September 7, 2010

Anxiety & Depression: My Story

According to the Center for Disease Control website, there is a strong connection between anxiety, depression and obesity. In a recent study of Americans with an anxiety/depression diagnosis, 35.2% were obese and 42% were physically inactive. These statistics are too startling to be ignored.

I assume that many reading here today are obese and possibly lacking in the physical activity department. According to these statistics, it is likely that many are struggling with anxiety and/or depression, as well. By telling my story, I hope to bring awareness, a little education and more than anything--hope for those who are now where I have been. This is as REAL as I've ever been...

Part 1

Christmas Eve has always been one of my favorite days of the year. A super happy time. This past year was different. I thought I was dying.

By the end of a day full of eating, present opening and even a beautiful snowfall, my arm was tingling and felt as if it was "asleep." I stayed up the entire night thinking that I was having a stroke. By morning, my other arm and legs were beginning to feel that way as well. I just knew that I had only a few hours to live. Should I watch the kids open presents for the last time or head to the ER? This was my mind.

Rewind about 20 years.

As a child I was always afraid of being sick; going to the doctor. I had experienced a reoccurring illness at a very young age. I remember having to endure invasive tests and procedures over an extended period of time and no one being able to figure out what was wrong with me. It was a lot for a 7 year old to absorb, both physically and emotionally.

I was finally diagnosed with something and the illness went away, but the psychological damage was already done. As I grew up I would always think that every little thing that was slightly off with me physically-- a scratch, a bruise, a bump-- must mean that there was something terribly wrong with me. I never wanted to go to the doctor because I was afraid of what we would find out. Totally irrational. But apparently a very common reaction after a serious childhood illness.

Incidentally, it was during this time of anxiety as a child that I began to turn to food for comfort. I hated to be alone at night. I could kill two birds with one stone by staying with my grandparents. At their house I could sleep in the bed with them and eat whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. I equated their house with safety and comfort and I would go there every chance I got.

Thankfully I have been relatively healthy throughout most of my life. I remember a few times in high school that I thought I was dying, but other than that I managed pretty well. It wasn't until last year as I reached a weight that was 100 pounds over my recommended range that health became an issue once again.

In October I was stricken with unbearable stomach pains that kept me doubled over for 3 days. Afraid to go to the doctor, sure that I would find out I had cancer, I chose to suffer. The abdominal pain was bad but what was going on in my head was excruciating. I put off going to the doctor until finally my symptoms eased up a bit. It turned out to be something minor.

In November both my kids and myself were constantly sick. Every time one of them was having difficulty breathing or my throat started to hurt, I went into panic mode. You see, this weird form of hypochondria extends to my children as well. The common cold translated to pneumonia in my mind. Between both children, our insurance records indicate that we went to the doctor no less than 13 times in the month of November. I would plan for my husband to be the one to take the kids. Bless his heart for willingly doing what many dads are never even asked to do. The agony of waiting to hear their diagnosis was more than I could take on several levels. The fear would cause me physical sickness and pain.

By Thanksgiving I was near a breaking point, but had no idea.

The week leading up to Christmas brought me an early gift. Cramps. Severe cramps that felt like the menstrual variety but weren't. I self-diagnosed the pain as ovarian cancer. That had to be it. I just remember becoming so extremely aware of the insides of my body that I could not concentrate on anything else. Every little twitch, pain, cramp...brought on more of the hysteria.

Christmas Eve was not particularly stressful. It was a beautiful snowy day, unusual for Texas. We had been to see both sides of the family and enjoyed fellowship and food with our loved ones. For the most part the cramps had subsided and I wasn't thinking about it too much. I had just opened my last present around 10:00 pm when the warm tingle began to creep up my right arm. It felt like my arm was asleep but there was no reason for that to be so. I had just been sitting there normal.

Immediately my heart began pounding. A stroke, I thought. I am going to be 29 when I die of a stroke on Christmas Eve.

We got home and I went to lay down. Justin had to put the kids down and lay all the presents out by himself. He just looked at me like I was crazy. I knew I must seem crazy, but I also knew what I felt in my arm. By the middle of the night my other arm was doing the same thing. This sent me into even more of a panic. I drifted in and out of sleep for a couple of hours but one time I woke up and realized that my right leg was tingling also.

Once the decision was made to take me to the ER, it was almost as if I had resigned to the fact that I was going to die. I had let go of the stroke theory. That would have killed me already. By this time I believed I had a brain tumor that was encroaching on my spine and affecting my central nervous system.

I sat in the ER for about 3 hours only to be told I had a pinched nerve in my neck. I was given a muscle relaxer, an anti-inflammatory drug and sent home. I really wanted to believe this was it, but I knew that wasn't what was wrong with me. I'm not a doctor or anything but I knew a pinched nerve on my right side wasn't likely to affect both arms and legs. But I took the meds and tried to believe I was okay.

After a few days on the meds and no change, I began to worry more. I knew they were wrong. My mind began to wander to dark places and I was panicing. At one point I could feel the tingly sensation in my cheeks, temples, and ears. I freaked.

I really and truly believed I was dying. Or I would not have been the one to call and make a doctor's appointment with my primary care doctor. As we drove into town to see him, my throat began to swell, or so it seemed. I thought I was not going to be able to breathe for much longer.

My Grey's Anatomy-educated guess was that the brain tumor was at the point where my neck and spine met. It was growing so exponentially fast that it was literally suffocating me as we drove. I thought about telling Justin to just keep on going to an ER but decided an ambulance could take me from the Dr. office as soon as he diagnosed me. I knew that I would be wheeled in to surgery immediately and I knew there was a good chance I wouldn't make it. I remember thanking God for giving me that Christmas with my children...

As I sat on the waxy paper in the doctors office, I could hear the tick-tock of the clock so loudly it hurt my ears. Soon the doc walked in. He gave a surprised glance at Justin (like dude, why are you here, too?) and I remember being so annoyed that he asked him about a football game out come. They discussed it. Seriously! Right there in front of me as I was being choked by my neck tumor.

So he did a neurological exam, asked me an extensive line of questions. Then he said the words that shocked the pants off me. He said, "Keelie, your symptoms are indicative of someone with anxiety."


In my mind I was trying to process that. He asked if I had been under any unusual stress lately? "No," was my expedient reply. "Not that I can think of." And truthfully--I couldn't. I didn't realize that my level of anxiety was different from any other mother or person. I thought it was normal to be in a constant state of panic and fright.

He assured me that I had no signs of any neurological problems, no MS, no tumors and wrote me a temporary prescription for Xanax. We walked back out to the car. I was in shock. I was trying to comprehend what he had just told me. I was thinking that was ridiculous. Absurd. I was looking at my diagnosis sheet skeptically reading the words GAD-Generalized Anxiety Disorder and that's when I noticed it.

The tingling sensation was gone. Completely. Not in my arms, legs, face, nowhere. And I could breathe just fine.

That's weird. The tumor must be...shrinking?

Oh. Wait.

Part 2


Kate said...

Can't wait for the rest of it.

Kara said...

I experienced the same thing about 8 years ago and totally convinced myself that I had MS. A doc gave me some meds and I was a lot better after realizing it was anxiety. Thanks for sharing your story and I'm axious to hear more.

SuperMegaAnna said...

This story is my experience with anxiety almost word for word... different days and even different terminal illness but same story. I can totally understand where you are coming from!

Kelly said...

I also have had similar experiences like this... Am having one right now. I want to believe my pain is nothing more than gas or heartburn.. but my mind tells me it's something more like a blood clot going straight to my heart or something..

I can't wait to read the rest of your story and thank you so much for being REAL and sharing!!

totallytheturtle said...

You are so not alone in this!! I work in an ER and see it so much. I can't wait to hear the rest of your story!

Lily Fluffbottom said...

I regularly convince myself that I have MS or MD or am on the verge of my heart exploding in my chest. I know its anxiety but it doesn't always make it easier to cope. Can't wait to read more.

cmoursler said...

This world is full of so much crap I am surprised we all aren't lying around convinced we are dying.
Big hugs for sharing that.

99ToGo said...

It appears we're not alone in this, no? I've had several ailments too, that turned out to not be so real afterall: MS, ALS, ovarian cancer, pancreatitis, heart attack, skin cancer...gee, there are so many.

The circumstances are different, and you were diagnosed with GAD much sooner than I, but in the end, same outcome. I look forward to reading Part II.

What I appreciate about this most, is how many people may recognize their own situation for what it is without having to go through 80 doctor's visits to get there.

Julie said...

I'd like to read the rest of this. I know that I can worry myself into a really terrible headache and stomach ache.
I hope that this has a happy ending but I know that sometimes it takes a bit of help to get there.
Take care and God Bless!!

Aunt Janet said...

It's like I am reading an autobiography. A word of advice, don't tell them your having racing thoughts...that my friend will get you a diagnosis of Bi-polar. I disagree with that but that is another post entirely.

A Girl Who Loves Cupcakes said...

Thank you for writing this. I have a generalized anxiety disorder as well. I have insomnia as a result and have been struggling with whether I wanted to discuss this on my blog. I have tried 19 different medications to help with sleep. The one that worked the best made me gain almost 40lbs in 6 months so we're trying something new yet again. It's nice to know I'm not the only one, I look forward to reading more about your story.

Anonymous said...

You can get past anxiety and know when it comes on. I can recognize it and ask cast them on my Lord. Yes, I still have issues (can you say send your only child to kindergarten is a anxious time!) that can last days, yet there is hope to get over it. Keelie, you've described it all so well. Look forward to #2

Kristi said...

Awe. :-( It made me really sad to read this. I know I've already heard it all but it was just hard to read how scared you truly were. LOVE YOU! SOOOOOO glad you are good now!

Can do mom said...

I'm so sorry you've gone through such a struggle. As you know, I have gone through the cancer battle (ten years ago) and I've got the scars to prove it! I didn't believe the doctors when they told me they thought it was cancer. It was only after surgery when I'd been given a complete emergency hysterectomy that I began to accept that I had cancer.

I'm a little sad today because I met with a doctor about my chest pain and he discussed the nodule found in my lung during my CT scan. They want to scan me again in six months to see if it has grown. Just sitting there in the doctor's office and having that kind of conversation (with words like oncologist, biopsy, treatment, etc.) with a doctor made me sad. It's been a long time since I've been to that dark place and it kind of brought me back there.

Life isn't easy, is it? Well, my hat's off to you and your positive attitude and the way you have faced your challenges and are in the process of overcoming them!

Good job.