It seems like, once a year or so, my panic attacks like to peek their heads up and just remind me that I don’t swallow tiny purple pills once a night for no reason. Thanks for thinking of me, guys! Now please get out of my life.
Last year I seemed headed for Full Panic Recovery. After a year of medication, my psychiatrist and I agreed to scale down the dosage of my Paxil and then to cut it out all together. The phasing-out went really well–no withdrawal, no strange symptoms. For a couple of months I did great. Then Rocky The First came around, and for the first time, Underscore was producing a full-length musical in Chicago, and a certain local theatre professional said some pretty terrifying things about the likelihood of our success and the longevity of our friendships with each other, and in the span of 24 hours I went from a confident trailblazer to an wibbling pile of scared.
This is why I keep Alex around, for the record. He’s remarkable at making things that other people have said are impossible seem reasonable to accomplish. We pow-wowed as best we could, got moving, and produced a show that sold out six of seven nights, that I was in and that I produced and I worked an eight-hour-a-day job on top of it and I didn’t die or even relapse into more panic.
Because, also, I went back on the meds.
It was tough, admitting that I might still need that help. I was so proud of myself for making it through that first year in a competent manner, and for making it through the transition to no medication. But whenever that amplified, steroid-like shot of adrenaline hits for the first time and I realize that this isn’t just a regular freak-out, my first impulse is to do whatever is possible to keep from having to feel that way, and SSRIs are what do it for me.
Since then, we’ve produced our own world-premiere musical, along with a bunch of readings, and we’ve added to the staff and various support networks we have going on; we’ve written shows that other companies have performed, have made lots of friends, and have learned a ton. So I find myself mystified, in the last week or so, at how overwhelmed I’m feeling.
It’s not straight-up anxiety or panic attack stuff, which is good (still on that Paxil, God bless it). But it feels similar, which is confusing to me. We’re so demonstrably in a better place than we were last year that it seems silly for me to feel put-upon. And yet, here I am, staring at a Post-It note full of To Dos and grinding my teeth and having weird sleep paralysis events where I think my roommate is chanting some Lovecraftian nonsense in the corner of my very small bedroom.
The thing that being on medication for what is a pretty understandable anxiety disorder allows me, at least, is the ability to actually work through the things that are making me anxious. That’s what was so hard about the first round of panic attacks back in 2010. Everyone was giving me advice about how to think my way through, and I couldn’t. I’ve never not been able to think something through and help myself with it before. For the first time, I was experiencing something that seemed so irrefutably physical that it was all I could do not to yell at well-wishers who asked me to think happy thoughts. I actually told someone at one point, “Would you tell someone who’d just been in a car accident to think happy thoughts and it would make them better?” My experience with panic disorder is one of overwhelming physicality–a physical combination of sensations that no amount of distraction or positive thinking can soothe. That’s why I’m still on medication and not in therapy, two years later. I tried therapy. My therapist told me I was the best client at self-therapizing that she’d ever had. “And see,” I told my family, “That doesn’t always help.”
So today, feeling all of a sudden that everyone in the entire world wants something from me and that I’m being pulled like a Stretch Armstrong doll in a dozen different directions, I could think to myself, “You know, babydoll, no one gets to make you feel this way. Not even you.”
(Yes, I call myself “babydoll” in my interior monologue. It just kind of happened after I listened to “Who Killed Amanda Palmer” several times. It’s strangely comforting.)
And I stopped.
That’s the testament to how far I’ve come in two and a half years of diagnosed Panic Disorder. It doesn’t sound like much. Probably you’re wondering why I haven’t always been able to do this. But believe me, for this kid, it’s big. To be able to set boundaries for myself is big. To apply them to other people and also to myself is big. To be able to let thoughts affect and placate anxiety is really big, and I don’t know if that would be possible if I didn’t have a little pharmaceutical help. Maybe it would be. Probably someday I’ll find out.
For now, I have a fundraiser to facilitate, several people to hire, rehearsals to begin, and four performances in the next week.
I wouldn’t want it any other way.