Nervous Nellie

I’ve had anxiety most (if not all) of my life. Some of my earliest memories are anxiety-laden:

  • sitting in my father’s car while he was outside talking to my uncle, feeling worried about being alone in the car
  • in elementary school, feeling worried about a state project due in May…during the month of December
  • the night before I turned 10, feeling intense worry that I would never be 9 years old again

I could go on and on.

There were times in my life when my worry worsened. A few weeks to months each year during my childhood when I would be exponentially worried – we began to call these episodes “La Etapa” (a stage of my life). I remember the worry intensifying in high school. I moved to a new school district during my freshman year and I would feel intense dread in the morning when people loitered by their lockers since I didn’t (really) know anyone. I remember hiding in the bathroom during this time, as this was preferable to socializing. I experienced intense anxiety during freshman year of college- fear of meeting new people/would I fit in/etc. I drank too much and gained a ton of weight which only made things worse. My anxiety worsened in medical school, especially on rotations where I had less control over my schedule/time. One way of dealing with my anxiety was through food restriction and overexercising – I could have control over one area of my life, even when everything else was in disarray. I started dieting in high school, so that need has been there for a long time.

I did speak to a few people during these years. In college, someone tipped off a counselor that I may have an eating disorder, and so I started seeing her. She would weigh me facing backyards so that I couldn’t see how much I weighed. I lost more weight when I stopped weighing myself because I was afraid of gaining weight, so clearly the anxiety was still there. I then met with a psychiatrist in medical school, during my surgical rotation, because I was incredibly moody and would break down over the smallest things. I remember running to the first appointment so that I wouldn’t miss my workout that day. He started me on Celexa. I took this for a few weeks, maybe 1-3 months max? My husband (boyfriend at the time) thought it helped, but I wasn’t so sure and stopped shortly after starting. The third time I reached out to get help was when I was struggling with infertility due to hypothalamic amenorrhea. I met with a therapist a few times near my residency program, pretty much crying the entire time through those sessions. That also did not last long.

Why did I “quit” so many times? Probably because I have pretty high-functioning anxiety. It never stopped me from accomplishing my goals or having (mostly) healthy relationships. It’s an ever present background hum, but in many ways it has driven me to succeed. I excelled in school, attended an Ivy League college, graduated medical school and matched into a competitive residency. In other words, even though I personally suffered, my goals did not. I was still able to interact normally with others, connect with/take great care of my patients, and perform daily activities with little interference. However, I have recently started wondering whether things could actually be better. For years, I thought being thin had led me to succeed. Part of the fear of gaining weight was that I would lose everything I had worked for. This was obviously a lie I had been telling myself and the world did not end when I gained weight. And so I started thinking: what if life could actually be better with my anxiety under better control? What would it be like to live in the moment, to not have the ever present buzz of worry, to not feel imminent doom over every little thing?

The other tipping point was this: my 4 year old has started to show signs of anxiety and it is heart-breaking. Yes, it could be hereditary. My whole family deals with anxiety, so maybe it would have been passed on anyway. But I also wonder whether an anxious milieu of the womb or anxious parenting (my husband, too, would factor in here; although normally a very calm person, he is quite an anxious parent) had any effect. I feel intense guilt over this. Although I can’t change anything I’ve done, at the very least I can do my very best to control my anxiety as my kids begin to grow and understand more.

Finally, I think it will be good for my marriage. My husband and I love each other dearly, but our differing personalities (mine characterized by anxiety) have definitely led to some repetitive arguments.

And so I scheduled an appointment with a psychiatrist specializing in women’s health, particularly around birth and motherhood. I met with her last week and she agreed I had generalized anxiety disorder and recommended three pillars of treatment:

  1. Medication
  2. Psychotherapy
  3. Self care

She said we could do any combination, so I am started with medication and trying to incorporate self care into my life. I opted for medication because, if I am truly honest with myself, I am dog-tired. I’m tired of always worrying about everything, of making to-do list after to-do list, of constantly playing out scenarios in my head. It is absolutely exhausting. And I want to get better as fast as possible. My father, a psychiatrist, always said that medication could be incredibly helpful to patients, to normalize their brain chemistry while they utilized psychotherapy to change their thought patterns. I picked up Zoloft right after the appointment and felt a huge sense of relief as I swallowed it. Obviously all of my feelings were still there, but I was relieved to finally be doing something about it.

I am holding off on psychotherapy for now because of the time commitment, but I am trying to do some self care. My family is in town this weekend so it’s a wonderful opportunity. I am taking the time to write this, and I also scheduled a couples massage for this evening. In the past week I’ve made time for mom/baby yoga and a stroller workout class.

And so I am trying and hoping for the very best outcome here.

Worried and kicking

It’s been 5 days since I learned about my possible toxoplasmosis infection and I’ve just been a rollercoaster of emotion:

  • doom and gloom: worst case scenario congenital toxoplasmosis situation. How will we adjust to having a severely disabled child? Is this fair to my other children? How will our lives change?
  • denial: this MUST be a false positive. I don’t spend time around cats, I don’t eat meat, I have barely eaten raw fruits and vegetables this pregnancy and never without washing them. Then I think about the one time our cat lady neighbor picked up two packages for us while we were away. This was back when I was very early pregnant, 1-2 mo. What if one of her cats pooped on the packages and then I grabbed them? Is this enough contact to transmit toxoplasmosis? Would my IgG be positive if this were the case?
  • anger: why did my ob check this lab? There seems to be no clear guideline to doing so (for asymptomatic patients without exposure risk). I switched to this ob primarily to have the same person I saw for regular visits deliver my baby instead of a resident (to clarify: not because I didn’t think they’d do a great job, but because I would prefer for residents I work with not to see me in labor. Although, two residents did deliver my second and I can barely remember who they were) but now I’m having second thoughts. Should I have stuck with my original group, who didn’t check for toxo because it’s not standard of care? Now I’m on this wheel of test after test after test (what I’ve been trying to avoid since my first induction for suspected pre-eclampsia) and I’m mad at myself because it’s of my own doing. I also wish she had a clear algorithm in mind. If she sends off a test, then she should have a clear plan as to what to do if it’s positive or negative. Yet, I know that this is not always true in medicine, and this is how we learn.

My husband is a level-headed, pragmatic individual. He is not worried at all. He says that worrying won’t change the situation. There is literally nothing I can add to the situation by worrying, and I need to relax and wait to see what the doctors say next week. I have an ultrasound scheduled and will follow up with high-risk ob the day after (by phone at least). I wish I could be reasonable like him and not worry, but I have a tough time doing so. I worry about the need for invasive testing or treatment which could be dangerous to the baby. I worry about being in a perpetual state of worry (is this the ultimate sign of anxiety or what?) during this pregnancy. I worry that the baby will need unnecessary testing when he’s born. And I think about what it would be like to have a baby with congenital toxoplasmosis – how different from my prior newborns. How will I handle that on top of having a newborn and 2 toddlers?

In the past few days, the baby has started to kick more. He was moving early on this time around, but his movements have been much more intense and exaggerated. I like to think that he’s telling me not to worry, to calm down, that he’s alright. I hope this is true. Only 3 more days until I have my ultrasound. I pray that everything is normal.