What is this that’s causing me to feel like this?

That question posted above is a question that I’ve pondered about time and time throughout my life. What is this and why is this causing me to feel like this? Typically speaking, the root of my problem was…..genetics! My anxiety and depression were inherited by my mother’s side of the family. My mother, is one of six children, and she grew up a very dysfunctional home. Her parents suffered from some sort of depression, anxiety, possibly even schizophrenia and pretty much handled their problems with alcohol and cigarettes.

So long story short, I inherited depression and anxiety along with panic disorder (The Triple Threat disease as I call it) and wasn’t officially diagnosed until I was around 10. I don’t really remember a lot about that time, but remember being on the drug Wellbutrin and then after a while, I was off of it.

Any professional psychiatrist will tell you that the main causes are abuse (physical, verbal, emotional, mental), conflicts in life (relationship problems, work related problems, family problems and etc), death of loved ones, heredity, and shockingly, even certain medications can cause depression as well. So whatever the case maybe, there’s always an underlining cause to your problems.

Anyways back to my story, when I was diagnosed and found out the root of my problems, I thought, why me? What did I do? Was this punishment for something that I didn’t do like taking the garbage out or not doing my homework like I was supposed to? When I was in school, I felt like an outsider because all of the other kids were outside playing and having a ball. FYI, us (80’s kids) played outside on the playground. We were not on social media all day like kids today. I felt alone and out of place because I felt isolated, so sad, irritable and didn’t want to converse with anyone. Making friends were sometimes difficult because I am by nature a introvert and introverts tend to keep to themselves and aren’t as social as extroverts.

In junior high school all the way up through high school, my depression was existent and partially noticeable to some extent, but not enough to interfere with my daily and social life. It wasn’t until after high school in 2002, when life began to take unexpected turns. In July of 2003, I lost my beloved grandfather to health problems and that took a huge toll on me in so many ways. He was more than just a grandfather to me, he was a mentor and friend and always loved visiting my grandparent’s house on the weekends. A year prior to his death, my grandmother (his wife) was officially diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and my grandparent’s sold their home that they lived in for many decades. Their house was filled with so many wonderful memories that I will always cherish for the rest of my life. From the moment they bought that house, all of their children were grew up there, my cousins and my family including me spent many weekends and many Thanksgiving and Christmas’s there; it was like a second home for me. To have to say goodbye to that chapter of my life is hard. Adjusting to the new normal isn’t easy because my grandmother was suffering from Alzheimer’s and my grandmother lost her husband, and now I had to face another challenge: what to do with the rest of my life.

I will be the first to admit, that I had no clue on what I wanted to right after high school. Congratulations, to the my former classmates that knew exactly what they wanted to do and where they were going to college, but it’s not that simple for others. I pondered this question to the point where I start becoming anxious: Should I go to college or find a job? When you do decide on going to school, the next question becomes: which college and to study what? Man, is that stressful! I decided that if I wanted to go to school, then I would choose a college and select a major of interest to me. Besides, who wants to be stuck in a job that you absolutely hate????????? Not me!

I started out in retail as an associate for a now-defunct clothing company called Koret. Basically, it was a Ann Klein store meets Dress Barn retailer. Meaning, they sold professional clothes for working women as well as casual clothing. I will admit that retail is hard and can suck. I didn’t know the first thing about selling.  I didn’t know the ABC’s on how to close a sale, sales techniques and tricks that professionals use in order to make money. But a lesson in the learned in the workforce is you learn as go. There is a thing that is called training that teaches you the basics of selling, what products the company sells and etc. So my first job in retail was rough and only lasted three months.

Depression was kicking me harder and harder in the butt at this point. Finally, in 2004, two years after I graduated, I decided to go back to school. Yes. I did it! Everyone always says that if you don’t go, you never will. Such a lie! I enrolled at Madison Area Technical College and majored in liberal arts. It was pretty much general courses that I learned in high school like math, science, and etc. I really needed to find a major that interested me and I spent an entire summer looking at programs and found the business department to be a doozy for me.

At this time, I was currently, working for a company called Corning Ware (sells Corelle dishes and other household items) and worked my way up to assistant manager. So if you compiled my life at that point in 2004, it looked like this: I lost my grandfather the previous summer, I was slowly losing my grandmother to Alzheimer’s, and worked in retail and also going to college, and also commuting back and forth from school and work. That seems like I had bitten off way more than I should’ve chewed. Was I stressed? Oh, yes! Was I depressed? You bet I was! Did I admit that there were problems going on  in my life? NO!

I started getting these weird sensations such as heart palpitations, hot/cold sweats, nausea, diarrhea and starting exhibiting signs of depression and anxiety. In my wildest dreams, I never thought that there was a problem until one day at a restaurant. I vividly remember being in a Chili’s restaurant with my parents and we were casually eating lunch when out of the blue, I started feeling sick. I took no more than two bites out of my soup when I felt the urge to throw up. I was nauseated, I started feeling very light-headed, and it was like I had no control of my body. I thought if I got up out of my seat and use the restroom, then I would be fine. I got up and almost collapsed because my muscles became weak and turned out this was a panic attack. I told my parents that I’m not feeling well and I feel like dying. So, we went to the nearest urgent care center, where they ran a lot of tests including an EKG test because my heart rate and blood pressure were really high. Eventually, they couldn’t find anything physically wrong me, so I went home.

A couple of nights later, I went to bed at exactly 11 p.m. and I experienced one of the worst panic attacks in my entire life. Just as I get my entire body into bed, my entire left side of my body went completely numb. When I say numb, I mean numb! As in, I couldn’t move or pull myself up out of bed. I immediately called my parents to come in and help me. I said I can’t move. My whole left side is numb and I’m paralyzed. My heart was racing and pumping so hard that I experienced chest pains. I was short of breath and had both hot sweats and cold sweats. Honestly, thought I was having a heart attack or a stroke. The paramedics arrived and immediately took me to the ER. Again, my blood pressure and heart rate were very high at the heart attack/stroke levels, but tests indicated that my heart was fine and there was physically nothing wrong with me. Mentally, there was something going on! And I couldn’t keep denying it any longer.

Two days after that horrible attack and along with the advice of the ER doctor, I went to see a primary doctor to see what he can do about it. He said to me point-blank: “Jen, what’s going on in your life?” And I sat there for a couple of minutes, and what happened next was a revelation: I broke down and cried. I told him about my grandparents, how I lost my grandfather, talked about college and working, and didn’t realize that those stressors were causing serious problems in my life and that I needed to seek professional help. My doctor recommended a psychiatrist and requested a psychiatric evaluation for me. I was in denial and when I met the psychiatrist (voluntary) and talked about my issues; I got the official diagnosis: major depression with anxiety and panic disorder. I remembering saying, “Really? Me? I have depression?” That diagnosis was a turning point and I had to finally do something is crucial for so many sufferers: admit that there’s a problem.

My mom felt so guilty that I was diagnosed with depression because it runs on her side of the family. But the upside to this, is that it’s a treatable condition and there’s so much resources and support out there. Whatever I was going through in terms, of anxiety and depression, my mother knew all the classic symptoms and she knows what it’s like to live with it. Once I accepted this disease, I decided to get all of the information that I could get to learn more about it. If someone had a book about it, I was going to read it. I didn’t want to feel this way, I wanted to be able manage this so that it doesn’t interfere with my daily life. And news flash, it does interfere with your daily and social life. I discussed all the treatment options with my doctor and we worked together to determine which treatment works the best for me. Every person is different and their treatments are different from mine, and some work wonders for some and sometimes not for others. I was placed on Zoloft first, then  Lexapro (one of the main depression medications) along with Xanax (generic form) to help alleviate anxiety, too. Any professional will tell you that medications aren’t the only answer, but they do help and medications take six weeks to take full effect. Six weeks is a very long time and it feels like an eternity. Since our bodies and our DNA makeups are so complex, they need time to build up in your system.

I spent the next six weeks in absolute misery. I cried, I slept (tried to), I looked like a zombie during that time. Everyone at work, customers at work, even fellow classmates could all tell that I didn’t look like myself and I felt so embarrassed to talk about it. I mean, who wants to talk about depression. No one wants to hear my sob stories. So I kept the secret to myself. Everyday for six weeks, I endured panic attacks and depressive episodes so bad that I even refuse to leave my house. These attacks occurred several times a day and lasted sometimes a few minutes up to a few hours. I felt so sick and spent a lot of time in the bathroom because medications can make you sick as well as the effects of mental illness can harm your body. Once the six-week mark came, I slowly came back to normal myself and had to face a new reality now with depression. It’s not always easy, but who said life was easy in general.

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