With the world mourning the loss of our beloved comedian, Robin Williams, there has been much discussion centered around depression and mental illness. I haven’t blogged for awhile and decided to share my own experience and what happened to me about 25 years ago. Maybe I can help someone reading this to not feel alone. So… here is my story.
I was sitting in a class being trained for a new position where I worked. The instructor wanted to go around the room and have each of us introduce ourselves. I had done this several times before in previous training classes. No big deal. But on that particular day, out of the blue, my heart started racing, my chest tightened up and I couldn’t breathe. My thoughts were lost and I couldn’t think or concentrate on anything. I heard the instructor say, “next,” and she pointed at me to begin my introduction. I couldn’t speak. The class was staring at me, smiling at me, waiting for me to say something… anything. Their smiles were not friendly in my mind, but instead rather haunting. Everyone looked like Jack Nicholson from that one scene in “The Shining.” I on the other hand, felt like a character out of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” What in the world was happening to me. I was able to utter a few words but I had to get out of this situation, fast! I decided to fake an asthma attack so I could be excused to get a drink of water. (I don’t have asthma.) Outside in the hallway I tried to calm myself down before going back into the classroom. That was my first ever experience with a panic attack.
As time went on, my attacks became more and more frequent. If I was called on to read I couldn’t do it without hyperventilating. I was constantly figiting, trying to escape the awful feelings of fear. If I was talking one on one to my best friend, she would all of a sudden look like an enemy that was judging me and laughing at me for being a fool. I struggled more and more trying to control whatever it was that had a hold on me. I would go to book stores and sit on the floor reading self-help books on panic disorders and how to ovecome them. I tried all of their suggestions but nothing worked. One day I discovered kelp – yep, seaweed . For some reason when I took kelp, my heart would stop racing and I could breathe like a normal person. I took kelp several times daily. I kept several bottles in my purse at all times. Anytime and every time I had to talk to someone, I would down a few kelp tablets to appear sane, normai, and in control. I lived like this for several years, trying to deal with panic and anxiety without outside help. What my mind was telling me is that it would look foolish to go seek the help of a doctor because they too would just laugh at me.
Back in those days, I didn’t pay for groceries with an ATM or credit card. I wrote checks. I became so fearful of the outside worid, I was unable to write out a check in front of a cashier. My hand would shake and I would have to take several deep breaths to get through it. The cashier, like everyone else, was judging me. When this disorder reached a peak was the day my home phone rang and I ran upstairs and hid in my closet. I was terrified of who might be calling. Another enemy? I don’t think I had any enemies but my mind was telling me different. It was that day that I decided I had to get help or I would surely go cazy.
The day I went to my doctor my blood pressure and pulse were off the chart. I was hysterical and gasping for breath. My doctor asked me what I was afraid of. I told her nothing and everything. My world was completely upside down. Nothing looked right side up anymore. Since that day, I have been on medication for generalized anxiety disorder (GAD); “a mental health condition for which a person is often worried or anxious about many things and finds it hard to control this anxiety.”
Within a few weeks I returned to my old self and eventually I became a training instructor, able to speak for 8 straight hours, 5 days a week in front of a classroom full of students. I robbed myself of several years thinking it would be shameful in admitting that I have a form of mental illness. Some of us aren’t as fortunate. My demons weren’t as powerful as some others have to endure. But I do know from experience what a horrible way it was to live, feeling terrified and in constant fear. I do understand Mr. Williams seeking relief and I know he is now free. There’s just so much we can take. I know I am one of the lucky ones.