Lately my anxiety has been on what I’ll call “high alert.” It’s not that anything really difficult or crazy has been happening (though yes, occasionally something random will occur and trigger my OCD), it’s more that I’ve been feeling almost constantly on edge.

Emotional/Mental and Physical Responses

Sometimes I feel like my brain can’t relax, like for some reason it needs something to worry about or freak out about all the time. If “nothing” is going wrong, it will create something. It will invent uncertainty or a new thing to have anxiety around just so that it can worry and make me tense and uncomfortable.

This, of course, leads me to feel as if my body is in a constant state of tension. As I mentioned in an earlier post, this brings its own physical problems and issues, including jaw tension and clenching, tension in other muscles, and an overwhelming lack of being and feeling relaxed. It’s almost like I can’t relax. My body is in “fight or flight” mode, ready to take off and unable to let go.

This then makes the anxiety and OCD worse in my case. I worry. I feel like I should be relaxed, like I’m ruining my body by making it endure so much stress. I’m convinced it messes with my digestion and feelings of general well being. But I do not know how to get rid of this constant state of worry and anxiety.

I went back on birth control to hopefully help with my endometriosis and pain I was feeling possibly in relation to that, and I wonder if some of these feelings are related to that medication. Sometimes I feel like the chronic physical and mental illnesses I have are at odds with each other, like I can’t help one without having a setback in the other. It all feels really self defeating, like I have to choose one or the other, while in reality both seem to suffer and not improve regardless.

Hope/Depression

As such, I have also been feeling a lack of hope. Generally, I feel tired of dealing with my OCD and my anxiety. I feel like it will never go away, and, as a result, I am resigned to it. It’s almost like I just crawl along through each day because I know I must and have no other option. I do not have much hope that fighting it or not fighting it will do much good in the long run. My thoughts lately have been to simply survive and power through, hopefully not damaging my brain or body too much day by day.

Maybe this means that I’m also experiencing some depression. But I just feel like I have been going to therapy for a long time, did well for a bit, and now here I am, not doing well and not motivated or having faith in the therapy at the moment. I am dreading doing things—exposures, etc.—or even of having to go to therapy and receive homework assignments. It’s more of an apathy at times than an actual fear of facing my “obsessions.” Lately it’s all seeming futile and not worth it—like going to therapy is too much of an investment emotionally and in regards to the energy it requires for the reward that I’m seeing.

My husband reminds me that I can go back on medication. Yes, that is true. But part of me feels like that is a cop out for me personally at this point, like I should be able to use the CBT and therapy instead. Also, going on medication last time had a really rough introductory phase (see: intense depression and not wanting to live anymore) and going off wasn’t particularly great either. I really don’t want to live through those phases again.

Disclaimer

I do apologize for this downer of a blog post, but I think it’s important to be honest with our mental illnesses and mental health. It’s important to acknowledge that we don’t live with our mental illness in a vacuum. Our physical, emotional, spiritual, and social health affect it and vice versa.

It’s also essential to know and understand that recovery isn’t always permanent. It sucks, sure, but that’s reality. Our trajectory isn’t always one direction or the other. It is up and down and sometimes the downs are really low and the ups aren’t as high as we’d like. Sometimes it’s the opposite.

Hopefully I’ll figure things out. I’m not sure when or how I’ll do that, but for now I’ll just keep on moving ahead, trying not to let any one day or any one failure get the best of me. I hope you do the same.

Have you felt like this before? What methods have you used or done to pick yourself back up? 

2 thoughts on “When Your Anxiety is on High Alert”

  1. I’m really sorry to hear that you are feeling so hopeless. It’s a rough ride, ups and downs.

    Personally, I don’t understand why you are not willing to go back on meds and find it to be a “cop-out.” You know as well as I do that OCD is largely biological and what you are saying here, (in my mind that is,) is no different than I have pneumonia but I refuse to take meds because that is a cop-out and I can just think myself well. I have been concerned about you and watched this downward slide for the past six months or so ever since you quit. And, yes, I believe you know yourself well enough to realize that this is depression compounded with OCD making it feel like you have no energy to cope and besides, why even try?

    Just finished the great book, “The man who couldn’t stop”, by the British author, David Adam, who was the keynote speaker at the IOCDF conference last July in Chicago. In it, he stated, that he feels no need to go off of medication and his psychiatrist told him, “What gets you well, keeps you well.” I found that to be a fascinating and incredibly hopeful statement.

    I have taken medication every day of my life for the last 26 and a half years, including the last 7 weeks of my pregnancy when I began it. I remember seeing 5 doctors in three weeks, desperate to find someone who would prescribe for me. They all agreed that I would benefit but none was willing to start it because Prozac at the time was only a few years old and not really tested that well on pregnant women. Finally I found a dual psychiatrist/internist (who if I remember right was $350 an hour out of pocket nearly 27 years ago!), that was willing to start me and had started hundreds of pregnant women before, with none having any damage to their babies. He was probably in his late 50’s or early 60’s, so he had been around a long time with the frustration of having only inadequate means of helping OCD sufferers. I will NEVER forget his comment to me as tears were running down my face because I was so enslaved to my OCD.

    He said quietly, “WE HAVE BEEN WAITING FOR MEDICATIONS LIKE THESE ALL OUR LIVES. IT WOULD BE A SHAME NOW NOT TO USE THEM.”

    When I was your age, nothing was available, certainly not medication or ERP. I had to wear a rubber band around my wrist and snap it when I felt an obsessive thought, and I was assured by a psychologist that I was paying good money to, that if I had 30 or less snaps per day I was “cured.” As if that wasn’t a setup for failure, I’d be beating myself up by saying, “this is snap 57 and it’s only 9:00 in the morning, I must be beyond all hope.”

    When he finally admitted that he couldn’t help me, (but assured me that I would be featured in his next book because my case was so unusual), he then sent me off to have primal scream therapy. The theory here being that if I could only regress back though my childhood and be reborn, all of this would go away. I was of particular concern to these quacks because I had been born by C-section and obviously traumatized without a natural birth.

    You have the resources to get better, with both ERP and meds. Because our brains are shaped differently and wired differently than those without our disorder, medication works to restore them back to functioning more like someone without. It is much like a diabetic and insulin.

    I have low thyroid and my Dr told me years ago to think of my SSRIs (yes, I take two at about the highest dosages possible, and have been on an anti-psychotic at times to augment that), as I did my thyroid supplement. He said at least a decade ago, “We are not sophisticated enough to understand exactly how these medications work, we just know that they do.

    Anyway, just wanted to share with you my feelings today because you do not have to be suffering this much. You said you “should” be just using CBT but can’t make yourself do it, so how much longer are you going to let this go on? As I said, I am really concerned about you and have been for several months. My advice (unsolicited I know, and of course it is totally your choice), is to revisit what worked before. Even your husband has been encouraging you to. If you don’t want to for yourself, how about for your family and the memories your children will have. I’m rooting for you. Let us know your choice.

    God bless you.

  2. I wondered if this would be a helpful article to read. Alison Dotson is a speaker at the IOCDF conference this July in San Francisco and has written a book. Many well people I know with OCD still take medication. I really like the quote from the psychiatrist in David Adam’s book, “What gets you well, keeps you well.” You deserve to feel better. You don’t have to be suffering this much.

    Recovery Is a Journey: Remaining Vigilant
    By Alison Dotson

    I had a hard day last week. Since I was formally diagnosed with OCD nearly seven years ago, I have had more good days than bad, something I sometimes take for granted. I responded well to the first medication I tried, my psychiatrist was compassionate and informed, the self-help techniques I used really helped me, and every time I tell a friend or family member about my disorder I’m met with love and support.

    So I guess you could say I’ve been lucky—maybe too lucky, because this past month I became too lax about taking care of myself. I forgot to be diligent about taking my medication and getting professional help.

    I don’t like making excuses, but here’s one anyway: I loved my psychiatrist so much and trusted him so implicitly that when I found out last July that he’d accepted a job in another state I got a little stubborn. I knew logically that he hadn’t abandoned me; he’s a brilliant man who had taken on a new and well-deserved opportunity. But I was worried. He made me feel so normal and so accepted and gave me hope that I would get better that I felt unsure that anyone else could measure up. What if I made an appointment with a new doctor and she was mean? What if she had some sort of tough-love policy or just wasn’t very friendly? I like outwardly friendly people who smile and make eye contact and say nice things. I tend to feel bad if someone doesn’t seem to like me or is too business-like.

    I gave these fears too much power and I made some mistakes. I put off making an appointment with a new psychiatrist. Weeks and then months passed and I hadn’t even begun looking for a replacement. I had enough medication refills to last a while, and then I called the clinic I had been going to for years and a nurse there agreed to give me another refill on the condition that I’d make an appointment with a doctor. This was my last chance, and I’d already waited too long—they were no longer taking any of my doctor’s former patients, so I’d have to go somewhere else. She sent me a list of referrals, which I skimmed and then tucked away somewhere and forgot about.

    Suddenly—or, at least, it felt sudden—I was down to one bottle of pills. I still hadn’t called any of the doctors from the referral list. That sole bottle of antidepressants should have gotten the wheels turning, but instead, I ignored my better instincts and started to ration the pills instead.

    Once I realized I would run out of pills before I’d get in to see someone, I began searching online for OCD psychiatrists in Minneapolis and found a few names in the IOCDF’s Treatment Provider Database. But I still couldn’t bring myself to call. I had plenty of “reasons”: I didn’t want my coworkers to overhear; I was too busy at work to bring my cell phone somewhere private and call from there; or, by the time I got home, the offices were closed.

    Running dangerously low on medication and taking only partial doses—or none at all—each day, I finally called the clinic. Not surprisingly, it would be a few weeks until I could get in to see someone. Once I was completely out of medication I considered calling the doctor and explaining that I’d be in soon, and could she write a prescription for even a small amount until my appointment?

    But that seemed to be too much trouble, too, so I kept rationing pills, knowing full well I would go through withdrawal symptoms and needed my medication sooner than later. It was finally the week of the appointment, and my body was starting to react to my poor decisions. I couldn’t concentrate at work; I felt jittery and like my brain was ticking on and off.
    Just a couple more days, I told myself. Then, I just have to hold out until tomorrow.

    I was so desperate the day before the appointment that I considered sending an email to several coworkers asking if any of them had anxiety, and if so, did they have any medication? Bad idea! I didn’t do it, thank goodness. That night I prepared for the appointment by writing down the directions, including the address.

    The next morning I headed out for the appointment and found the general area pretty easily—but the night before, in my nervous and jittery state, I had written down the wrong address number. I kept driving past the same building, thinking, this can’t be right. It’s not what I wrote down. I finally pulled over in a parking lot, frustrated and in tears, and got in touch with the doctor.

    “I’m lost,” I told her, crying. And the fear I’d had for so many months proved baseless right then and there. Her voice was very kind, and she wrote down my cell phone number in case we got disconnected while she transferred me to someone who was better with directions.

    When I got to the front desk the doctor stopped by and said, “Is this Alison?” I’m a sucker for nice people, so I started to cry again. She led me back to her office, and we just chatted for about 45 minutes or so. She was friendly. She was compassionate. She was understanding. Why had I waited so long?

    She sent a prescription to my pharmacy, so I left her office feeling more hopeful. The big, scary step was out of the way. I had found a great new doctor. Now I just needed to get some medication into my system so I could function at work. Unfortunately, the computers were down at the pharmacy, so they said they’d have to call later. That meant I’d have to go to work feeling agitated, having already cried that morning and still struggling with withdrawal symptoms. I went to work anyway, but instead of even trying to do my job I went straight to my boss and said, through tears, “I’d really like to go home. My medication still isn’t ready, and I just don’t think I can do it.”

    Luckily I had already told her that I have OCD—she even knew I was running low on medication, so telling her now that I was going through withdrawal wasn’t as hard as it might have been otherwise.

    I left my car in the parking lot, opting instead to take a refreshing walk to the bus stop and get a ride home. I felt sick. And kind of stupid. I’m an adult. I’ve been taking the same medication for seven years. I know what it does to me if I don’t take it regularly. Heck, I wrote a book for teens and young adults with OCD, and I stress the importance of staying on top of therapy, medication, self-help, the works. I hadn’t followed my own advice. I felt like a hypocrite, and I had missed an entire day of work because I couldn’t work up the courage to meet a new doctor.

    It doesn’t matter that I’ve been doing this, taking care of myself, for seven years. I still have to be vigilant. I have to remember that I am where I am—happy and relatively obsession-free—because I found a doctor so many years ago, because I take the same prescribed dose of medication day in and day out, and because I address each obsession that pops up with positive self-talk. I can’t do this on my own, but I need to be my own best ally, not my own worst enemy. I must follow my own advice and take care of me above all else, not because I’m selfish but because I’m no good to myself or others if I fall apart.

    OCD recovery is a journey, and I am still on it. I probably will be for the rest of my life, and I can’t become complacent. Where I am now is such an incredible improvement over where I was before my diagnosis seven years ago, and I want the rest of my life to be great.

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