Battling mental illness has become a game of Whack-A-Mole

I’ll skip over the bit where I lament how crap I’ve been at posting here, and get straight to business – I beat depression (WAHOO!!!), and found anxiety.

That’s a gross over-simplification; I’ve always had anxiety, even when I was a little kid. I was the worried sibling, the one who needed to know the daily schedule ahead of time, that kind of thing. My brother used to tease me for feeling uncomfortable if there wasn’t an itinerary on holidays. If I did something wrong at school (only ever by mistake), I’d worry so much about getting in trouble that I’d end up being ill. And my phobias were strong enough that I had a reputation with friends and family, cue more teasing.

The earliest anxiety I can remember was when I was four or five years old. It feels silly to write it, but I was anxious about needing the toilet – specifically that I’d get ‘caught short’ in public, and not make it to a toilet in time. For a few days, this anxiety was crippling. Mum took me to see our family GP, and as we walked there we had to stop at every shop and cafe so I could use the toilet. I didn’t think I could last thirty seconds!

I remember the GP feeling my tummy, testing my urine, and then he asked ‘So, what are you worried about?’. I said ‘Wetting myself’. And he nodded and said, ‘Yes, but what are you worried about?’ Like I was wrong, and there was something else. But there wasn’t anything else. That was genuinely all I was worried about. The GP didn’t have a solution, and Mum and I went home, again stopping at each shop that had a toilet.

That phase passed, and it’s come and gone in similar phases throughout my life. Most of the time I’m fine, but then one day it’ll suddenly occur to me that I could be caught short and the anxiety floods back. Every daily activity has to have a toilet break planned into it etc, and then…after a week or two…I get over it. This happens once or twice a year.

In November of 2017 I entered another of these phases, but in no time at all I realised this was turning out to be the worst phase I’ve ever had. If I’m not at home, or at my desk, I need the toilet constantly. I stress about any journey I have to make, even if it’s tiny. Just the prospect of getting the bus to work, a 25min journey tops, is enough to make me need to throw up. I worry about sitting through meetings. I worry about getting to meetings – today my boss asked me to accompany him to a meeting over the road, and I immediately panicked I’d have an accident on the way. I can’t even go round a supermarket without desperately needing the loo.

I know it’s all in my head, and that there’s no real biological need. I never need to get up to use the toilet at night, so my bladder is strong, and there’s no pain or anything like that so I don’t think I have an infection. The real giveaway is that I might be DYING for the toilet on that bus journey to work, but then when I actually arrive at my desk (i.e. I’m safe), I don’t actually need to go anymore. I’ve invested in all sorts of weak-bladder pads etc, but somehow they don’t make me feel any more confident – and I’ve done the ‘pouring water on pads’ etc to prove they would work.

I went to see my GP about this before Christmas, and she pointed out that the timing coincides with me coming off my various psych meds; apparently fluoxetine (Prozac) at the dose I was previously taking it – 60mg – helps with obsessive thoughts. I had no idea. So after three or so months Prozac-free, I’m back on it in the hopes it can help me stabilise. We’ve been in touch with the psych hospital and they’ve suggested things like buspirone if this doesn’t work. Has anyone tried buspirone, or any other anxiety meds?

I’ve also found a new therapist to see from next week in case that helps – Dr T is no longer in the picture. I was hoping to be therapy-free this year; I didn’t think I’d need it post-depression, but trying to get free of mental illness is turning out to be one big game of whack-a-mole.

I just hope I win before I lose my job.

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