My first anxiety attack was in October 1980 , at a Grateful Dead concert at Radio City Music Hall. I thought it was bad pot. It wasnít. I realized this when days later the same series of physical and mental ailments began anew; shortness of breath, a feeling of impending death, the certainty that either my tongue was swelling enough to block my airwaves or my throat had closed up; the feeling of numbness in my brain, as if reality had just left town and I was now and forever stuck in a bad dream.
It was all in my head, I was told. I must be anxious about something, they said. I was barely 18, just out of high school, had no real obligations in my life and I was enjoying the hell out of the freedom that holding off on college afforded me. The biggest decision I had to make at that time was whether or not to drive to Jersey the next evening (Halloween) to go see Todd Rundgren (we didnít).
I was always a bit high-strung and a bit neurotic. I worry about everything, including the amount of worrying I do about worrying. I avoid social gatherings (which explains why I was standing by the doors of Radio City, almost poised to make an escape, rather than doing some moon-child freak dance in the aisles with my friends), I hate being in crowds. Every situation outside of the house is an exercise in panic avoidance. If we are going to a concert or hockey game or movie, I have to find out ahead of time where the bathrooms were, just in case I have to maneuver my way through a crowd of people to get there - I need to know the fastest, most direct route. And then I refuse to drink anything - beer, soda, water, whatever - making the possibility of having to walk all the way to the bathroom less likely. Wondering why Iíve ditched you every time I responded that I would come to one of those New York blogger bashes? I have good intentions, really. But by the time the day of the get together rolls around I realize that I cannot do it. I canít face a big group of virtually unknown people. I blew a CNN interview the same way. Blew them off at the last minute because I Just.Couldnít.Do it. I
I was claustrophobic from an early age (it didnít help when my sisters locked me in a closet to test whether I was lying about my claustrophobia or not). Iím afraid of heights and afraid of water, thus giving me a fear of suspension bridges. You ever see anyone trying to drive over the GWB with their eyes closed? Iíve attempted it. Iím afraid of flying not because I think airplanes are dangerous and not because of terrorism, but due to my claustrophobia and fear of heights. I manage to get to Florida (a 2 Ĺ hour trip) if I have a drink or a handful of Excedrin PM beforehand. But donít ever expect me to meet you in California for any reason.
All my anxieties and fears manifest themselves in my dreams. I can remember as far back as ten years old, dreaming about horrifying plane crashes. Iíve always had vivid, detailed, colorful dreams. There are many occurring themes, including the one where I am driving to Yankee Stadium and the Triboro bridge suddenly winds like a roller coaster and dips into the water. As I approach the part of the road that lies under the ocean, I go into full fledge panic attack and I wake up, wheezing and gasping for air. Sometimes I wake up with the feeling that my throat has been filled with ocean water and I canít breathe. Sometimes I have claustrophobia dreams and I wake up with the feeling that someone is sitting on my chest and I canít breathe. Iíve also experienced dream paralysis, where you try to wake up but canít and your legs and/or arms are like pieces of iron laying at your side. Youíre stuck in a dream, unable to move or wake yourself up.
And thatís my panic history. I know there are plenty of you who can commiserate with me. Iíve read your emails, Iíve listened to your stories and itís really good to know that Iím not the only one. I never thought I was, but itís certainly comforting to know that there are people smarter and seemingly more together than I am who suffer from the same sense of panic and anxiety.
I eventually learned how to get the panic attacks under control. I also learned how to arrange my life so I lessen the chances of going into full panic mode. I stay away from things that make my time bomb tick, for the most part. Well, I did.
While the anxiety and low level clinical depression were always there with me, the attacks pretty much stopped. Until September 11, 2001. The events of that day and the subsequent weeks set the alarms off all over again, unleashing all the panic and anxiety that had been hovering just below level, waiting for something to spark their revolution. This was it. In a big way.
The first week or two I vacillated, like most people, between sadness and anger. There was also despair and helplessness and a myriad of other feelings that were absolutely uncontrollable. I think there was hardly a person that September that didnít feel all those things. But for those of us with those angry little chemical imbalances, the trigger had been pulled.
I waited a long time - until March of the following year - to see if I could get it under control myself. By the second week in March I was having about five attacks a day. I had no control over my emotions. I called in sick way too many days, spent a lot of time at home curled up in a fetal position or lashing out on ASV. I had retreated while my phobias and neuroses made their attack on my system. They won.
I finally took the advice of many people and saw my doctor. The rest of that story has been told already. You can look it up if you like.
For two years I experienced a combination of medical manipulation. Different doses of Paxil, combined with various doses of Wellbutrin did the trick. I am not going to go on a rant against medication. Itís wonderful. It did what it was supposed to do. I had more control over my emotions. I felt more like I was living on an even keel instead of a roller coaster. The panic attacks disappeared. Completely. I had more ambition, more energy. It was great. For a while.
Two years on, I felt like the need for the medication was gone. The misery of the post-9/11 days had lessened. And while I was still experiencing a build up in my emotions, I think they are normal emotions for a politically charged person to have during a war. I no longer liked the idea of being doubly medicated every day. I wanted to be self sufficient. And, the more research I did on Paxil, the less I liked the idea of loading that garbage into my system every day. The other medications offered - Effexor and the like - seemed to be less like poison and more like what I needed, but what I really needed to be clean for a change. I wanted to go back to being myself. While the medicated me was a fairly nice person with a nice personality and all, I knew that deep down I was not myself. Forget the sexual side effects, thatís something you donít even want to know about, let alone deal with. I think my emotions were too under wrap. I barely cried anymore, when I was known for crying at Kleenex commercials. I would end arguments with my husband or children abruptly because I just didnít care. A simple fuck you, idiot was all I needed to get my point across. Thatís not healthy. I knew that. And I knew that burying my emotions was not healthy, either.
So I went off the medications, both of them, and you can read all about that if you go through the April archives.
Iím almost at the two week point of being drug-free. It has not been easy. It has, indeed, been hell. I have a family member who quit heroin. I joke that he had an easier time of it because at least they gave him methadone. The doctor did tell me that de-toxing would not be easy. For some people, it lasts three days or less. For others (apparently, Iím an ďotherĒ) it lasts much longer. Itís like having the flu, a hangover and drug withdrawal all at once. Iím determined to make it, though. I have the Xanax should I need it, but so far I have not even filled the prescription for it.
My emotions at this time are uncontrollable. My tempers is incredibly short. My mood swings are violent and acute. Everything makes me angry, tearful, upset, scared...you name it. I donít like not being in control of myself, which is the reason I stopped doing drugs back in the early 80's. And yes, perhaps those drugs of my past have something to do with my brain of the present. But knowing that wonít make it any different, so itís not something Iím going to think to heavily about right now. I mention this to people and they ask, what kind of drugs? Itís not something I want to get into. Letís just say that I could never run for public office, or do anything in which a detailed look into my background would be necessary. But we all have those skeletons. Some of us let others see them, and some hide them. I see no shame in being human and admitting it.
And I do admit that Iíve not behaved in an adult manner lately. I know this, Iím aware of it and I am trying to control that part of me that has that penchant for making enemies.
This is a crazy time in my life (looks like I picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue, heh). Iím in the middle of buying a house; we have two weeks to pack up and move. Thereís the usual money issues that come with buying a house, plus Natalie needs braces and, while I finally made the last payment on my car, we do need a second car desperately.
So why am I telling you all this? Well, Iíve never been one to shy away from the personal aspects of life. While I do write about war and politics, video games and comic books, music and movies, I always interspersed those topics with the personal. Some of you know more about my personal life than my family members do. I feel that because I have kept you posted about my life from the very beginning, itís only right to let you know the reason if I happen to disappear for a while.
Iíve threatened this before. I claimed that I was going to go on hiatus only to come back the next day. Iíve said I was going to give it up entirely but found that I didnít have the balls to do it. I enjoy it too much. For the most part, at least.
I think Iíll experiment for now. If it wasnít for the fact that I committed myself to raising money for Spirit of America next week, I might have just put up a ďgone fishingĒ sign and packed my virtual bags. But I owe it to SOA to continue with what I started.
Weíll start by saying that I certainly wonít be posting anything new until Monday, when Iíll have something to say on the anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing. Weíll take it from there. I will always, no matter what I do with ASV, keep Voices open - I will even be expanding it soon. I will always be at Command Post. Youíll see me at Blogcritics from time to time.
But this place has not been good for my mental health. Itís funny that Iím finally approaching the 10,000 hits a day range, and Iím thinking of calling it quits. The thing is, I think a lot of people come here for the train wreck aspect. I donít want to be anybodyís train wreck. I donít want to be the victim of rubbernecking brought on by my own drunk driving. I donít want to spend my days arguing and angry, especially now that I donít have the little blue and white pills to temper my emotions.
Am I mentally unbalanced? Perhaps. But I think we all are in a way. Itís just a matter of having that Anti-Cupidís arrow of hate being shot in your ass. Some of us get it, some of us get out of the way in time.
I have to spend some more time concentrating on ways to make more money, concentrating on my writing and how to turn that into a buck or two. I have to stop spending so much time doing this and doing more around the house to help my husband, who need his free time to make more art to pay more bills. Itís a vicious cycle, one we all have been a part of, or will be at some point.
I will be back on Monday, that much is certain, to fulfill obligations that I want to fulfill. After that, ASV will take on a decidedly different tone, if it is still here at all. I think if I took a vote, there would be plenty of ballots cast for concentrating on gaming, comic books and all things pop culture. But Iím afraid there would be many more cast for continuing with the war/politics talk. Let me tell you straight out: that is not going to happen. Either ASV comes back as a pop culture blog or it doesnít come back at all. That is a promise to myself that I intend to keep. If I lose some readers, so be it. There are many wonderful, less bile filled blogs that concentrate on those areas and do it with diplomacy and tact instead of wielding a sharpened sword and slicing at will.
Iíve made the Hulk joke many times: You wonít like me when Iím angry. Well guess what? I donít like me when Iím angry.
The ASV you have been reading for the past three years is no more. Check back Monday or Tuesday to see what, if anything, is in itís place.
Thank you to everyone who has kept this blog company for the past three years. Even those with whom I argue have made this a worthwhile endeavor. Iíve learned a lot from all of you. Iíve learned so much about myself, about politics, the world and the goodness of people. Iíve made tons of wonderful friends, friends who have promised to let me vent to them whenever I get the urge to open up my Moveable Type page and blog politics again. I've lived and learned through this blog in ways I never thought possible. I've "met" people I never would have known existed, and I've read their words and shared their pains and successes. I've had millions of visitors to this place. Millions. I have a hard time comprehending that. To everyone who has graced me with their presence here, thank you. I think I've done more good than harm here. A million click throughs, a million differente opinions, a million different takes on the same subject.
I've seen a million faces an I've rocked them all. Iíd like to think, anyhow.
*At first glance, you may not understand why this song applies, but if you stare at it a while, like one of those 3d pictures, the truth reveals. Freedom like a shopping cart, indeed.
A Christian, an anarchist-slashprostitute, figures out the true meaning of freedom
Not freedom like America, freedom like a shopping cart
Kick back, no tense, you got a bag of grub it cost you about 50 cents
No fear, no fuckin feats, malt liquor tastes much better on the streets
Crustin, a way of life for heroines and heroes who hitchike the road to Eden
Not Eden like the garden state, Eden like the state of mind
Kick back, cheap thrills, you'll do anything for a lugh even if it kills you
The bridge you took it out, the ticket takers suddenly lost count
Sleeping under rays, your teeth crumbling away, say goodbye
To all responsibility, you never wanted it man
Wasting time whenever you get the chance
Which happens to be all the time
Kick back, free meals
A couple of times a day you make a coupe if shady deals
No work, no fuckin pay
Cardboard condiminium by the bay
You're between the red and black, you're never goin' back
Say goodbye, to all responsibility
You never wanted it man
Update: You can download the whole song at Amazon