I have never opened up all that much about my personal life here, but in my time on the Straight Dope I’ve found the fellow posters here to be the most intelligent, thoughtful, and helpful people I could ever hope to read. So I’m going to submit this as both a way of getting something off my chest, and a hope that I’ll get some advice that can help me.
First: I’m 21 years old and for the past few years have been basically a normal college/rocker guy. I play in a band, have a girlfriend of about 2 years, have some good friends, work at a job that I enjoy – I have it a lot better than a lot of people. I’m very close with both my parents and have great relationships with them.
Now, all of a sudden, my life is turned upside down. It all started about a month ago – the first signs of depression were severe hypochondria. I was constantly convinced that I had a brain tumor, neurological degenerative disease, etc. I’d feel a tingle in my leg or I’d think that my hand was shaking a tiny bit, and I’d think, “Oh shit – I have Parkinson’s.” I’d get a weird taste in my mouth or a headache and I’d think, “that’s it. Brain cancer.” I’d hear a ringing noise, think “why is that ringing noise in my head – I must be going crazy,” then frantically search around the room to find what was making the noise. Of course, it was always a speaker or fan or computer or whatever, and I’d be relieved – for a few minutes, and then I’d be back to worrying again about some other meaningless thing. The hypochondria got so bad that I went to the doctor and asked for a full checkup, physical exam, blood work, everything. Of course, he told me that I was fine, I didn’t have any disease, I was totally healthy, but I just had severe anxiety and hypochondria. He prescribed an SSRI, Lexapro, and Xanax to help me through the panicky times.
The Xanax did help, a little. But as soon as I started taking the Lexapro, I had bad reactions. I started puking all the time and my anxiety got WORSE! I’d be shaking and quivering in my bed, unable to sleep, and often I’d puke. And I was unable to eat anything – I lost a lot of weight, like 10 pounds, over the week. So I stopped taking the Lexapro, and for about a week after that my condition improved. I started feeling a little better, and eating more.
Then more anxiety started to come back. A lot of it had to do with my girlfriend. I’ve been with her two years and am in a totally committed, loving relationship with her. Yet since the severe physical symptoms I described before, I’ve felt distant from her and awkward around her at times, because I feel guilty and horrible about subjecting her to my anxiety. It’s making her sad and frustrated to see the guy she loves going through such a hard time, but it makes her feel even worse that she can’t really help me. By this, I mean that her cuddling of me, touching me, kissing me, etc, to try to comfort me, does not work and I still feel anxiety. I no longer WANT her to cuddle me, or be physically intimate with me – my anxiety has given me an aversion to the physical contact, for some reason. I told her: “look, don’t be mad at yourself because you can’t make me feel better. Nothing can make me feel better. I just have this anxiety, and it comes and goes.” But she’s still sad about it and now she too is kind of depressed because I’m no longer any fun for her to hang out with anymore, and her attempts at comforting me fail. So instead of feeling joyous when she comes to see me, I feel nervous and anxious because I know that I’m going to have to subject her to my anxiety. But if I don’t see her on a regular basis, she’ll grow distant from me, and I don’t want that. So it’s a lose lose situation, and it causes me even more stress.
I’m much more relaxed talking to my parents. They comfort me a lot more than my girlfriend does. And this is not because my girlfriend is doing anything wrong. It’s because my parents have BOTH had severe depression and anxiety in the past, and they are both currently on medication for it. So when they reassure me “everything will be fine, this is just temporary, etc,” it feels good because it’s like I know that they’ve been through it all. My girlfriend has NOT been through it at all, and so when I’m with her, it’s like I’m with someone who’s powerless to understand my pain and to help me.
I’ve been getting other social anxiety too. Last week a friend of mine cooked a giant, delicious dinner for me and three friends at his house. I went over there, and as soon as I walked in, I felt like walking out again – I was so nervous, had such nameless dread, about being around these people, even though these guys are guys that I grew up with and I’ve always been tight as hell with. I took one bite of food, and thought I was going to puke. I walked into the bathroom, with the food still in my mouth, told myself “come on, Adam (might as well use my real name here since I’m revealing so much,) fucking get through this. You can do it. Chew up the rest of your food and get the fuck back out there and be a good guest.” I took a milligram of Xanax, which I had in my pocket, and walked back out there and started eating again. As the Xanax kicked in, I felt myself having a good time, bantering, and eating with great enthusiasm. “Good! I feel better!” I thought. But then later, when the pills had worn off, I felt shitty again.
At work today, two giant tables walked in (I’m a waiter.) Ordinarily I would have thought, “YES! Tips!” In my short time as a waiter I’ve gotten very good at it, and have grown to love the challenge of serving a busy crowd and the satisfaction of getting good tips. Instead, today, I just got a panic attack. I started getting short of breath, and everything felt surreal and somehow “wrong.” I soldiered through it and served everyone, but I felt like shit the whole time, my hands shaking. When it was over, I half-assed my closing duties and clocked out in a hurry.
I’ve found myself getting snippy with people for no reason. My dad, or my girlfriend, or whoever, will ask me reasonable questions, and I’ll snap at them and talk rudely. And I’ll apologize to them after, but the apology feels empty and like it means nothing.
I have had no interest in doing the things I used to love to do. I’ve not had the desire to listen to music, something I’ve always loved so much. I haven’t wanted to PLAY music, even though this has always been the central point of my life. I haven’t been able to relax while reading. I don’t want to go out to the movies, I don’t want to go out with my friends, I don’t want to take my girlfriend out to dinner (something I used to do at least once a week.) I just feel like my life is nothing.
There are ups and downs. Sometimes I feel good. (Usually when I’m on the Xanax.) But everything always has to have this overall feeling of just not being right, of being empty somehow. Last night I pulled out my bass guitar and played that badass bass intro from “One of These Nights” by the Eagles over and over again, but I just felt like it meant nothing, like “why am I doing this?” I laid in bed with my girlfriend and we talked about our high school teachers’ musical tastes and made fun of my emo-kid sister and joked and carried on, but the whole time I was thinking at the back of my mind, “who IS this girl? Do I love her? What IS love? What is the purpose of all this?” Sometimes I’ll be able to laugh, other times I’ll totally be in deep depression. The Xanax always makes me feel a little better, but only for a while, and it doesn’t feel like true happiness.
In one of my hypochondriac moments, I called my mom and was like “I’m afraid that I’m going insane, psychotic, and I’ll have to be put in an institution or something.” And she said, “Adam. Go to Wikipedia and look up “clinical depression.” You’ll see that it’s exactly what you have, not brain cancer or mad cow disease or parkinson’s or schizophrenia.” I went and looked up clinical depression. Sure enough. I had EVERY SINGLE SYMPTOM. Reading over the long bullet-point list of all the symptoms was like reading my exact thoughts over the past weeks. I’m talking like 30 or 40 symptoms, and I felt like I’d had every single one of them. So I thought – that’s it. Depression.
My parents and I went to a psychiatrist, and I was prescribed two drugs: Xanax XR, which releases over a long period of time and stays in the system longer than the regular kind, and Zoloft, which is the drug that both my parents are on and they say it’s made their lives a lot better. So now so far I’ve been on these pills for one day, and I have noticed I’m more calm when the Xanax has been working, but I’ve so far felt none of the overall good feelings, content, desire to cuddle with my girlfriend, desire to go out and go to shows or see movies, and enthusiasm about eating (I’ve eaten nothing for the past 2 days) that the Zoloft is supposed to give me. So I’ll give it time, I guess.
So right now it’s just a stressful waiting game. Yesterday I was lying in bed with my girlfriend and “Either Way” by Wilco came on, and the song went, “Maybe the sun will shine today, The clouds will blow away, Maybe I won’t feel so afraid I will try to understand either way.” And I just fucking lost it and burst into tears, sobbing uncontrollably, because it was exactly what I was feeling. So I hope those clouds are going to blow away. But the worrying, depressed, hypochondriac side of me has these horrible fears that it’s never going to go away, that I’m going to be stuck in this horrible place forever, and that I’ll never have happiness or love in my life again.
So really, anything you have to say, I’d appreciate so much. If anyone’s been through this and come out on the other side, I want you to give me some reassurance, and some advice on how to deal with the hard times. Again…I respect everyone here so much, and I know that just the act of writing this has made me feel better.