I used to take a break from my work, whatever it is – writing, parent council, other volunteerism – by sliding out onto the porch and smoking. It was a brief moment, where I could feel the sun on my skin, I could legitimately shoo my children away without guilt. Somewhere along the line, smoking had become my form of self-care. It was the one thing that was mine.
I quit in November, opting to take Champix to aid in that journey. I was tired of smoking.
I lasted all of 6 days on the medication before I was taken off and later told it put me into a dysphoria.
I haven’t smoked again.
When I was supposed to be celebrating the fact that I quit, my anxiety skyrocketed. I was angry all the time; angry about my to-do lists, the daily demands of parenthood, the way my body was rebelling at me for trying to be healthier, at my husband for his long work hours. Sleep was elusive and rare, there wasn’t a moment when my mind wasn’t racing. My marriage was hanging on by a thread.
I was hanging on by a thread. A genuinely bitter, pissed off thread.
“It’s just Christmas,” I told myself, annoyed at my supposed weakness. “It’ll get better.”
December 10. I knew I needed to see a doctor.
My skin began to crawl a little more, hourly, it seemed. I began to obsessive count things, as I do when I’m feeling a lack of control.
Lock the door 3 times. Hit the lock button on my car twice. Count the number of stairs. How many pieces of clothing are we folding tonight. Schedule everything, down to the minute. Avoid eye contact with anyone. Clean the house, twice a day. Talk through plans, over and over, out loud, write them down. Make lists about my lists. Triple check everything. Lose my mind when I forgot to do something in the presumed order it needed to be in.
January 15. I knew I needed a lot of help.
That’s not when I called for help, though. I wanted to. But, I couldn’t. I’d crossed over into territory unknown, a sort of anxiety that I hadn’t experienced before. There was no accompanying sadness like before. No, this time, I couldn’t stop. I had to be walking, moving, doing. When I stopped, if I stopped, I became too viscerally aware of the tightness in my chest, the way my thoughts raced faster than a rushing river and how I seemed to be unbearably aware of every single particle of dust I was breathing in and out.
It was new and utterly terrifying.
February 10. I sat in the doctor’s office and explained what was happening. He gave me a bandaid pill for the pain, told me to seek therapy and to come back in a couple weeks.
I went through 30 days of that “bandaid” in less than 14 days.
February 25. A new diagnosis, likely caused by the medication that was meant to help me quit smoking, Panic Disorder. On top of generalized anxiety, on top of sporadic bouts of depression, on top of PTSD. The prescription for the medication felt like a refuge and I filled it with an eager glee.
I waited two months. Two of the longest, most hellish, debilitating, hellish, anxiety filled months of my life.
Because I was disheartened; wasn’t I stronger than this?
Because I didn’t want to admit defeat.
Because I didn’t want to be here. Again. Again?
Because I was afraid.
Now, I’m ashamed. How could an avid mental health advocate like myself buy into the same lies that stop so many people from understanding, from getting the help they need?
Because, I suppose, that’s the nature of this beast. The lies that tell us we’re no good for needing help. That needing that pill, or that therapist or that moment alone, makes us weak.
Except, it doesn’t.
They tell you that you should replace your smoking with another habit:
I replaced it with walking, Effexor, and therapy.
Because, health isn’t just a physical thing.
Image Credit: Matthias Ripp