Sometimes it's difficult to pinpoint one thing to discuss. I've spent this past year doing a lot of self reflection and learning more about ME. Why am I the way I am? Why are some people more anxious than others? Why is my husband afraid to fly, and yet to me being on a plane and flying through the sky is like a roller coaster ride? Why is it that if someone hurts me or someone I love, I hold on to that hurt for years, however my husband can just "let it go"? We are all wired differently and I guess I'm learning to love and appreciate my unique wiring...and rewiring in some "sketchy" areas.
As a kid, I was pretty happy. My parents were very loving. My mom painted my nails, baked with me and read me books. My dad taught me how to garden, took me for car rides, and my personal favourite: took me to the lake to watch the waves crash in. My dad was an accountant and my mom stayed at home until I was old enough to come and go as I pleased. She then worked for my future high school in the Special Education department. I looked up to both of them and often dreamed of becoming an accountant like my dad. My brother was older than me and moved away when I was quite young. He moved six hours north of our city so we normally saw him during the holidays. I loved seeing him and in my own little way "idolized" my big brother. We had a happy family...and in my opinion, we were pretty special.
My mom and dad were often the "go to" parents for many of my friends. My friends trusted them and felt comfortable with them. My dad could make umpteen jokes about boogers and make my friends laugh every time. My mom was full of life and it wasn't out of the norm for us to find her in the kitchen dancing to current music while she cooked dinner. I don't have one single negative thought when I think of my childhood.
So how is it that I ended up a sort of "anxious mess" in my teens? I guess partially because I was wired to do so. As a kid, I was a perfectionist. It would frustrate me to no end if I couldn't do something right on the first try. I wanted to be the best at everything I did, and if I knew there was a chance I wouldn't do well, I just wouldn't try. Sports for example. I was athletic enough. I danced and I did well with cross country, but when the gym teacher said, "okay class, time for soccer", my stomach flipped and I would spend the following hour telling and retelling myself, "you won't do well...people are going to laugh at you...you're going to make a mistake and your classmates will make fun of you...the boys will think you're not cool if you don't play well...why can't I just be sick so I can leave!".
School came relatively easy to me. I excelled in Math, Science, English and Languages, and had big dreams of becoming a doctor. I remember going to the library with my mom and taking out a Medical Dictionary. My goal was to become a researcher and find the cure for Cancer. My marks were very good and I was often teased by friends for being the "teacher's pet". I was embarrassed because I didn't set out to be that person...I just knew from early on to always have respect for my teachers and to follow the rules. I listened well and paid attention to EVERYTHING. In grade 8 I was voted to received the award for Congeniality. I think my parents instilled politeness in me. I've always treated others as I would want to be treated.
Fast forward to grade 9. I was so excited! To me, high school was going to be life changing. Well, I was right about that. I remember doing well my first year - very well. I received many marks in the 90's and my dream to become a doctor was much more established. Then grade 10 came around. To this day I don't know what really happened. I do know that my mom was called in for a mammogram and a lump was found in her breast. That lump turned out to be a cyst and she was fine. But it stuck with me. Also, many of my close friends growing up had "changed", as most of us do in high school. Many groups were formed and if you weren't part of the cool group, then why even be there? Some of them were so mean. I once got my hair cut and chose a cute pixie cut. I LOVED it. I was so proud that day when I walked into class with my new style. As I sat down behind my desk, one of the "cool boys" coughed and while coughing blurted out "BOY" into his hand. The class laughed. And as I turned around to look at him, I saw that one of my dearest friends growing up was the one with the loudest laugh. It hurt - it stung. I wanted to cry and my eyes welled up. The teacher caught it and I felt only more embarrassed as he asked that boy to apologize to me.
Not a big deal, right? I got teased a few times. So what! All and all I was well-liked and had many friends who I trusted. My mom had one health concern that turned out fine...so what was the big problem? I think this is where the wiring comes into play. I was a kind, overly-cautious perfectionist. I was in high school where people can be mean and cliques are formed. In high school, where classes become tougher and the pressure to succeed and make it into University is significant. In high school, where the jocks are put up on pedestals and it's cool to get drunk and smoke (something an overly-cautious perfectionist does NOT do). I didn't fit in. I was losing ME. So I became recluse and hid my fears and doubts with both my parents and my closest friends. In my head, I was becoming a "freak". And as someone who did so well naturally over the years, it was so difficult to finally struggle in school. You mean I have to work to get an A?
I woke up one morning in grade 10 not feeling well. My head hurt and as I sat in Geography class that day, my world spiralled out of control. The voices of my classmates became a jumbled mess of laughter and static. I became hot and cold at the same time and my breath became short. I asked for permission to leave, and I never came back. I had no idea what was happening and looking back I clearly experienced my first panic attack.
My headaches were the main issue, as was the "headache that never ended". I had a headache for 3 months. My parents went on a mission to find out what was wrong with me. I had a CAT scan, an MRI, blood work - all came back with nothing sinister. So then the Pediatrician told my parents I was depressed and referred me to a Psychiatrist where I was given a prescription for my first anti-depressant called Amitriptyline, which is a type of medicine called a tricyclic antidepressant. I broke out in a rash on these meds and was quickly taken off of them and then put on an SSRI. For months, my parents put their trust in doctors as they assumed they had my best interest at heart. I was prescribed Prozac, Paxil, Buspar and Effexor to name a few. When one didn't work, the doctor would take me off of it cold turkey and within 24 hours I was on a new med. We didn't know the risk to this type of practice. We weren't aware that all psychotropics should be weaned off of and that the side effects to coming off of these meds were often just as bad if not worse than the side effects you first experience when you go them.
Looking back, I can see all of my irrational behaviour, the self harm (I became a cutter...something I will discuss in another post), the zombie-like state I was in during the day, the manic state I was in at night...were all side effects caused by these meds. This was not me! I was simply a "normal" teenager in the peak of raging teenage hormones...and a perfectionist...who took things to heart...who probably began to experience tension-like headaches and anxiety. But because I didn't know how to verbalize my emotions and instead kept it all locked up inside of me, it intensified and became bigger than it had to. And when all else failed (my parents did initially try a natural approach to my "mystery" problems), the doctor who we trusted introduced us to a Psychiatrist...who led us to another...and another...until I became so medicated, that I completely lost ME. My dad said to me recently, "We were trying everything possible to make you feel better...but even though we had you on medication and the doctors told us this is what you needed to make you better, you just weren't our "Sarah" anymore. We wanted to believe you were getting better, but deep down I thought something wasn't right".
And this brings me to the reason behind this blog. My parents innocently brought me to a doctor, who led them to believe I was "clinically depressed" and that it was caused by a chemical imbalance of the brain (a term I now know is used loosely by practitioners...as there is no way to find out if one has a "chemical imbalance"). When a parent hears their child's brain is imbalanced in any which way, then the first thing they want is their child to be fixed. And the way doctors fix this imbalance is to place the patient on medication. What many parents aren't told, is the harmful side effects to many if not all of these medications. They aren't told to wean children off of one med and allow it weeks to be out of the system before you even attempt another. They aren't told that children under the age of 18 shouldn't even really be ON these meds in the first place. Instead they are told it will fix their child - and what parent wouldn't want their child fixed?!
Anti-psychotropics led me into a much deeper whole - so unnatural that I felt as though I had entered a world of true madness. I think back to the time when I asked my parents to bring me to the hospital, "because if you don't I think I might do something like kill myself...I don't know what else to do". I was barely 16, and I was medicated. I think of the times I wished my friends would just explode and die as their happiness caused me only pain...and I was medicated. I think of the times I laid in bed crying in mental anguish over not being a normal teenager...and I was medicated. I think of the nights I vacuumed my bedroom at 2am and re-organized my closet for the 5th time that night in a Prozac-induced-manic-state....all while medicated. I think of the times I hurt myself physically in order to release pent up anger and pain...something I wasn't even aware of until I was medicated. I think of the times I sat on my bed and stared across my bedroom with a blank stare, hoping that if I closed my eyes I just wouldn't exist anymore...while on medication. And all of this...all these new dark and terrifying thoughts...all of these feelings of rage SO incredibly opposite of how I was "normally" or "pre-medication"...all while on medication that was apparently "fixing me".