I woke up sick the other night and checked the time.
I thought about getting out of bed to use the bathroom, but I was shivering, even beneath two blankets and a comforter. My stomach clenched and unclenched repeatedly and I thought I was going to throw up, but then I wasn’t. Then I was. Clearly, I had a fever. Where’s the thermometer? I thought hard and sighed. It was downstairs, in the medicine cabinet where it belonged.
I waited just a bit longer but felt so ill, so strange, that I finally forced myself up and out of bed. I moved as quickly as I could in my off-kilter state, pausing to check the thermostat to make sure it was set above “Antarctic.” It was steady at its normal 72 degrees. I made my way downstairs and grabbed the thermometer.
I bolted back upstairs, curled back up in bed, and checked my temperature.
So…basically normal. I checked the time.
All I wanted to do was sleep but I still felt weird. Nauseated, maybe? Yes, that was it. I was going to throw up. Then I wasn’t. I lay there miserably, thinking, thinking, thinking. I noticed my legs, jiggling in a restless staccato and then I couldn’t stop noticing them. I texted Casey.
I feel sick. I can’t sleep.
He responded, “Bummer.” I checked the time again.
I thought about the morning and how tired I’d be. I thought about calling off from work and how much extra work that would be. I thought about the fact that I don’t have any extra days to take and how I never get enough sleep. I thought and I worried and I didn’t sleep and I felt sick and my legs kept jiggling. I checked the time again.
And then it hit me – this wasn’t sick, this was another panic attack.
* * * * *
I started having panic attacks in December. The longest one lasted two hours – two hours of misery. My insides itched and my legs moved constantly, my mind raced and fear and anxiety engulfed me for no apparent reason. The attacks almost always happened at night, usually right before I fell asleep, when I was most relaxed.
I’ve put off outside help for over a year. I talked to a therapist once and then made excuses not to go back – I was too busy or too tired. After all, why should I be the one having panic attacks, why should I be the one who couldn’t deal when I wasn’t the one who was sick? I should be able to hold it together. I should be strong. I should be capable. I should be. I should be. I should be.
But I wasn’t.
I’ve struggled with anxiety my entire life, but it’s gotten worse since Casey was diagnosed with cancer. I thought it was something I had to fight my way through, something to bear on my own. Sometimes it left me broken and depressed, crying and moaning about nothing and everything. Other times, it made me nearly manic, panicking about doing nothing and everything. It was my normal, it was me, so what was the use in changing it?
Until that last attack finally scared me enough that I sought help. There was nothing normal about waking up sick and fearful in the middle of the night. I didn’t have to suffer through sleeplessness and racing thoughts.
When I explained to the doctor why I thought I’d begun spiraling, he asked me why I waited so long. I shrugged – I didn’t have an answer. He asked me whether I thought it was more anxiety or more depression. I said it was hard to tell the difference. He nodded and said sometimes they were the same thing. He asked me if I’d been sleeping. I showed him the circles beneath my eyes. Then he wrote me a prescription, shook my hand, and told me he was glad I came to see him.
Somewhat reluctantly, I started taking the pills. Xanax for panic attacks. Zoloft for anxiety/depression. Trazodone for insomnia. I tried not to make it a big deal, but secretly I hated it. I didn’t want to be medicated. I didn’t want to be a zombie. And anyway, I didn’t think they’d really help.
I was wrong.
* * * * *
Last night I woke up in the middle of the night and looked at the clock.
Good, I thought. I still have hours left to sleep.
Then I rolled over, settled back in, and fell right back to sleep.