16 March 2015

PTSD: Pt. 2, Getting Help

(PTSD: Pt. 1, Falling back and finding answers)

About a month before hitting my "rock bottom" I had talked to our family practice doctor during an appointment for Aurelia. "How do I tell the difference between grief and depression?" I had asked her. She rattled off all the components of full-blown depression and it didn't really give me much clarity because everything she said was what I experienced each time I was grieving. They were things I knew were expected, healthy parts of grief. The biggest difference though is that grief gets better, grief improves, and I had always felt progress while grieving in the past. That and I had never had panic attacks like this before. I knew this was different but I still wasn't ready to ask for or accept the kind of help that was recommended.

I continued on doing everything I knew I needed to to be healthy. 

I tried to sleep but couldn't sleep well despite my best efforts. I didn't want to go to bed at night because I didn't want to have to start another day. Then when I did sleep I had vivid, horrible nightmares and woke several times during the night.

With eating I just didn't want to eat at all. I've dealt with eating disorders since childhood and it's always been a matter of control for me. Food, and not eating it, was a way of feeling control over SOMETHING when everything else felt out of control. Growing up I didn't know that's why I did it, but since figuring it out it hasn't been an issue. My inclination when things are out of control is to not eat, so I know when I feel that way I need to schedule and plan out meals to make sure I'm eating and eating well. Anyway, that's a whole other thing. :) Bottom line, I was scared and out of control so I knew I needed to pay attention to what I was eating and take care of myself in that area. 

I made sure I was getting out of the house with Aurelia everyday, even if it was just to sit on the front porch or play in the backyard.

I made sure to get a decent amount of physical activity in everyday, even if that only meant doing squat jumps in the doorways and lunges around the house.

I also tried to keep up the normal things I do to keep a positive attitude -- not gossiping, not complaining, listing out things I was thankful for, praying, reading scriptures, etc.

Anyway, the point of listing all of this out is to show that even though it's understandable that I was feeling all this, I was still fighting hard against it with everything I knew. This wasn't something that was just in my head and could be fixed with positive thought and healthy living. I was going through the motions of everything to be healthy and still I was spiraling down.

So in to the doctor I went.

I called and said I needed the first available appointment with our doctor or any of her nurse practitioners, I didn't care who. When they asked the purpose of the visit I hesitated, ".....um..depression and PTSD."

I hated saying that! Depression?? Really?! Here I was fighting this with everything I had and I was LOSING! Depression. It felt like a failure but at this point I didn't care. I didn't care what it was called, what reactions were attached to it, I just wanted it to stop.

About an hour later I was in the office. I still remember what I wore that day. I had on one of my favorite Agnes & Dora pencil skirts with a bright green top. My hair was done and I had makeup on. Looking at me sitting in the waiting room someone might think I was perfectly fine. I thought it odd that inside I was a chaotic, crumbling shadow of myself but on the outside I hadn't looked this put together in a while.

As I was walked back to the room I passed our doctor's office as she was bringing everyone up to speed on our history. She quickly recounted the infertility, the miscarriages, the failed adoptions, adopting Noah, his extreme medical needs, the disrupted adoption, his passing away months earlier and everything connected to that. Hearing all of it laid out like that...we'd been through the wringer.

I met with one of the nurse practitioners and we talked about the PTSD. She asked how many panic attacks I was having in a week and her eyes widened when I said 3 to 4 a day. When I say panic attacks I don't mean "I'm really stressed out and freaking out!", I mean I can't control my breathing, I'm sobbing and shaking uncontrollably, I'm debilitated and it takes a while to regain control. They were exhausting. 

She then explained Serotonin to me. She explained that every panic attack was burning through my Serotonin, making it impossible to pick myself back up. People can't survive in a near constant state of fight or flight. Every bit of Serotonin I was gaining through all my efforts was being burned right off by the attacks.

I spent pretty much the entire appointment sobbing. I didn't want to be medicated. I was hoping somehow there was some other way. I didn't want to be an emotional zombie. I didn't want to be numb. I didn't want to sleep the days away. I didn't want to be on medication for the rest of my life. I didn't want to become addicted. I didn't want any of what I thought was inevitable with PTSD and depression medication.

I was distraught. Here I was pleading for the kind of help I didn't really want. When she said the words "non-habit forming" I buried my face in my lap and cried harder. I absolutely would not become addicted to the daily medication they wanted to put me on. I was so thankful, so grateful that this one fear was out of the way.

She then explained that there were two types of people who needed this medication. There are those who naturally are out of balance, who's bodies just don't make what they need and they will likely always need the help of the medication. Then there are the people who have been through a trauma and right now are struggling to bring it back to a manageable level. Right now I wasn't able to help myself and I needed the lift to get back to a place where I could help myself again. She said I was not someone who needed to be medicated for the rest of my life (queue another round of grateful sobbing).

She also explained that if the medication was taken in the right dose then I would still feel my ups and downs, I wouldn't be a zombie. The medication wasn't going to numb me to life, it was going to help me hold on to the Serotonin I was making on my own. Because of how the medication works though it would take some time to build up in my system and help with the attacks. 

In addition to the daily Serotonin help (depression medication) she wanted to give me something right away to help stop the panic attacks. This medication did have addictive potential so I was reluctant. She explained that I was much more self-aware than I gave myself credit for. She was fully confident that I would take the medication correctly and that I would have the self-control to not take it unnecessarily or in the incorrect dose. I knew she was right.

When I left the office I had two prescriptions: one to stop the panic attacks, and one to take daily for the depression.

I drove home grasping tightly to my new-found hope. After spiraling downward I finally felt like it might be possible to pull the nose up.

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