Ran across some varying opinions on the subject of mental health issues on Twitter over the last few weeks and I figured I’d dissect it in writing (journaling) while posting it here (blogging). HA! I finally figured this out! Harder than it sounded, though.
Just my own point of view based on my experience...It seems that there is sometimes a divide between the people who look at the medication side vs. the cognitive therapy side. Having accomplished most of my work by tripping over solutions that were staring me in the face, I don’t claim to be an expert on either. Still, there is something to be said for ALL of the opinions I’ve seen. Below is a brief “timeline” of my personal “chapters” and how it evolved into the healing MESS I am today.
Age 0 - Born into a alcoholic/enabling/co dependent home
Age 1-18 - Struggled with emotional sensitivity and worry. Quiet Chaos. Feelings of exclusion and embarrassment.
Age 17 - High school graduation and work life begins. Out of control internally. Discovers drinking.
Age 19 - Married
Age 21 - A father
Age 25 - Divorced. Divorce drama. BAM! 1st full blown panic attack.
Age 26 - Age 28 - PCP diagnosed with Generalized Panic Disorder. Meds prescribed. Then another. (did not disclose my drinking).
Age 29 - Hospitalized for same. One week in-patient. New meds (did not disclose my drinking).
Age 29-33 - My world kept getting smaller. Had bouts of not being able to drive, shop/malls, movie theaters and work.
Age 34 - Father died and 9/11 occurred. I started asking question like: What’s this thing called life all about? What am I missing? Decided (or was lead) to look at what my local church had to say on the subject.
Age 34/35 - Was struck with a thought during a panic episode and a decent sized hang-over: I was not created to be miserable. That’s it. It was that simple. And the direction of my life changed from that moment forward. But I had to SEEK answers. Not sit on the sideline and whine.
Age 35-40 - Early on, I discussed with my pastor my panic/anxiety issues. I told him I was on meds for it and the attacks were fewer but I still wasn’t what i considered to be normal. I was flawed. Weird. Basically, I was “less than” everyone I had ever known (though these were not the words I used at the time).
He asked me something to the effect of, “You’re being treated, but are you better?” The question made no sense. In my mind, my options for an answer were “YES, I am still having panic attacks and bouts of anxiety. They are crippling”. Or, “NO I’m fine. The attacks are gone. I can drive, shop or hold down any job I choose”. What else is there? If the attacks would go away, I’d have no issues. Right?
It would be years before I understood his meaning in asking that question. I had no perspective that would enlighten me. The paradigm that was my life at the point, gave me no vantage point in reality.I didn’t dismiss what he was saying. I just didn’t “get it”. There’s a good chance I felt stupid not being able to understand. I don’t remember. I do remember that this just seemed to add to the spark of excitement I had been feeling regarding (for lack of a better term)...self-discovery.
I’ll save the details of this journey for “The God Side”, but the short answer is the Gospel message of the Bible gave me permission to investigate the REAL issues beneath my problems. Stuff I had carried or been “taught” to carry with me that had been piling up in the background for decades. I had never realized, before this part of my life, that I had a birth-right to look at these things and that they were not “all in my head”. There were logical REASONS for the stuff I dealt with.
Age 41 - I had noticed that my thoughts would sometimes drift into fantasizing about what it would be like to be sober. One day I even opened my refrigerator door and in a moment of clarity, I suppose, I heard my own voice in my head say, “Ya know, most people don’t have that much beer in the fridge. And the people that do won’t have to refill it all by this time tomorrow.” Hmm.
Sometime during this year, I had to face that had high blood pressure. Something I’d been trying to avoid dealing with for years. I thought, “well d’uh”. First off it runs in the family, second, who could deal with anxiety I had and NOT have hypertension?! It was one of the few times my anxiety worked for my benefit, though, because I would imagine myself as a ticking time bomb, which isn’t unrealistic.
I had gone through some job and personal issues in the recent past and I’m sure that didn’t help. I kept feeling….hot? Anxious of course. My heart seemed to pound “abnormally” and I could “feel” my heartbeat in my temples. It seemed my vision would blur momentarily and I just felt like death was chasing me and gaining ground. That’s some of the thoughts a panic attack produce besides the physical symptoms.so maybe this was just another form of attack? Maybe it was my overactive imagination. Either way it felt real, therefore it was.
Over a few months the feelings amplified and even drinking wasn’t quieting my mind as it always had before. I had finally had enough and made a doctor’s appointment, doing something I’d never done before. I told him I was an alcoholic.For me this was HUGE, but the doc took it in stride as if I had told him I had a pain in my elbow. Telling him this and admitting I had never really taken my meds as prescribed, for fear that it would interfere with my drinking, didn’t even cause him blink!
He ran some tests, prescribed some meds to control my BP, cholesterol and anxiety. He told me if I continued to drink I would be fighting him all the way and that we’d both be wasting our time. It seemed I now had the excuse to try and be sober. I filled the ‘scrips and went home telling the “God of my understanding” that I would need His help to not drink. I said I will quit for tonight, but the rest would have to come from Him.
That was over 8 years ago and I’ve been sober everyday since.
A few weeks later I began attending meetings because I didn’t believe the power to STAY sober was within me and I didn’t want to live a lie. I’m into authenticity these days. I had been a real drunk, so I wanted to be a real recovering drunk. If I was gonna be sober, I wanted to enjoy it. THAT I had no idea how to do.
I had to “stop the bleeding” in my emotional life thru trusting a doctor and taking medication. These tools put me on a even playing field to stand and attack the issues that had led me to alcohol in the first place.
Are there dozens of chemicals in the human brain that medical science still don’t understand? Yes. Could they someday find out that these meds are detrimental to a person’s overall health? Possible. Could they shorten my life? I suppose so. Are there side effects? Sure.
The point is: I was not created to be miserable. I was created with purpose and for a purpose. One is to help other addicts who may have never had a panic attack in their lives. They may never have suffered prolonged depression for seemingly no reason. If I can be there to help them with find sustained sobriety, then I am where I am suppose to be, doing what I was meant to do.
I am, slowly but surely, gaining the freedom, strength and will to not sit on my ass and watch life go by and leave my purpose undone out of debilitating fear.Whether that fear is caused by a physical problem, a mental issue or emotional damage, I will not use it as an excuse to wither away and die wondering why I was born in the first place.
I cannot let medication be my foundation. Self-medication through alcohol was my “god” for decades. Now I need something spiritual underneath me or I am done for. It has to be outside of me and will probably be almost totally beyond my understanding for the rest of this life. I will continue to migrate the tools in my toolbox from prescribed chemical to healthy thinking, as the path becomes clearer. For now, I need both.
I am an unfinished work. But I have things to do.