I got a wake-up call not too long ago.
At first it came in hints. Panic attack here, panic attack there. Anxiety at work here, tear and tears there. And then the big one: “Would you like your prescription faxed over, or do you want to carry it out?”
Paxil is considered a bit of a wonder drug of sorts. Its uses have been studied across the board, and it has been found to be effective in a variety of conditions and circumstances. The reason I was getting it was two-fold. First, it has been known to help with stomach and digestive issues, so GREAT. Help me out there, please. But also, it’s one of the most common anti-anxiety drugs on the market, and although we were using is as an experiment to see if it helped my stomach aches, my doctor made sure to emphasize that it will “help with all that anxiety and stress as well”.
I’ve always been aware that I am a high-stress person. An overachiever. A perfectionist. I push myself to the limit, and I do what I need to do to get it done and get it done WELL. It used to be a strength, but I’ve slowly become aware that I may have surpassed that point. Once my doctor’s words hit my ears, a cacophony of voices from the past came surging in. I heard my nutritionist saying, “And I want you to take a magnesium supplement to help you relax a little bit.” Counselors asking me if stress has always been such a problem. (Answer: yes.) And in the past, a few of those closest to me have warned me in the best way they know how that I may, in fact, embody these qualities to a fault. I heard them, but often these comments came in less of a supportive fashion and more of a “you-are-ridiculous-you’re-killing-yourself-STOP-NOW” package. And then there’s my favorite of all time, of course: “You’re too sensitive/high-sturng/uptight/whatever.” I’ll admit, I don’t respond well to all of this. In fact, that last one REALLY does it. I get defensive, I get hurt, I get confused, and I get angry. It makes everything harder.
Why is that? Looking back now, I’m starting to realize that these comments bothered me so much for a few reasons. For one, all of those descriptions – including my own – are labels, and they sound permanent. It feels like there was something wrong with me and will always be wrong with me, and I was the one to blame. Ironically, in direct contrast, I feel out of control of my anxiety, but I didn’t understand that. Whenever someone told me to “stop”, I wanted to scream (and did on one or two occasions), “STOP? DON’T YOU THINK IF I COULD I WOULD HAVE DONE THAT ALREADY?!?!”. Not constructive in any way shape or form in nurturing your relationships and support system. Yet, despite the lack of control I had, the dichotomy charged on, and I truly believed it WAS my fault, that I WAS doing this to myself. I’ve been in counseling for this for quite some time. I have tried self-talking my way through everyday, telling my mind to quit going a hundred miles an hour, and this isn’t life or death, and I was ruining my life worrying so much about it. However, it didn’t matter how many times I would recite these mantras, that tightness in my chest would continue to squeeze and that tension in my jaw would cause me to clench even harder. If I couldn’t stop the stress myself, the only conclusion was that I was making my bed and I will just have to lie in it. I should be able to relax, to let go, to chill the f*** out – and all on my own.
But apparently I can’t. And so that first dose of Paxil really threw me for a loop. I finally had someone who wasn’t a parent (sorry, Dad), a friend (sorry, Jen and JJ and Danae), or a husband (oh Bill, I’m SO sorry… I don’t mean to put you through hell) tell me that this may, in fact, be a REAL problem. Maybe I couldn’t do this on my own. Maybe, instead of just a public service announcement on the state of my affairs, what I needed from everyone else was actual help.
So enter my therapist, who is amazing, and Paxil, which I am not too thrilled about. Picking up my prescription was strange, as I have never seen myself as someone who needed something like medication to deal with something like anxiety. I have always been told I am so composed, so put together, so with it. But that comment itself implies such a widespread and problematic belief permeating our society in the form of stigma. I’m really starting to understand what it means to need assistance, and I can see where that compulsion I have to tell everyone that Paxil is supposed to help my stomach issues first – and then oh yeah, it’s for anxiety too – actually comes from. We’re bombarded with ideas that this type of help makes you weak, and we should all be embarrassed. Not only is something wrong with me, but something is even more wrong with me because I can’t fix it on my own. With that in mind, and zero ill judgement on anyone taking prescription medications for similar issues, I am hoping to not rely on Paxil for long. I was given the lowest manufactured dose and instructed to cut it in half, but I personally would rather work through things naturally with nutrition and meditation and exercise and talk therapy. However, I have to admit, it’s working.
And in more ways than one. That conversation with my doctor really gave me the push I needed to realize that it’s time to take care of myself. It’s time to take some pressure off. Read more. Be present. Shift my perspective. Go outside. Turn down an invitation when I feel like it. Unplug. Say no to adding to my plate. Love myself more.
And so, last Saturday, instead of feeling obligated to make THE BEST plans and drink LOTS of alcohol and dance and laugh SO MUCH and post pictures about the SO GREAT AND AMAZING time I was having all over social media, I thought about what I really needed. And that was some peace and quiet, a long walk, the ocean, and time with my dog. So that’s what I did. And instead of powering through that walk to burn more calories, clock more time, and cover more distance, I was pleasantly surprised at the things I saw when I fully applied that same intentionality to being present. It wasn’t easy, but it happened. And so I come to “Things You Learn When You Slow Down On Purpose”, in order of revelation:
First, I live here.
No seriously. I LIVE HERE.
Things like flowers exist and are pretty.
They also come in more than one color.
Stopping is nice, especially when just for your own viewing pleasure.
And that activity where you put your dog on a leash and take her outside is called a “walk” because dogs actually enjoying walking, as opposed to what I used to call a “walk” but was actually more of a “dragging”. Indy knew the flowers were there all along, and she likes to smell them too.
This little guy is adorable. He also sings.
Awe is a cool feeling, especially when followed by day dreaming sans pressure to meet society’s ideals and get ahead and own that immediately. Simply appreciating is just as much, if not more, fun.
And did I mention I live here?
I’ll admit that this was a difficult post to write, and it took me a while to gather up the courage to post it. But that Saturday evening walk and this post are first steps. And first steps may be small steps, and days come one at a time… But seriously. The world is already looking brighter.