Deep Breaths

I’m clutching the door frame with one hand as I lean over to hunch my shoulders. My other hand digs into my side while I bend over, trying to expel all of the air from my lungs. I need to breathe in deeply to force a yawn but nothing happens except for shallow jags of air. I try again, and again, and again, and my situation grows more frantic. My breaths are inadequate. The door frame is holding me up while I try not to pass out. My breathing difficulties are spinning further out of control, exacerbated by my distress for more air. I need to yawn. I need to calm down. I realize I’m crying.

I had a panic attack last week. It happened not long after my husband came home from work. I was talking to him about mundane how-was-your-day things when I just felt so overwhelmed by nothing. I was talking about a wasted lunch hour spent on a junked computer project, about the kids and I having a difficult day trapped by bad weather, about nothing that should produce anxious feelings and yet, there I was, in the middle of a full-blown scary, ugly freak out.

It has been a few years since my last panic attack. I started having them with regularity when I was at the end of my graduate school career. The stress of completing my research and writing my dissertation chipped away at me until I lost my methods for coping.

But depression preceded anxiety and I suppose the two have been intertwined all along.

I’ve lived with depression for many years. It wasn’t until my freshman year in college that I actually dealt with the issue at the insistence of a friend. Towards the end of my freshman year, after several counseling sessions, I was prescribed little green and white capsules of Prozac but I stopped taking them after 5 weeks, probably before they had any clinical effect. Why? I don’t know. Try to reason with many 18 year old adults.

About a decade later, early in my graduate school career, I sought help for depression again. After a couple of counseling visits I was prescribed treatment, this time in the form of amitriptyline. Meanwhile I was on a prescription for Midrin to deal with intense migraines. Neither medical professional, both of whom were employed by the same school system within the same building, seemed to think this was an issue even though I’m 99.9% I made them aware of my medication history. That combination was not a good one. Maybe I’ll discuss that at a later time.

A few months later I began to have trouble breathing and an onslaught of thoughts interfered with my sleep. I would be up until 3, 4, 5 in the morning trying to calm down. Coping usually involved copious amounts of alcohol to numb my brain which, of course, did nothing to resolve my situation. I also managed to avoid meaningful graduate school research for days (weeks) at a time.

And then I was lifted from my haze of nothingness and ineptitude by a wonderful thing called women’s flat track roller derby. I briefly touched on this in a post I wrote for a roller derby interest web page. Armed with a new purpose, a new superhero identity to combat my Plain Jane woes, I felt strong enough to tackle graduate school again. Physical activity did wonders for my psyche and provided focus for my daily laboratory research. I also sought more counseling help and was prescribed Wellbutrin for depression. A couple of years later, I was prescribed other prescriptions for anxiety and disrupted sleep while I was actively writing my dissertation. After I completed my program I took myself off of all medications because I planned to get pregnant.

I had twins about a year and a half after I received my doctorate degree. My thoughts were preoccupied with child care and I gladly immersed myself in being a mom.  Still, I let Karl know how concerned I was about postpartum depression and I asked him to please keep watch over me too.  A week after the babies were born, the baby blues hit me hard but within a few weeks I felt “normal” and ready to tackle being at home with my babies.

Not to say raising these proto-human blobs has been easy. In the first few months I fought a daily battle to keep us all alive and healthy but I had a focus.  And I dare say every new mom feels these same feelings. About 18 months after my boys were born I was ready to get back to my roller derby stress-relief. I found my stride again. Daily stroller walks turned into daily stroller jogs. I was faster on my skates and I felt like I was carving a piece of “Me” back out of “Mom”. Numbers were dropping from the weight scale and my confidence was lifted. At the beginning of this year I was seeing weight numbers and wearing clothes I hadn’t seen in years before I had kids and I had more energy to play with my very active twin boys.

But then my derby stress-relief became more stressful than therapeutic so I left the organization I had been involved with since February of 2007. That loss of derby combined with a running injury, the winter doldrums, and some weight gain left me feeling helpless.

And then I clicked on a Facebook link about to how help a friend cope with depression and I recognized myself in several of the points. My physical and digital worlds were becoming disorganized and cluttered. I was finding it hard to cope with small, everyday tasks. I felt myself losing control. Although I was no where near the levels of depression I felt several years ago–the kind of depression where even changing clothes feels overwhelming–the fear of getting there, and getting there fast, felt very possible.

And that can’t happen when you’re in charge of tiny humans. So I broke down last week. I had a panic attack and I called on my husband for help when I realized I couldn’t hold it all on my own.

I’m still having daily aftershocks of anxiety but I’m taking big, deep, productive breaths and dealing with tasks one by one. I have a lot of personal history to contend with but right now, right here, I’m doing my part to get it together. Now my job is Mom, first and foremost, but I must make time to find other parts of me too. My husband, who is the best husband and dad in the entire world, is working hard to help. I’ve started skating again, even if it’s just once a week, and I’ve been able to be outside walking or jogging several times a week.

Why share this long, drawn-out story with the world? Because depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses need to be discussed. Discuss your thoughts with your loved ones, your doctor, a counselor. Everyone should do this but particularly so if you are a parent. Does this make you an unfit parent? Absolutely not! This makes you an amazing parent. A strong parent. The moment you have a child, you are no longer just responsible for your own health but the health of a tiny human who looks up to you. Seeking help makes you a better person and a better parent as a result.

You can’t rely on someone else to get you the help you need. Be proactive and self-aware and ask for help!

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