This was originally posted 10/09/2013 at http://bringinghomebebe.tumblr.com
This week is Mental Health Awareness Week, so I wanted to take a moment to talk about my panic disorder, which I’ve mentioned in passing a few times in this space.
I have always been an anxious person (I was that kid who washed their hands way too much in kindergarten). My anxiety increased the older I got, to the point that I started having infrequent episodes of panic attacks. I was always tense, like my body was perpetually in “fight or flight” mode. It was exhausting, and my doctor could never find a reason for my various symptoms of malaise.
At first, I assumed these feelings stemmed from outside stressors like being in school, or planning a wedding, or starting a new job, or dealing with the passing away of my grandfather, or getting a Master’s degree, etc. ad nauseum. Eventually, though, I ran out of excuses and had the thought that maybe it was me. More to the point, I had the thought that maybe I didn’t have to feel like that any more.
My panic attacks were never so regular that they debilitated me, and I never felt like I was out of control or unable to function and do a good job at work. The biggest problem for me was that I just didn’t feel well anymore, and I wanted to remember what it was like to relax again.
At the beginning of the year, I decided to do something about it, particularly since I knew that I wanted to start the adoption process this year. I started meeting with a psychotherapist through my work’s employee assistance program, was diagnosed with panic disorder (which is a horrible sounding way to say that I have anxiety paired with panic attacks), and was prescribed a low dosage of medication to boost my serotonin levels. Almost immediately beginning my medication and incorporating some of the cognitive techniques I had learned, I felt a huge sense of relief. My mind was peaceful again, for the most part, and the physical symptoms I had been dealing with for years started to melt away. I felt like myself again, and life was easier.
I hate that mental disorders carry such a stigma all over the world; in fact, there are several adoption programs that will not allow people who take any type of medication to adopt a child. Though we were turned down by the Colombian program (originally our first choice) because of the changing age requirements, the program director also told me that we would not have been accepted anyway because of the fact that I take Zoloft. I have to admit that that stung. Because I was proactive about my health and chose to seek counseling and medication to improve my quality of life, I was being penalized.
Certainly I understand wanting to ensure the safety of children, but I don’t consider my disorder something that affects my ability to function or to be a good parent. If anything, I figured my asthma and my less-than-great back would be more of a parenting hindrance than my worrying, but I wasn’t even asked about those issues. Happily, I am now with a placement program that understands that my anxiety doesn’t make me a bad person or an unfit parent. If anything, they were very positive about my experience and viewed the fact that I sought help as a sign that I would be in a good position to seek help for our kiddo should they need it as well.
If you or someone you know needs help, please seek it out. Help break down the social stigmas surrounding mental illness and help yourself to be the best that you can be.