As I sat, crouched in the corner on a tenth floor balcony at a Palm Springs resort, hoping I would not decide to jump over the side, I kept thinking, “This isn’t normal.”
“Well done, Captain Obvious,” I thought back to myself.
There I was, 31 years old, with a successful career, on a Palm Springs vacation of all things, and I was covered in sweat, panicked because I had a party to go to in an hour.
I felt nearly paralyzed with worry about saying, doing – heck, even wearing – the wrong thing.
This was not the first time I had experienced a wave of terror about a social (or any other type of) situation. These episodes were escalating and becoming more frequent.
I had always been a worry wart; but things seemed to get exponentially worse after I took a television reporter/meteorologist job in Detroit. I was constantly worried about making mistakes. When I did have an on-air blooper, I would replay it in my mind to the point that I could not fall asleep some nights.
I downed ice cream and wine, shopped excessively, cleaned obsessively – anything to take the edge off that nagging doubt and worry that followed me around like my own shadow. Even happy things, like a party in Palm Springs, became sources of terror. What was I so afraid would go wrong? You name it. Bee swarms, a tornado, a plane crash, or just my social ineptness could lead straight to disaster.
I eventually managed to gather myself on that balcony and ease my way back into my hotel room.
I looked in the mirror, started to cry and said, “You need help. You can’t do this anymore.”
When I got back to Detroit and finally opened up to a friend about what was happening, he gave me the name of a therapist he knew.
Of course, I worried all the way to that appointment that someone might see me there and think I was crazy.
“You think you’re crazy,” I reminded myself. It kept me on the beam long enough to make it to the appointment with a woman I’ll call Maryann.
Kind, gentle, soothing Maryann listened to me spill out the entire sordid sea of despair my life had become, then she smiled and asked, “Have you ever been diagnosed with anxiety disorder?”
Diagnosed? The suggestion that I had a “condition” of some sort was like a kick in the gut.
“That’s why I think you are suffering this way,” said Maryann. “There is nothing ‘wrong’ with you, or ‘bad’ about you. We can work through this. I would like you to try an antidepressant that is FDA-approved for Generalized Anxiety Disorder.”
Finding out I had a mental illness was overwhelming. It was painful. It was the best thing that ever happened to me.
One in five Americans has a mental illness. If you’re in a room with me and three other people, I’m the one.
I am not proud of it, but I am not ashamed, either. I have no control over my out-of-whack brain chemicals, and they no longer have control over me.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month and the fifth is Silence the Shame Day. This is me, unashamed.