Okay, finally I have a chance to get back on the computer. Sorry it has taken me so long. I'll try to make this as short as possible but still get the whole story across.
It started in October of 2001 around my ds2's first birthday. I got a clogged nipple duct. It lasted for a couple of months and I just couldn't get rid of it. I started to worry that perhaps there was something wrong that was causing the clog and not allowing me to get rid of it. I would massage and pump to no avail. Finally, I think that that duct just atrophed (sp?) because no milk came out of it anymore, but it didn't hurt any longer. About a month later I noticed that I had a small lump in my breast. I figured it was related to my period so I didn't worry too much. A month later it was still there so I went into my obgyn. She didn't think it was anything but at my urging, she scheduled an ultrasound. That showed nothing. I felt like it had to be something so I saw my internist who felt it and scheduled an appointment with a surgeon. When I saw him he said it was small, round and likely nothing to worry about at this time (????). I was really hoping that he would take it out to be sure but he didn't want to do that. He said that even if it was cancer, it would be a year or two before it would be big enough to be an issue. That was not reassuring.
I continued to worry about it. It didn't help that everyone you know will tell you a story about their mother/aunt/sister/grandmother who had a lump and was told it was nothing and it turned out it was cancer and they died. My mother had cancer in her early 30's and I was 32 at the time this was happening so I was naturally worried. I felt like no one was taking me seriously. By the end of April it was still there and I was still worried about it.
One Friday night in late April I was online and I started to notice that it felt like my heart was skipping a beat. It totally freaked me out. Then I would feel it racing. I didn't say anything to my dh, but I worried all night that perhaps I should go to the ER. We get by financially, but an ER bill pretty much kills our budget, and I didn't to go and be told it was nothing. I worried all night that I was having a heart attack. It continued through the weekend and I finally called my doctor and she told me to come in the next morning.
The next day she ran an ekg which was normal and drew blood for testing (thyroid was one that she tested, but it was normal.) She had me wear a Holter monitor for 24 hours to see if anything unusual showed.
Ds is crying so I'm going to post this so far and add on later -- I don't want to have to start all over again.
Finally, I'm back --- Whew!!!
So I'm wearing the holter monitor and we drop of our kids at some friends so we can go birthday shopping for my oldest. We decided to eat first and went to a restaurant that we typically don't take the kids to. We were almost finished eating when I started to notice that my heart was racing and skipping beats (having PVC's -- premature ventricular contractions -- for future reference). I began to become more anxious about it, and was glad that I had the monitor on. By the time we left the restaurant I was feeling really worn out and my throat felt tight. I felt like my breathing was off too. I wasn't quite out of breath, but it was like I was only breathing about 3/4 of usual so every so often I had to take a really deep breath to get back on track. We got to the store and all these things kept getting worse. I also began to feel really hot, especially my head and I felt sort of lightheaded. I really wanted to get the shopping done, so I didn't say anything to my dh at first. By the time we got to the toy section it was clear that I wasn't quite right. I didn't have any energy, I couldn't keep up with him walking, I didn't want to talk -- while still having all the other symptoms. Then all the sludden I had to go running to the bathroom. It was like my intestines had gone crazy and I had sudden diarrhea. I had to get to the bathroom as soon as possible, so I told my dh to take care of everything, that I had to go to the bathroom and that we needed to get out of there.
We headed back to our friends house after we left. I was sort of slumped in the carseat, scared to death and feeling like I wanted to crawl out of my skin. I just wanted to be home. When we got to their house I called the on call doctor who assured me that it wasn't likely that I was having a heart attack. I asked him why I was feeling like that and he said that sometimes it just happens and thankfully, the holter monitor was catching it all. I laid on their couch while my dh got the boys. I couldn't even open my eyes. We headed home. Then, by the time we got home it was over and I felt much better. Of course I was scared to death, but better.
As I began to tell people about what had happened, everyone had a story about their aunt/father/sister/friend/dog catcher who died of a heart attack when the doctors had told them they were fine. I know people wanted to help, but it just scared me even more.
As the days went on, I began to have the racing heart, PVC's, tightness in my throat daily. My anxiety level slowly began to creep up everyday, but I didn't notice that each day it was worse than the day before. I continued to have these "attacks" but I didn't know what they were. I would go to the store and read magazine covers where the stories were "10 heart attack symptoms you might not know," or "Why doctors misdiagnose heart disease in women." You get the idea. Things like that were on the cover of every magazine, and I began to wonder if God was trying to tell me something. Then Oprah ran her show about young women and heart attacks and I was scare to death. My anxiety had gotten so bad that I was having these attacks several times a week at times. I would call my doctor and she would have me come in and run an ekg and tell me I was fine. I kept telling her I wasn't fine, but she kept insisting that some people have PVC's all the time and it's nothing to worry about (BTW, my mom has PVC's and it's totally normal for her.)
The anxiety had crept to the level that I wouldn't eat anything with fat in it. We were living on plain chicken and rice. I was dropping weight (as was my dh, but he was glad) and my health was slowly going down the toilet. In late July the anxiety was so bad that on the way back from Missouri after visiting my dad (it's a five hour drive) we were driving through Jefferson City which is the only main town along the way. I was praying to God that if I was going to have a heart attack, please let me have it now, because there weren't any more hospitals along the way. I was in constant fear of a heart attack. I didn't realize it, but there was never a moment that the fear wasn't on my mind. Even when hanging out with my friends it was there. I would think about whether the friend I was with would have room in her car to take my kids home from the mall if I had a heart attack there. Very strange thoughts. Every twinge I felt in my body set me on edge and caused me to worry. It was an awful way to live.
In late August we went to A Day Out With Thomas in Rockford Il. It's about three hours from our home. It was so hard to enjoy it with my family because I was worried about where the first aid tent was so my dh could get me there if I had "the big one." On the way home late that night I had a huge panic attack -- much like that first one -- in the car on the way home. I was so exhausted that I couldn't open my eyes or sit up straight in the seat. We were driving through a town with a hospital about an hour from our home and I couldn't decide whether to have my dh stop. I just wanted to be home. I didn't want to get home, I wanted to BE home right then and there. that hour car ride was the worst of my life. We got home and I crawled straight into bed. I spent the whole night worrying that I should be going to the emergency room. I never went.
I called my doctor the next morning. She ran another ekg which was, of course, normal and told me that I needed to be eating more and drinking ensure. I told her that I was nauseaus all the time. Not stomach flu nauseaus, but nauseaus like when you are really worried about something and have butterflies in your stomach. Hmmmm, looking back, shouldn't that have been a clue for her. She is an internal medicine doctor and she should have had a clue about what was going on. She told me I was fine, that there was not anything wrong with me. She said that she would put me on a beta blocker to try to keep the rapid heart rate from occuring. Gee, thanks. She also made an appointment for me to have an upper GI done since I was nauseaus 24 hours a day and had constant gastro problems and diarrhea. The tests came back fine and they simply didn't know why I was always nauseaus, couldn't eat anything and always felt like I had irritable bowel syndrome.
When I went in to her office to get the results, I had my worst appointment ever. She told me that nothing was wrong with me and that I was a hypochondriac. She wasn't exactly nice when she said it. I stuck up for myself and asked to be referred to a Cardiologist. That sent her over the edge. She slammed my file on the table and almost yelled at me "There is absolutely nothing wrong with you, but if you ask, I have to refer you because if I don't, that's how doctors get sued!!!" Isn't she a lovely woman making her patient cry and calling her a hypochondriac.
After that, I tanked pretty quickly. I couldn't eat anymore. The only thing I could stomach was milk and bananas. Ordinarily, I don't really like either of those. I would have a couple of glasses of milk a day and a banana. That's what I was living on. In September I was so weak and thin that my mil came to stay with us for a week. My dh was basically trying to keep on top of everything in our life (food, laundry, cleaning etc) all while working full time. Then, the poor boys (4 and almost 2 at the time) were so desperate for someone to play with when dh came home that he tried his best to make sure they got the attention they deserved. He needed help and thank goodness his mother could come.
She arrived on Monday. I was just so glad to be able to lay in bed all day and not have to worry about the kids. That night, they took the boys to a school function and I stayed home. My dad called me and during that phone call I started to have a shooting pain down the left side of my neck and into my left shoulder. I didn't say anything to by dad but I was scared to death. That is a big symptom of a heart attack. I hung up with him and called the ER and they told me to come in. Dh got home as I was talking to them and he took me in while mil stayed with the kids.
When we got there the doctor asked me all sorts of questions. When he was finished, he told me that he didn't think that there was anything wrong with my heart, but he would run all those tests just to check. Then he told me that he thought I was having a panic attack. I sort of poo poo'ed him until he brought me a list of symptoms of a panic attack. It had all the things I had been experiencing the last few months -- racing heart, PVC's, tightness in the throat, shortness of breath, gastro intestinal issues/diarrhea, nausea, feeling hot, feeling weak or exhausted all the sudden, tingling in the limbs, chest pain and others that I can't remember right now. It was like a light bulb went off. He told me that he wanted me to see my doctor in the morning and he would be sure that she was informed about his findings and she would put me on a medication to help. He also told me that he was on Zoloft. He told me how he used to have occasional panic attacks and other times would feel this incredible rage toward his children for silly things. He said that he knew the rage was irrational, but he couldn't stop feeling it. He said that since he started on Zoloft he felt back to normal.
That was the first night in ages that I slept more than three hours and didn't fear having an "attack." I finally knew what they were.
The next morning I went to my doctor and she prescribed Paxil and Xanax (an anti anxiety med.) I went home feeling hope for the first time in ages. Unfortunately, it didn't last long. The paxil intensified the anxiety (I later found out that this isn't uncommon with Paxil) and Xanax didn't work for me. I was worse than ever before. I couldn't get out of bed. I could barely make my kids breakfast (I'm talking popping a waffle in the toaster) and I couldn't keep my eyes open. I was constantly exhausted. I couldn't shower, couldn't eat, I could barely stand up straight. I kept calling my doctor begging for help because the meds weren't working and her answer was always to take a xanax. This was problematic for two reasons, first, I was still nursing my almost two year old and xanax is contraindicated for nursing. It's addictive and I was scared to death of it. It was hard to time taking it around nursing. Plus, when I did take it -- it just didn't work. Everytime I called I got that same answer.
The next week I called a family practice office where I am a registered patient but had never been there. I told them the same thing, that I couldn't care for my kids, could barely get out of bed, and everything that was going on. I told them that I was sure that something was seriously wrong with me. After all, the meds weren't working so the ER doctor must have been wrong, right? They said that they could get me in in three weeks. I was devistated. It was the first time during this whole year long ordeal that I cried. I didn't know where to turn. I was sure I was dying and no one was doing anything to help me. My dh was petrified, but didn't let me know until way later, just how scared he was. I was a mere shell of myself. I had dropped about 20 pounds and weighed less than 100 pounds.
That Thursday morning I managed to get out of bed to get my kids waffles and flop on the couch. My body was so physically sick, worn, and exhausted that I could drag myself to the couch, turn on the tv for the kids (my kids watched a lot of tv for a while) and lay there, unable to even keep my eyes open. This was how I spent all my time. I didn't sleep, but I couldn't open my eyes. My best friend called and offered to take my kids for the morning. The thought of driving them over there was so daunting that I told her no. But then the thought of being able to lay in bed knowing that they were having fun and taken care of was really nice. I called my dh to see if he could take them over there (she didn't have enough room in her car to come get them) but he had meetings all morning and couldn't. I called her back and told her I would bring them over.
I have no idea how I drove over there. I pulled in her driveway, got them out of the car, walked them halfway to the door, still wearing boxer shorts and a tee shirt that I had slept in. I said thanks (I think I said thanks) and got back in my car and drove away. On the way home I was praying to God that someone would run a stoplight and hit me. I didn't want to die, and I certainly didn't want to cause an accident that would injure someone, but I wanted someone to hit me so that the ambulance would come, take me to the hospital, and maybe, just maybe someone would find out what was wrong with me.
My friend called my dh at work and told him how concerned she was. He left his meetings and came home to check on me. I told him about wanting to be in an accident. I also told him that I didn't know how much longer I could go on like that. Again, I wasn't suicidal, but I needed help from someone who could find out what was wrong. He suggested that I take a shower, but I just couldn't. He said that I might feel better if I get up and go watch tv, but I just couldn't. Looking back I often think to myself, "why didn't I just take a shower" but at the time, I just couldn't get out of bed. It is the most bizarre thing in the world, but I just couldn't do it.
He got really scared now and started calling around. He called his aunt who was a nurse to get her opinion. He called his mom. Finally he called the doctor's office. By some sort of divine intervention, the doctor was gone so he talked to her nurse. I knew that she felt really bad for me. He told my dh to take me to the emergency room. He went and picked up the kids, brought them home, put them down for naps (I don't remember any of this) and made arrangements for my friend to take the boys again after their naps.
When they woke up later he came in and told me that he was going to take me to the ER. At first I told him no because it was about 5:00pm and as I later found out is common with depression, I was feeling a bit better. For some reason, many people with depression begin to feel a bit better in the evening. Of course, at this point, I didn't know I was suffering from depression. He told me that we were going anyway and I was almost frustrated because her I was, feeling a bit better and able to at least take a shower and talk, and they weren't going to know how bad I was that morning. I feared that they would dismiss me too.
On the way to the hospital, my dh went through the Wendy's drive through to eat. He hadn't eaten all day. I managed to eat half of one of those little tiny hamburger patties. It was the most I had eaten in days. When we got to the hospital and checked in they put me in an exam room. Not the little curtained area in the big area like they had before, but in an actual room by myself (well, with dh too, but no other patients.) I remember thinking to myself that I really must be dying and they want me in here alone to tell me. The doctor came in and asked me a bunch of questions. I wish I could remember all of them specifically. I remember than some of them dealt with my physical self and the symptoms I was feeling, but as for the others, I don't remember them now except one -- "Do you feel hopeless?"
The whole year that all of this had been going on I had basically been happy. I loved my life with my dh and kids. I wouldn't change anything about it. Sure, things like more free time or money would be nice, but we were HAPPY with our life. I had great friends, neighbors and family. I had a good life. I had never been "depressed" as we think of depression. I hadn't been sad, or cried day after day. I had a good life, except for all these things going on with my body. So when he asked me that question I initially answered "no, I don't feel hopeless." Then I started to think about the last few months. While I didn't feel hopeless about how my life had turned out thusfar, I was happy with that, I did feel hopeless that no one could find out what was wrong with me, and I didn't know what the future held. I told him what I had just been thinking. He looked at me and as lovingly as I have ever heard a doctor deliver news he said to me that I was suffering from depression.
At first I didn't believe it. After all, my mother had suffered from depression for as long as I could remember and she was sad much of the time, she was miserable and unhappy with her life. She was what most people think of when they hear the word "depressed." Of course, she also had a crappy life when we were growing up.
I told the doctor that I didn't feel "depressed" and he went on to tell me that depression doesn't necessarily mean you feel depressed. It is an organic issue in the brain that causes the brains chemistry to be "off." He explained that it can manifest in many ways. People can feel overwhelming rage. They know that it is unreasonable, but they can't get over the feeling. It can manifest in social anxiety. People are afraid and anxious about social situations. It can manifest in fear for their children's health. Fear that their child will die. And finally, he told me that it can manifest in severe anxiety about one's own health. He said that all the symptoms that I had were classic symptoms of depression. He mentioned all the symptoms that I had been having. I then asked him why it is that I always felt worse in the morning but slightly better in the evening. He said that they didn't know why it is, but for some people that is the case. I broke down and cried and cried. Finally, someone had listened to me and was helping me. He told me that with such classic symptoms, he was surprised that I had gotten this bad without being diagnosed.
He called the psychiatrist on call and they both agreed that I was too sick at that point to simply prescribe meds and let me go. They admitted me and put me on Lexapro (an antidepressant) and Ativan (an anti-anxiety med.) I was scared to death. I would be the first time, other than when my ds2 was born, that I would be away from my family. When my dh left that night it was the worst feeling to be left there alone. However, the next morning I was able to eat nearly all my breakfast -- I'm talking eggs, bacon, and toast. I was able to sleep again. The Ativan made me tired at the dose I was on and I got more sleep that I had in ages. I ended up staying in the hospital for six days. The change in how I felt in the days I was there was amazing. I no longer felt every little body twinge. I didn't worry about having a heart attack. I was able to eat again.
The one thing that was sort of depressing, so to speak, was that I decided that I needed to get healthy and I weaned my two year old while I was there. That way I was able to gain weight again and get my body healthy and I didn't have to worry about the Ativan. It turns out that after I got out of the hospital I really didn't need the Ativan anymore, but I didn't know it at the time. The difference in how I felt in just that one week was amazing. I didn't realize how truly bad I was until I started to get better again.
After I started feeling better I got a bit bummed that I had to rely on a drug to make me feel normal. I didn't want to have to rely on it for the rest of my life. I felt resentful that the whole thing had happened to me, and I wanted to go back to the before it all started and be healthy again. I think that a lot of people feel that way after starting on an antidepressant. Ironically, there is something depressing about relying on a medication to make you feel normal, but it is a sign that you are feeling better. I saw my psychiatrist every two months at first but was to call him if I needed him before that.
In December I had a slight recurrance. There were a couple of weeks that I began obsessing about having Multiple Sclerosis. I had noticed my hand shaking one day and got it into my head that I had MS. The difference was that unlike before, part of my brain knew I was fine and that I didn't have MS, but the anxiety was still there under the surface. It was like having two battling forces. The best way to describe it was that besides the anxiety I felt very apathetic. I just couldn't get excited about anything. It bummed me out because it was over Christmas and I just couldn't get into the holidays. At least I knew what was wrong. There were a couple of times that I took and Ativan when I felt the anxiety get too much control, but I only had to take one and the rest of the day I was fine. I called the doctor and made an appointment to see if I needed my medication adjusted, but it was the end of the year and I couldn't get in till the following week cause it was a long new year's weekend. By the time my appointment rolled around, I felt great again. It helped to talk to the Psychiatrist, though and hear that it was all normal.
I went on to say on the antidepressant for nine months before I decided to wean off to try to get pregnant again. It was bizarre to think where I had been the year before, and that I was now wanting to get pregnant. What a difference! I knew that there was a chance that I might not be successful going off at that time, or that I might need to go back on during my pregnancy, but I put it into God's hands that things would work out.
And they did. I actually got pregnant two weeks before I began weaning off the medication with the supervision of my psychiatrist. It only took me 5 days to competely wean off. I have been medication free since then and I now have my third wonderful boy who is almost four months old. I truly am my old self again. I know that there is a good chance that I will have to go back on meds again. Turns out that depression runs rampant throughout my family, but no one talked about it. I have many aunts and cousins that are on meds. But now, I don't fear or resent that possibility. Depression is a chemical imbalance, not a personality flaw. It is in no way a weakness on our part. It is one of the most misunderstood illnesses that there is. I'll admit that I had no idea what depression really was until I had it.
What is going on with you rings so familiar with what I went through. Looking back it is clear that for me, the trigger was the fact that I hadn't gotten more than three hours of sleep a night (and not in a row) since midway through my second pregnancy. Then my ds2 was a horrid sleeper and the sleep deprivation continued. He didn't sleep through the night until he was almost two years old. That can really wear on a body after a while. Thankfully, this baby is a good sleeper and I'm fully rested. That still doesn't stop the occasional anxious thought from running through my head during this post partum time. But, now I know what it is and how to handle it. I also know that I can go back on meds if I need to. I don't fear it anymore, I know it is managable.
This is long enough as it is, and I've left out many events for the sake of length, but this gives you a good feeling for what I went through. I'm sure that I'll thing of things later that I want to add, and if you have any questions, please ask and I'll answer openly and honestly. Depression is misunderstood by the general population and by being open about what happened to me, it helps clear up the mystery. I'm not mentally ill, I'm chemically challenged.
BTW, the lump in my breast which sort of started all the anxiety to begin with suddenly disappeared shortly after the panic attacks started.
I'll check back in later... I hope this helped.