My Story – Part One

I am 52 years old now.  I have started this blog to share about living with anxiety disorder/panic disorder as a mental illness.  I have lived through A LOT.  I have lived a life with mental illness coming into and out of my life since my late twenties.   I am at a point where I can now live independently and make an income.  There was a period of time (years) where I was not living independently or making an income.  My goal here is to share my story, and then if you feel you want to connect, then we can connect by email.  I have been to HELL and back, and that is the truth.  I am still alive.  That is amazing.  I want to help others understand that you can live with mental illness and not become a hermit afraid of everything.  You can be more fulfilled in your life without the mental illness taking over.  I want to give support for others to relate to someone who has come through the WORST of it and is still standing.  I still live with mental illness and deal with it every day.

Now, on with my story….

When I was a kid growing up, I was socially awkward, always extremely nervous.  I did not know how to act around guys growing up.  I would like a guy, but have no idea how to relate to him, on top of the extreme nervousness and fear that I had being around him. Because of this, I couldn’t date until I was 25 years old because of this fear and nervousness.  In college, I drank alcohol to open up and be sociable with new people.  I relied on it too much, and I became an alcoholic.

I was able to stop drinking when I found a new passion.  I focused more on that and it was like I felt peaceful again.  I had a goal.  When I drank so much, it felt like I was filling a hole in my heart.  The hole needed to be filled, and the thing that filled it was alcohol.  When I found my purpose in life, the hole went away and so did the drinking problem.

I was back on track with my life in my mid-twenties, pursuing an Engineering degree.  I was going to school and working.   I ended up going to Rutgers University for my Bachelor’s degree.  I was there two and a half years.  All seemed on track with school and life until one day when I was driving from home in NJ to my dad’s home in MD, and in the middle of the trip, I suddenly had the worst fear driving.  I had to pull over and call my dad.  I was shaking all over and could barely drive on the interstate.  I didn’t know what was happening.  I made it to my dad’s house, but I was a wreck.  He didn’t understand it, and neither did I.  I thought that was a one-time event until I had my first panic attack in the middle of the night.

What’s a panic Attack?

I had never experienced a panic attack before.  It came to me in the middle of the night like a train rushing towards me.  I was panicked, scared, heart was racing, and I thought I was having a heart attack.  I was a mess and needed HELP.  I ran into my dad’s bedroom and he told me to eat something.  I ate some bread and it worked. I calmed down.  Okay, that is over, so now I can fall asleep.  Great.

Then it happened again during my visit.  I was alone in the house, and I smelled a gas that seemed dangerous.  I went into a panic attack AGAIN.  It was awful.  Now it is a recurring thing.  What do I do?  What the hell is happening to my body?

Help on its way

My stepmother was smart and knew I needed to talk to someone.  Her brother was a therapist, so I talked to him.  He said I was having panic attacks.  He wanted to know if I was having a lot of stress lately, and I was.  I had just dealt with one of my professor’s unwanted “friendliness”, and I had recently dealt with a violent roommate.  I was feeling stressed with school and other things on top of that.  He said to go see a doctor, and I did.  She gave me xanax to take when a panic attack came on.  I used it, and it worked!  Yay!

I was able to go back to school, but I had to see a therapist for help with my panic attacks.   I was faithful in doing so weekly.  Over time, it felt like I was no longer having any panic attacks.  I forgot about it, and stopped seeing a therapist or getting medicine.  In my mind I was cured.

Fast Forward

I was now  thirty years old working in Maryland as a Packaging engineer.  I had my first professional job and thought I had finally achieved my dream!  Great!  I was able to work and earn money and have a home to rent with my sister and her boyfriend.  All was on track.

Panic Attacks Again

I was playing on a soccer team in my early thirties; it was a coed recreational league.  I made friends and was having a blast.  I also had a boyfriend.  I finally had time for one, and I wasn’t as nervous with being able to relate to men.

But then one night I was playing, and I broke my leg.  I had to get a cast and stay in the basement during the day with food and a nearby bathroom to recover.  During that time, the panic attacks came back.  What the….?  THIS AGAIN???

I went back to a therapist and psychiatrist this time.  The meds I could only take were xanax.  Nothing else was working for me.  Again, as the usual way in the past, the panic attacks would stop rearing their ugly head, and I would slowly stop therapy and taking the meds.

I was in an up and downward cycle with the panic disorder.  I was good with dealing with life until I had stress in my life, and back it came.  OH GOD.  I don’t want to become my grandmother. She lived her life with mental illness; she had schizophrenia.  My memories of her were this: grandma sitting in her “chair”, smoking, and staring off into space.  She was not your typical grandma.  She was not checked in at all.  She didn’t relate to people really and was just strange to me.  I didn’t understand her at all, and now I felt like I was becoming her.  I was so scared of that.

FAST FORWARD TO EARLY FORTIES

I quit my job at NASA because I was miserable.  I was getting sick all the time, and one day I just had had enough of the job place.  I quit.   I sold my house to take time off and find a new career path and a new way of living.  The money came after I sold my home.  I rented a new place and life was good for a while.  I did not have any panic attacks.  I was enjoying travelling and took an art class.  Life was pretty good.  But then the panic attacks came back.

I didn’t want to go back to meds again.  I just hated pills.  I hated admitting that I needed help.  I felt ashamed that I couldn’t deal with life in stressful periods.  I did something else instead.  I put my self care into the hands of a healer.  We would speak over the phone and she would help me with my healing.  This ended up being a hoax.  It was over a year of my time with her on the phone, and it was a hoax.

My Story – Part Two

MOVING FROM MARYLAND

I was down to the end of my money from the sale of my home.  I was getting nervous because I needed a job, and I could only think about tutoring children in the area.  I ended up finding a job in Canada.  I just wanted to get out of this area and start anew.  I sold all my things, and just was able to fill the car with what I needed to start again.  I drove to the border of Canada, and was told that I needed papers to prove I had a job waiting for me there.  The people who hired me did not provide that to me.  I couldn’t go into Canada for the job.

DRIVING AWAY TO THE WEST COAST

I was upset because I felt I wanted to start a new life, and now I had no plans.  I decided to keep driving west and see what areas may be good to live in.  Maybe I could get a job somewhere else.  I had some money left in the bank, and I had a credit card to use.  Something would pan out, right?

I ended up driving all the way to Washington state.  I was not having panic attacks and was able to drive fine.  But I was feeling very stressed about settling in somewhere not knowing anyone.  I felt homeless because all my life’s belongings were in my car, and I was going from motel to motel across the nation just me.

WASHINGTON STATE

I lived in a hotel for a week or two until I could find a room for rent.  I found one near the water.  It was a beautiful area, but the house was a mess.  The yard was overrun with nature.  I got a room and lived there two months trying to find a job.  Money was getting low, and I was not feeling the west coast life.  I wanted to go home to Maryland.  But there was nothing there for me.  I would have to drive back East and see if I could find a job along the way.

NEW YORK STATE

It was late fall when I embarked on returning back East.  It was getting closer to winter, and I wanted to get to a new place before it started snowing.  I packed up my car and headed out.  I started to have panic attacks while driving.  I had no meds to help me.  I had a terrible time with the mountainous areas, and sometimes I just had to pull over and cry.  I ended up in New York.  I ended up in Rochester.  I found a motel and started to look for a job.  The place was awful.  I was so lonely and depressed that my life was looking very bleak.  I was living in a smelly motel and praying that I could find a job FAST.  My funds were dwindling.

I spent a month or two looking for a job.  It was during the collapse of 2008 that I was looking for work.  Jobs were scarce.  I finally got an interview with a company where I could use my engineering degree.  I felt so positive about it.  I told my sister I felt like I was going to finally make it.  Then I didn’t get the job.  That was the last straw.  I had to return to Maryland.

BACK TO MARYLAND

I asked my sister if I could live with her a few months until I could get back on my feet. She and I had not been on good terms, but I really needed her help.  She had a bedroom in her basement.  She agreed to have me live with her family.  I got a miracle just in the nick of time.  I was getting very low on funds.

The house was full of boys and a husband.  The boys were very young, and the house was stressful for me. Also, I was feeling like a failure and a loser.  Every morning I woke up, I would recap my life, and I’d focus on how much I had lost.  I was down to no money to pay the bills, no house, and had to be dependent on my sister.  How long would this take??

Also, I had not admitted to the panic attacks having returned with my journey back East.  I repeatedly was dealing with them while driving, and it got so hard on me, that I had to just take back roads to avoid the stress of a main highway.

JOB HUNTING

I started to look for work.  I looked into temping until I could get something permanent.  I got a job doing admin work for a busy company in Washington DC.  I started the job, and then the panic attacks came with it.  Riding the train I got panic attacks to and from work.  I had to quit the job.  I was afraid to tell my sister that I was having problems with panic attacks again.  I felt like a failure.  And now I couldn’t cope on the job.

GETTING HELP

I had to get financial help and NOW.  I had to ask for financial support from my dad.  He agreed to help me.  Then I needed to get help for my panic attacks and somehow move forward and out of my sister’s house.  She had three little ones in the house, and it was stressful with the crying and commotion of the kids.

My brother-in-law had no job and was a stay at home dad while I lived there.  I would wake up each morning and get out of bed and start the day.  I MADE myself get up every day.  I had to keep trying.  I got a psychiatrist and a therapist to support me.  Everyone was just wanting me to get a job and move on with my life, but I was in bad shape from all the panic attacks.  I had panic disorder.  I was depressed and having panic attacks and finding it hard to move forward into life.  I was completely dependent on my family for money and a home.  I could barely manage myself, let alone a new apartment or job.  I was just trying to stay sane.  As a family, we decided I might have to live in a special place for people like me that couldn’t manage their life anymore.   It was looking so grim for me.  But then once my dad looked into it, we realized it was cheaper to go to therapy, see a psychiatrist, and live with my sister for a while longer.  I just wanted my life to improve.  I didn’t see myself living alone ever again.  It was like I reverted back in time to a child again; I couldn’t manage much responsibility, and I was depressed all the time.  I was a mess really.  How was I to have hope every day?

My Story – Part Three

DEPENDENCE – The Hard Truth that I had to Face

I started taking meds prescribed by my psychiatrist to get better.  I was very depressed.  It was even hard to get myself out of bed to get ready to go to a therapist appointment.  Driving had gotten hard for me too because I had had so many panic attacks on the road back East.  I felt dependent completely on others.  I felt so sad, and I felt like I would never get better.  I felt like I was going to have to live in a group home with others who couldn’t cope having their own job or apartment.  My family did also not quite understand what I was going through with panic disorder.  They even did not believe it either.  They wanted me to get back to work.

Living in the basement was awful.  It was not hopeful to me.  I went to sleep each night and prayed I wouldn’t wake up to the life I had.  I would get up in the morning and cry at my life.  It was so bleak.  I had hit a major low in my life.  How did this happen?  I had two Bachelor degrees, and I had had a career and my own home.  Now I was living in a room in my sister’s big home and just barely coping with life.

Walking every day helped me.  I tried applying for Maryland social programs for money support.  I did not get accepted as having a disability, so I did not get any financial help.  That was hard.

When I look back at this time, I don’t know how I got up every day to face the life I had in front of me.   I was doing all I could to take care of myself, and my sister’s place was supposed to be temporary.  How was I going to ever live on my own again?  How was I going to make money with this mental illness?

I tried going to meetings for people like me, but it didn’t help me.

Over time, with regular counseling from a therapist and meds, I was coping better, and I looked into part time work as a tutor.  I didn’t have to drive very far, and it was not working in an office setting with pressure on my back.  I looked into it.

This was now 2010.

I found a job as a tutor for one hour a week.  It was a math course, but it was high level, and so it was stressful still to me.  I would prepare for the lesson and somehow get the nerve up to go to the home and tutor the young man.  This was a challenge for me, even though it was an hour a week.  BUT it got me one step forward to getting paid to do work.

About a year and a half of living with my sister, I was feeling stronger and felt that maybe I could move out, rent out a room in someone’s home.  I was tired of the sadness of my bedroom being in the basement.  It was so depressing.  It affected me daily.  I needed an uplifting space to move into.  I was scared though.  Could I do it?  Could I cope?  Make meals?  Live with someone I didn’t know?  Be independent?

One day it came up that my sister and I were thinking the same thing.  She and her husband wanted me to move on.  I had a month to move out.

It was scary to think about it, but I eventually found a place.  It was ten minutes from my sister’s place, and the bedroom was very sunny.  Perfect.  I got the room and moved in.

The day I moved into this townhouse, I felt like I was a prisoner that had gotten his freedom back.

Now I had to see if I could cope on my own in a living situation.

My Story – Part Four

NEW STEP INTO INDEPENDENCE

I was scared at first.  I hadn’t cooked a meal or gone to the grocery store for my own meals in almost two years.  Would I panic in the grocery store?

Slowly but surely I made my way.  I had stopped the tutoring though.

A new pressure came up from my stepmom.  She thought that since I was able to move out of my sister’s place that I could now work full-time.  She put hard pressure on me to get a job within a month.  She was holding the purse strings and was flexing her muscles.

Unbelievable.

I plunged into depression.  I couldn’t find a job NOW.  I had just started a new part of my life and trying to cope, and NOW THIS?

I was so hopeless and felt like such a failure that I felt like a burden on the family.  I was living with this disorder that had a hold on me, and I felt out of control of my life.  I was SO LOW that I started to plan taking my life.  I then wouldn’t be a burden anymore.  I called my therapist and talked to her.  She talked me down.  Not long after that, I had started on new meds. They were causing bad side effects.  I ended up in the Emergency room with my dad.  He had gotten me there.  They assessed me as needing mental health help because of my threats of suicide, and immediately put me in the hospital for a week.  They also were assessing my meds to get me back on track.

HOSPITAL STAY

It was during Thanksgiving of 2010 that I ended up in the hospital.  I was nervous but hoping for better help.  The time I spent there was much needed.  I got individual help with new meds and some counseling.  I loved being around others with mental illness; we could relate.  I didn’t feel so stigmatized with my disorder there.  I made friends.  I realized then that it would be great to live in a home with others like me.  I hoped it would happen.

I think my family FINALLY realized I had mental illness.  They saw the seriousness of it all finally.  I was so glad to get their support.  It was a changing time for my family.  And it was so good for me.  I got a new psychiatrist too.  A much better one once I left the hospital.

NEXT STEPS into 2011

I started the year feeling hopeful, still renting and living in a small bedroom in someone’s home.  I didn’t like my roommate, so I stayed in my bedroom most of the time.  I found a job working as an afterschool tutor for elementary school kids not too far away.  It was about 2 hours a day.  That felt like a good next step for me – not too many hours and working with kids.  Before each work day, I would park in a nearby park and get myself to relax, so that I didn’t have a panic attack or anxiety attack.  I had actually started to have more anxiety attacks than panic attacks.  They are different experiences.

I was really happy that I could get myself to work more during the week, and it was a low key type of job.  The kids were a handful, but I got so much love from them.  I really enjoyed the job.  Again, this was a baby step for me into having some income coming in and being able to cope on the job.

My Story – Part Five

FALL 2011

During the summer I was off, but in the fall of 2011, I decided to start branching out on my own with tutoring.  I put an ad in Craigslist.org and got a customer.  I started to work three hours per day picking up two boys from school, driving them home, and then working with them with homework.  That was perfect for me.  The first day of pickup was anxiety-ridden though.  I almost had an anxiety attack, but worked through it.  Then I got other people wanting me to tutor for them based on the Craigslist ad, and so the business had begun.  I was able to cope and do the work, and I was curious to see where it would go.

I found a niche for myself with tutoring.  I always was interested in teaching, and this worked out better for me than in the classroom setting.  After a year of this, the business just kept growing.  I was learning more about having a business, and I was getting more and more clients.  It got to the point where it had a life of its own.  I put up more ads and was buying business cards to hand out in neighborhoods.  I was knocking on doors and pitching my services.  Yeah, I was blossoming!

I was still dependent on my dad financially.  He fully supported me in the business, and was so happy with my growth.  I had come such a long way, but I still had bills to pay and not enough money coming in to pay them.  I was becoming more and more independent though.  Baby steps!

Then in the spring of 2013, my roommate wanted me to move out.  She was getting married, so I had to find another place to live.  I was saddened, but hoped for a better place to grow.  I found another room for rent in the area, and moved into it in June of 2013.  After living there only a couple of months, the roommate told me she was going to work in Iraq, and I had to move out by the end of the year.  What a shock to the system!  I really wanted to feel more stable in my living situation, and this was not helping me.  Not another move!  I was so sick of moving.

SURPRISE

When my dad heard that I needed to move again, he was disappointed.  He knew I was upset, and then he later had a surprise for me.  He and my stepmom wanted to buy a home for me to rent from them, so that I had stability.  I WAS BLOWN AWAY.  I was so happy!  Tears of joy!  I would finally have a home and stability.  I wouldn’t have to worry about how long I would be able to live in someone else’s home!  I truly needed that.  I needed stability.

JANUARY 2014

I was moved into my new home in January of 2014. I did not have much to bring into the home.  All that I owned just fit into my car.  I did not have furniture for the home.  I had clothes, a laptop to do my work, a small desk, a small tv, and clothes.  That was it!  How would I fill this new home?  And, how would I cope with this new responsibility?  Could I live by myself?

I had a lot of fears.  But I was SO READY to live in a permanent home without crazy roommate drama.  It was my next step to independence.

My business was plugging along before I moved in, but with the stable home environment, it seemed to help me to grow my tutoring business even more!  I was now working several hours a day, having a lot of customers to manage.  I still was not making the amount of money I wanted to make, but I was working and coping.

The thing was that I was being VERY supported by my psychiatrist for meds, my therapist for getting through challenges with anxiety and changes, and I had a supportive family who was truly there for me.  I exercised regularly, and I really just kept imagining more and more for myself.  I still lived with the disorder, but I had gotten better at coping in life bit by bit.

2017

It is now June 1st, 2017, and I am so happy to be here.  I have lived in this home for three years.  I learned how to live in a home by myself and paying bills.  I learned to balance my life with all that it takes: home chores, dating life, family to enjoy, working on a flexible schedule, and growing each day to manage my anxiety disorder.  I still deal with difficult situations.  I still see a psychiatrist and take meds.  I still have a therapist.  I still have troubles with driving on major highways; actually I avoid them.  I only drive around my area on less travelled roads.  I still want to earn more money in ways that I can manage in my life.

Fear wants to hold me back so hard at times, and it is scary as hell, but I get through it one step at a time.  Again, I am not dealing with this alone.  I have support that keeps me going.  I get encouragement.  I have a disorder, and I have to cope each day.  That is that.  But I have to say, I have emerged from a very LOW PERIOD OF DESPAIR to a much better place since 2009.  I am much more independent, and I can cope with daily living and responsibilities.  I don’t see myself being able to have a desk job with high pressure work, but I am finding my niches where I can cope and earn money still.  This is the new me.

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For more information on mental illness, please contact NAMI.org.

If you or someone you know needs immediate help, please contact 1-800-273-TALK. The hotline is open 24/7. If you have questions about mental health, please contact the NAMI HelpLine at 1-800-950-NAMI.

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