Disclaimer: If you have anxiety or OCD and your symptoms are triggered by frank discussion about germs, fear and the like, then proceed with caution – and take care of yourself. YOU ARE NOT ALONE.
It was a regular Saturday afternoon in late fall. Hubby and I were out shopping when I decided to try on a couple of shirts. I was in a hurry (we were just running out quickly before heading off to a nice date night dinner) so I found the nearest fitting room and ran in.
I’ve been in a mood lately where I haven’t wanted to carry a full on purse so I just had my keys attached to a little Vera Bradley key chain wallet. I hooked them on to one of the coat hooks and started trying out my selections. When I accidentally knocked them off of the hook, I shrugged it off because I was in a hurry. I didn’t even look down.
When I finally looked down and grabbed them, I realized something was very, very wrong. My keys and wallet had fallen on to a panty liner. An unwrapped, folded up panty liner. It didn’t appear to be soiled from what I could see, but still. Just the thought of that is gross.
It was gross right? I did what most people would do in the situation. (I think so anyway…but we’ll get back to that in a minute.) I found the nearest store clerk and alerted them to the uh unmentionable in the fitting room. Then, I went to customer service to get a plastic bag for my keys and wallet. I didn’t plan on touching them again until I could disinfect them. And then, I went to wash my hands. Twice. With warm water and anti-bacterial soap.
That’s where a normal person and I part ways.
You see, I have debilitating anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). I was able to hold myself together inside the store, even on the car ride home. But the moment I got home, I lost every semblance of control that I had. I washed my hands yet again…and again. I called our insurance nurse hotline to check on how to disinfect the keys appropriately. I called every “normal” person I know to compare how I was reacting to how they would have reacted in the same situation.
My sister in law was incredibly helpful and suggested that perhaps, since it appeared to be clean and had been there awhile (it was dusty), it was probably a clean liner that didn’t come in a wrapper and someone had just folded it and stashed it in a pocket in case they needed it. Then as they were trying on clothes it fell out of the pocket.
It made sense to my logical side. I mean, how does one lose a pad they are wearing? It’s never happened to me at least, and I’ve been wearing them long enough to know.
The only problem with anxiety is that it’s not ruled by logic. It actually pushes all logic aside and beats it into submission.
The fear became too much and for once I couldn’t get control. I began sobbing uncontrollably, loudly, painfully. It would lull just long enough for me to feel like I was OK and then it would come back with a vengeance. I was afraid of everything all at once. I was afraid I was dying. I was afraid I would catch a disease. I was afraid of losing my husband, my home, my life. Even I recognized that this was bad.
I never, ever relent to going to the doctor. I actually dislike therapy (or rather, my two previous therapists) and have been told conflicting things about the efficacy of medication so I never allowed myself to consider it as an option. Also, doctors scare the crap out of me. That night, none of that mattered. I asked to go to urgent care.
Hubby called the nurse hotline to ask whether or not we should go to the ER since all of the urgent care centers in town were closed. By this point I couldn’t move from my chair, I was still sobbing uncontrollably and I was in full on anxiety attack mode. They took my symptoms and encouraged him to take me to the ER right away.
I’m going to admit to you that in the 14 years I’ve been fighting this, that was my lowest point. It was also the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I associate hospitals with death and germs. I associate doctors with pain. All of those things trigger more anxiety. It was the catch 22 of all catch 22s.
I called my best friend on the way and as we pulled in to the parking lot I wasn’t sure I could go through with it. By the time I got off of the phone, I just wanted it over. My husband said we could turn around and go home, but I couldn’t. I needed help. I remember telling him, “Let’s just get it over with.” and I got out of the car.
He held my hand all the way in. He tried to make me laugh as we waited to be seen. He stayed with me as long as they would let him before they took me back (he had to be cleared through security first – hospital policy). He was my lifeline.
As I sat waiting for both the doctor and for my husband to reappear, I felt stupid, scared, angry and tired.
The doctor (who was insanely kind and compassionate) listened patiently, took a look at my hands (no cuts or open wounds), and reassured me that there was virtually no way I had contracted anything from my encounter. But then. Then, she conceded that she knew that knowing I was fine wouldn’t stop the anxiety. And then she said something that I will never forget.
“Let’s get you something to help stop the spiral.”
Stop the spiral.
If you don’t have an anxiety problem, you don’t know what it means to have someone accurately describe what you’re feeling. It’s like a life raft. It’s like an oasis in the desert. It’s like coming up for air.
She gave me a very low dose of Xanax and a referral to see a psychologist and psychiatrist.
By the time we left the emergency room I was feeling more relaxed…not totally myself, but I wasn’t sobbing anymore and I really wanted a hot shower and dinner. I’d ruined our date night, but I’d taken a step toward health.
That was last Saturday night. Since then, I’ve set up an appointment with a local psychologist. I’ve faced touching the wallet that fell (but not yet the keys…) and I’ve tried to be gentle with myself. I’m starting to feel better. But I know this is not over. There is no magic cure for anxiety disorders.
I spend a large part of my life preparing myself for the worst. My mind worries about worst case scenarios. I often joke with close friends and family that I’m an OCD Ninja. I can find a way to avoid all of the things I worry about most. I’m creative. I live my life as though it were just a drill – preparation for the doom to come. I worry about things that might happen. Sadly, none of that banked worry prepared me for the one time it wasn’t a drill. Something gross actually happened. It was real. It was scary and no amount of my years worth of worry and fear and terror prepared me for it. It just happened.
Only this time, it was different in another way too. I came out the other side with a new sense of purpose and determination. I never want to go back to the ER with an anxiety attack. Ever. I want to go at this with gloves off. I want to be normal. I don’t want to be afraid to leave the house because I can’t control the world outside. I don’t want to cringe at the idea of hanging out with friends because it’s incredibly draining – all of that pretending to be OK. I don’t want my husband’s life to be impacted because his wife is afraid to live hers.
So I’ve decided to fight for myself. I’ve decided to blog about my progress. I’ve decided that I won’t take this lying down in defeat anymore. I’m better than that. This is not a drill. This is a war. And I plan on winning.