Tuesday, November 30, 2010
Back on We Go ....
That didn’t happen. I do have a diagnosis of social anxiety disorder, which, luckily, is fairly mild for me. It’s tough to explain how the symptoms present themselves; the easiest way I can think of to describe it is “having perpetual stage fright.” What’s heinous about it is that the anxiety attacks come of out nowhere: I can be fine one moment and two seconds later, my throat is getting dry, my knees start shaking, I start to feel light-headed, and my heart starts racing. It’s extreme anxiety bordering on panic. And for absolutely no reason. They come out of nowhere.
Over the years, I’ve come to recognize the symptoms when I start experiencing them, so usually I’m able to talk myself down. I take deep breaths; I remind myself it’s all in my head; I force myself to slow down at whatever I’m doing; I tell myself it will pass in a moment. It always does. When it happens in the classroom, I doubt my students even notice.
But those few terrified moments are hell.
Other people with a more extreme degree of this disorder suffer unbearably. Some stay confined to their homes (in which case agoraphobia is usually the diagnosis); some can’t take jobs that require dealing with the public; any job in which public performance is required gets taken off their lists of possible careers. Two famous performers who’ve admitted to their struggle with SAD are Cher and Donny Osmond. Medications and cognitive behavioral therapy have proven effective.
The thing that differentiates SAD from simple stage fright or panic disorder is that the anxiety is centered around the specific fear of being judged. Actually, it’s not so much being judged as it is being judged unfairly. I’m pretty sure this is just the way my brain got used to thinking when I was a kid, growing up with a stepmother that therapists have dubbed “an irregular person,” someone who was impossible to please and who withheld affection when I was found failing. And since I couldn’t be perfect, I was always found to not measure up.
I think it was the unpredictability of how she would respond to me that knocked me off any equilibrium I ever had as a child. Once I brought home a “D” in Geometry, and I was prepared for a whipping and to be grounded; she just said, “I don’t know why you have to take that nonsense,” and that was the end of it. Another time I brought home a “B” and I was punished for not getting an “A”—I guess it was a subject she thought I should do better in. I never knew her agendas (and nowadays, I think maybe she wasn’t even aware).
The human mind is full of mysteries that we’re only just now starting to unlock. Like brain chemistry: do our brains get screwed up on their own and we’re born with a chemical imbalance; or do patterns of behavior get the brain used to operating a certain way, and we get locked into that? Psychotropic drugs supposedly correct imbalances.
Think about someone with OCD: they have to have things a certain way or complete particular rituals or they become so upset and uncomfortable that they fly into a panic and can’t function. What about hoarders? If you try to remove something of theirs, even a magazine that’s years old, they panic. Your trash is their treasure. They need that magazine. What impulse in their brain makes them think that? That their life will unravel if that magazine is no longer in their possession?
The brain makes no sense.
In any case, my social anxiety has been creeping back over the semester, and I suppose it should be no surprise that as more stress enters my life, my body’s way of coping returns to the way it once was. I’ve had a few bad moments in class (still, they never notice); my back is a solid rock of tension; I’ve felt unsettled, unfocused, out of control. The one thing I don’t want to do is return to booze. There’s the old-fashioned propranolol (beta blocker) and Ativan (anti-anxiety med) that got me through so many years, but they make me tired and listless. No, I actually felt pretty good when I was on Cymbalta, after I stopped drinking. I was losing weight, I was exercising, I felt calm but all there, too. I don’t like feeling out of it.
Isn’t that just what wacky people do: they start feeling better, so they go off their meds?
So the experiment didn’t give me the result I wanted. I don’t thrive when I’m not on my medication. But that’s okay. I’ve learned to accept the fact that I’m not a perfect human specimen.
There are some Old Timers in AA who insist that any kind of drug (beyond aspirin, cigarettes, or caffeine) are not to be taken or else you're not sober. I'm glad my sponsor doesn't think that way. [It's not like Cymbalta gives you a buzz or lifts your spirits (even though it is mostly known as an anti-depressant). It just evens me out.] But you know, I feel like if this is going to be a recovery blog, I need to be honest and put this out there.
I'm hoping it won't make one whit of difference to any of you.