Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Bridge That Broke the Camel's Back



How thoughtful of them to build a new bridge next to the bridge that sealed my fate. When I was about 21, my friends and I piled into a car to take a daytrip to the Isle of Palms off the coast of Charleston, South Carolina. Up until this point I had driven around with no problems to speak of for a good five years. In perspective, that's not very long, but at the time it felt like forever and so I confidently got behind the wheel of the car and drove towards our destination. I had never been there before, but it was a quick trip and I couldn't possibly have guessed how a few minutes would so radically change my life.

As we neared the Isle of Palms, the only way to get there was to go over the Cooper River Bridge, an old steel bridge with pretty narrow lanes. I approached the bridge with not a worry in my mind. As I began to drive across the bridge I had what was to be the first of many panic attacks. My hands go numb, my body stiffens, my breathing rate and heart rate increase dramatically and everything gets a little dim around the edges. I had four other people in the car, including Lulu who was there for a visit. She was in the front seat with me and noticed I was having problems. I managed to make it over by staring at the bumper of the car in front of me, but was concerned the entire time that I was going to pass out. There was no place to pull over either. Lulu drove over the bridge on the way back, but that first crossing sealed my fate forever.

From there the attacks grew and spread to include other things like high overpasses on freeways and eventually to all freeways. It's a classic phobia I've been told. One where you begin to build all these behavioral responses to certain stimuli. I feel like I'm on a runaway train when the attacks start. My mind knows that it's ridiculous, but I can't seem to stop the reaction that my body goes through. When the attack is over, I am spent. It exhausts me and ruins what is left of my day as I'm usually left with a wicked headache and my body is busy mopping up the massive adrenaline overload.


I initially tried the cognitive-behavioral therapy route. After many months of therapy there was no improvement and because it involved driving, doing desensitization was dangerous. I was left with one option and that was to try medication. Three drugs later, I've found that an SSRI called Lexapro is the one that works for me, although I'm left dealing with some of the side effects of that which include tiredness and some weight gain. I've been off my medication for about two years because I just needed a break from it. But now I have new clients that I literally can't get to unless I'm medicated. I often feel like I am a prisoner in my own body. My freedom in life has been curbed by some crazy chemicals that don't behave like they're supposed to.


So back on the meds I go. I know I need to, but I don't want to. In general I function much better when I take Lexapro, because along with the panic attacks, I suffer in general from bouts of depression and have a generally high anxiety level. Funny, Lulu and I were talking about which Winnie the Pooh character we were one day. I immediately answered Tigger, but Lu corrected me and said I was more like Piglet. I don't think I like that. Lexapro lets me be Tigger, so I guess it's a good thing.

7 comments:

Grant Miller said...

I find I understand "Eeyore" better than I'd like.

Tenacious S said...

Perfect! I think my brother is a bit of an Eeyore as well.

Bubs said...

I sort of go back and forth between Eyore, and the occasional alcohol-induced Tigger.

It's funny that you brought up the bridge panic attack. There have been a couple of bridges over the years, both over the Mississippi, that have come close to causing me to almost be afraid to cross them. I've had to take a deep breath and get control of myself when it happens, which I'm grateful that I can do. I tend to be Mr. Worst-case-scenario, and I have to work pretty hard to shut that down at times. I never would have guessed that you were prone to panic attacks and depression. It sounds like the medication is a good choice for you.

Tenacious S said...

You know, Bubs, it is what it is. It certainly influences who I am, but I don't let it define me. I also am a firm believer in better living through chemistry. I can't change my genetic predisposition, but I can change how I react to it. I like to think I would have been a little better off in the days before cars, but then there would be no medication! When I first started taking medication I was amazed at how much the problem had limited me and how much freedom I gained by controlling it.

Beth said...

One of my best friends growing up had a stuffed Eyore. He looked cute playing with my Mr. Snufalupagus.

lulu said...

Tigger obviously suffers from some sort of bipolar disorder, only we never see him when he is depressed. I firmly believe that some of the time, Tigger is holed up in his lair eating Ben and Jerry's and crying.

Tenacious S said...

Then Tigger and I are one and the same. Does eating chocolate and crying count?