if she could go over my history to help her grasp who I was. I reluctantly told her everything.
She never pried or prodded, just listened taking active notes. She asked for clarifications on some names and some dates but basically, just took notes. As I talked, I glanced around her office. I was nervous and uncomfortable. I was telling another stranger my life story.
I noticed some things about her office that put me at ease; she had angel statues, healing crystals, and elephants. The more I looked around, the more at ease I became. Towards the end of our session, she told me to start weaning off the anti-psychotic, from twice a day to once. This made me scared, but she comforted me and told me she wanted to help me.
In all this time, no doctor or therapist had said or made me feel like they wanted to help me.
I wept in her office. She took over the role of my doctor AND my therapist that day. It was the best decision I have ever made.
She had me off the anti-psychotic in two weeks. She put me on Lamictal, and I still had Xanax. She listened to everything I was saying. She was interested and attentive. I loved her! After a month or so, she did a divination reading for me, and then we did a meditation for one session.
This was the best therapy I had ever had! When it came time for the vacation, I felt prepared. I was going to kick its ass! I totally did too.
I went to Disney and had a blast!
When I felt more confident in my standings, I started making other healthy choices. I made drastic changes to my diet in hopes of healing my mind and my skin. I cut out gluten, dairy, and cane/ white sugar as best I could.
I started taking all sorts of vitamins. I upgraded my essential oils to Young Living. I started reaching out to friends again. I am still trying to get a stable yoga practice going, but I’m not too hard on myself about it. I had my first drink in one year on May 13th, which felt pretty good; I will only drink on weekends and never more than 3.
I still have an early bedtime, but I’ve moved it from a strict 9 to a more reasonable 10-11. I booked every weekend from May until August with social events. I am determined to shove as much into a summer as possible. I’m documenting it all on Instagram, and I love the support I find there.
Sometimes it gets hard, and sometimes I have to rest. But I feel stronger and healthier than I ever have. I have an incredible team that helps me: a doctor, dermatologist, acupuncturist, reiki practitioner, and massage therapist. Now, I just need a chiropractor and a psychic.
I’m spending my summer focusing on really living and having fun. Not fun like I used to have, not let’s get sloppy at a bar fun… Quality fun with quality people. Once the summer is over, I will change my objective to a new career, something that can utilize my experience.
I want people to know they MUST advocate for themselves, specifically their health care.
Every day is a new day. It takes effort to focus on the positive, but it is necessary and so much better than the alternative. If I have to leave anything, in closing, I just hope that my story encourages someone. I want you, the reader, to know you are the only one who knows your body… whether it is an ingrown hair or something more serious.
If you do not feel confident in your recovery plan, if your concerns are not being validated, or if your feelings are not being recognized, then you must make a change! Get a second opinion, a third, a fourth…
Get as many opinions as you need to feel confident in your process. There are good doctors out there. There are alternative medicines to explore. There are people that want to help. Find them. It takes work. It takes perseverance. Nothing good in life comes easy. You can get through this!