Instead of succumbing to my panic attack, I thought it might be therapeutic to write about it.
Over the years, I’ve become more and more open about my anxiety and depression, but I plan on making this post as raw as I can get it. Without a shadow of a doubt about 95% of all my anxiety and depression stems from my intense phobia of getting sick. The proper term is Emetophobia. I really don’t like to use the term “throwing up,” so from this point out when I say “sick” I mean “throwing up” specifically.
I have talked to many other suffers as well as health care professionals and there are varying degrees and intensities of emetophobia. Some people are not bother by others getting sick, only themselves. Others are only afraid when they feel sick themselves and don’t mind when others have it. I have the best of both worlds. My anxiety is definitely more heightened when I feel “sick”, but I still have a major freak-out when someone near me is sick or even mentions that they don’t feel well.
And I have to point out a major distinction between people who don’t like getting sick and the phobia of it. I think it’s safe to say no one really “enjoys” getting sick but when you have a phobia of it…getting sick is almost like our world is collapsing in front of us. Our minds become consumed with “What did I eat?”, “How long is the incubation period for contracting a stomach virus?”, “Could I have food poisoning?”, “Why is my child more lethargic/why aren’t they eating? They must be sick”, “Why is my stool loose? This must be the start of a stomach bug.” These are just a few things that consume our minds when we are going through a panic attack. We start taking anti-nausea medicine, anti-acids, essential oils, teas…anything and everything in our arsenal to prevent something that 9 times out of 10 isn’t going to happen. However, every time we feel a twinge in our stomach our minds automatically assume that THIS time is going to be the one.
However, it goes beyond that. When my phobia was much worse than it is today, I had other thoughts cross my mind. When I knew I had to meet a friend for lunch, I had to come up with a reason why I wasn’t going to eat (just in case it sent me into a panic attack) or made sure I picked something semi-safe like fries or chips. I also knew that if I was going to meet up with someone, I had to be careful that I didn’t eat anything too “dangerous” the day before like salad or chicken just so I wouldn’t have a bad night and cancel plans because I didn’t sleep and sit felt crappy the morning of. And when this phobia also stemmed into being afraid of getting sick in the car, I really had to make sure I wasn’t too far away from home and someone in my family was available just in case I needed to be picked up. There was also no way I wanted someone to pick me up because then I was trapped and couldn’t leave if I felt sick. Do you have any idea why I never wanted to meet with friends? It wasn’t worth all the trouble, hassle, and battle with myself over a scenario that probably wouldn’t even happen.
I guess if you really want to understand how much power this phobia has had over my life, I’ll have to take you to the darkest part of my adulthood so far. (Yes, I am pretty sure this trumps cancer AND my amputation!)
Let me set the scene:
I was a sophomore in college. My panic attacks were waking me up in the middle of the night and for the first time, I started thinking about getting on anti-anxiety medication. Luckily, my college offered discounted mental health services but there was a catch. The only way to get to a psychiatrist was through a psychologist. So, I guess I was going to therapy.
I wish I would have tried in therapy. However, my only goal was the quick fix. Medicine seemed a lot easier than trying to dissect and rationalize the thoughts in my brain. Eventually, I got the first drug: Mirtzapine. I have such mixed feelings about this drug looking back. It helped me eat and sleep but eventually it made me more paranoid. I gained around 60 lbs and probably was my unhappiest while on this pill. I am not sure why no doctor suggest I get off of it. Every time I would see the psychiatrist, I would tell them that the pill wasn’t working. I was just as anxious (or maybe even more anxious) than before. So, they just kept on upping the dosage. 7.5 mg, 15 mg, 30, mg, 45 mg…I eventually stuck with the 30 mg because the 45 mg gave me headaches. However, since I wouldn’t stop complaining they would add new medicines to my regime. Ativan and Zoloft are the only ones that come to mind, but I am sure there were a few more. I would tell them that although the Mirtzapine helped me at night, I was still suffering during the day. So, their logical solution was just to give me an anti-depressant to take in the morning. To this day, I still think it’s strange to give someone two anti-depressants. They may work for others, but I am sure my brain was mega confused.
So, as my anxiety is getting worse and I am playing medicine roulette with my doctors, my husband decides to propose and throw a wedding into the mix…plus a 1,000 mile away move to Florida. Saying yes to marrying Keenan was the EASIEST decision of my life. I have loved that boy since high school and nothing has changed to this day. However, my mental state was not up to par during that time.
Somehow my grades did not suffer in college but my attendance did. Driving my car to school became almost an impossible task for me. It progressed from having break-downs as I was driving home from school and then they would happen when I got to school knowing my panic would hit at the end of the day and eventually it got to the point where I couldn’t even get into the car to go to school at all. I somehow managed to get through the fall semester of 2013 but I knew in the back of my mind that the spring semester probably wasn’t in the cards for me.
I lasted about a week in the spring semester before I had to withdraw. I refused to let my grades suffer because of my declining mental state. I could now solely focus on the wedding and the big Florida move that was to happen in a few short months.
The wedding was wonderful. I had a great time with friends and family and although I was excited about living with Keenan, I was beyond frightened to leave everything and everybody that I knew. The 16-hour drive felt like a lifetime but eventually we made it Florida. Keenan already had an apartment lined up for us and it was gorgeous! Unbeknownst to me that beautiful apartment would become my own personal prison cell.
So, if I haven’t mentioned it already, Keenan was in the Navy. And when he joined his ship, they were in the midst of preparing for an 8-month deployment. So, he was gone…A LOT. He had barely been with me in our new apartment for a month when he told me he would be leaving for about 4 weeks. I felt trapped. Without him, I would truly be alone. He had been doing everything for me. I didn’t know if I could handle him being away. It turns out…I couldn’t.
During those 4 weeks alone, the farthest I made it in the car was to go to the doctor/pick up a prescription for a UTI I was having. And that was on the first day that he left. So, for a good 28 days, I didn’t leave my apartment. I don’t think I even went outside. I had my groceries delivered to me once a week and I got so desperate that I called the ambulance for the side pain I was feeling in hopes something was wrong and Keenan would have to come back home. Thankful nothing was wrong but I was fading quickly. I honestly probably didn’t take more than 50 steps a day. I would sit on the couch, go to the bathroom, and eat food. That was it. I had no desire or motivation to do anything more. I was just a shell of a person.
Somehow, I managed to make it the four weeks and Keenan was back home. I thought I had a good 2 months to get my stuff together before he left again but the navy decided it had a different plan. He was barely home a week when they told his ship they would have to do a mini deployment to an undisclosed part of the world to do an undisclosed thing. I don’t think even the word “vague” can truly described the lack of information they gave us. There was no way I could survive on my own. I had to go back home with my family until he got back. No one knew if this deployment would last 2 weeks or 6 months.
Going back home was nice but I really didn’t change. However, one thing did change. My medication. On the last day before I had to drive back to Florida, I met with a doctor who prescribed Xanax along with another anti-depressant Lexapro. Along with the Mirtazapine, these 3 medicines made me somewhat function in Florida for the last few months before Keenan went on deployment. It was just enough to allow me to go to the grocery store by myself once a week. It wasn’t much but it was a little better than before.
Keenan left for deployment, I went back home again, and I made a drastic change. It was time to say goodbye to the Mirtzapine. This was one of the best decisions of my life. I got off that medication, started working out, and started to feel much better. The combination of Lexapro and Xanax was a winning combination for me. It made me feel normal again. It allowed me to function again. I didn’t feel (as trapped) in my body.
So, that’s the end of my story, right? Not exactly.
Surprisingly, during my cancer treatment, my anxiety was more at bay. It was when my life started turning back into a normal routine that the anxiety started back up again. My brain wasn’t being bogged down with cancer treatment; now it had time to roam into the dark places in my mind. It’s never gotten as bad as it was in Florida, but it teeters around that edge a lot.
Even to this day, I don’t touch my food. I usually wash things twice. I always have anti-anxiety/anti-nausea on me at all times. I stay away from certain foods. If a food doesn’t seem right, someone else has to try it. These are just some of the many habits that I have developed along my journey and I HATE it. And when we add a kid into the mix, it makes everything worse. I literally don’t know how I will react to Frankie having a tummy bug. To be truthfully honest with you, I don’t know if I can be there for her. I’ll make sure she is being taken care of by someone else, but I am not sure if I can be that person. I don’t want her to develop this fear. I don’t want her to be scared as much as me. I don’t want her picking up my bad habits. I am a strong and dedicated person, but this fear crumbles me. I’ll gladly tackle cancer and learn how to walk/run again and be an advocate for other amputee/cancer survivors but dealing with sickness makes me want to hide. It makes me feel defeated and beat. I hate this phobia more than anything else in this world.
This one little fear dictates so much of my life and I wish it was just as easy as saying “Well, change it!” I have lived with this for over 10 years. Yes, I can change but it will take a lot more than lifestyle changes, it takes a whole rewiring of my brain and the behaviors I have learned to cope with my fear. All of this is really a mental game with myself. It’s hard to rationalize a situation when your brain is showing you a different reality than what everyone else is seeing.
If you made it this far, congratulations! I didn’t know how long or where this post would go but here we are. I am sure this won’t be my only post on this topic, but this is definitely enough for now! Lol