Me And Anxiety

Me And Anxiety
The month of May is recognized as National Mental Health Awareness Month in the United States.

“Approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. (46.6 million) experiences mental illness in a given year…and 1 in 5 youth aged 13–18 (21.4%) experiences a severe mental disorder at some point during their life. For children aged 8–15, the estimate is 13%.”

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)

I was seventeen when I experienced my first one. I was lying in bed, trying to get to sleep. I lay awake, my brain wondering. I think about a lot of things when I’m trying to go to sleep. That night, I was thinking about my birth mom. A few days before, I had found out the devastating news that she had passed away a couple of years prior, and I never got to say goodbye or that I loved her. Suddenly, I felt a sharp pain in my chest. A pain that I have never experienced before. I started sweating. My chest started to tighten. I felt as though my brain was disconnecting from my body. I started rapidly breathing, then trying to take deep breaths, as though I wasn’t getting enough air. Oh my God…I can’t breathe! Am I dying???  I felt as though I needed to go outside in order to get a really deep breath. Unfortunately, due to my cerebral palsy, that was not possible. I started gasping for air even harder. Help!!! Hellllllp! Was all I was able to get out. I have never screamed out like that for help before. My foster mom ran into my room. “What’s wrong?” She asked, with worry in her voice. I can’t breathe! I exclaimed. My foster mom explained to me that if I was able to talk and scream out for help, then I WAS breathing. I explained to my foster mom that I felt like I could not get enough air;  like I was suffocating. And that I also felt like I was dying. By this time, my breathing was returning back to normal. I realized that I was able to speak, therefore I was breathing the WHOLE TIME! I felt a little silly when my foster mom pointed that out. Because I was able to scream for help. What just happened?
I thought to myself. I had never been through something like that before. It was terrifying.

My foster mom helped me take a couple of deep breaths. During this time, my teeth started chattering, as if I was cold. I felt tingling in my hands and fingers. A warm sensation swept over my entire body. I noticed that my body started to tremble some too. I also lost control of my bladder. What is going on? I thought to myself. After my foster mom helped me clean up and get me settled back in the bed, I tried to go to sleep, but I was afraid that what I had just went through an hour ago would happen again. I was afraid. I thought for sure that if it happened again, I was going to die.

The next day, I felt normal, like I usually did. I was happy it was daytime, because I felt like during the day, around other people at school, if I had another episode like the night before, at least someone could help me. I also felt that I would have less of a chance of that happening during the day. I felt safe during the day from whatever episode I had had the night before. Like when a child is afraid of the boogeyman at night. That is the only way I could explain how I felt.

However, when I returned home from school, I had another episode. But this time, it was different. Instead of feeling like I could not breathe, this time I felt as though there was a cloud of fear lingering over me. I felt a feeling of dread. Then a few seconds later, I felt terrified. My foster mom noticed. “Are you okay?” She asked me. “You look scared.” I was, I felt as though I knew that there was a ghost right behind me. But I could not do anything but freeze in fear. As soon as my foster mom mentioned that I looked scared, I burst into uncontrollable crying. I did not know why I felt scared. Or why I could not stop crying.

Later that night, my foster mom decided that we better go to the doctor to see what was wrong. I agreed. I usually do not like going to the doctor, but with these “episodes”, I was happy at the thought of someone helping me get rid of these feelings of fright. But then I also thought to myself, What if I try to describe my symptoms and feelings, and the doctor has never heard of anything like these episodes?

The next day, my foster mom picked me up from school, and we went straight to the doctor. I had an appointment scheduled for late afternoon. We arrived, and the automatic doors into the lobby greeted me and my wheelchair by opening both double doors. (Being in a wheelchair, I consider automatic doors a fun little side attraction! Yes, I am a nerd!) My foster mom and  I wheeled up to the check-in desk to inform the doctor that I had arrived for my appointment.

A couple of minutes later, the nurse opened the door and called out my name. “Jennifer!” …

The doctor came into my exam room.
She knocked and opened the door. “Hello!” She exclaimed, with a cheerful face. Hello. I said in return, but without the cheerfulness behind it. Looking at my foster mom, and then looking at me, the doctor asked, “So, what brings you in today Jennifer? I tried explaining my symptoms over the past couple days as best I could. “She’s going to think I’m crazy! I thought to myself. “Ok.” The doctor  responded. “Have you experienced any stressful situations or a traumatic event during the last few weeks?” My doctor asked. I told her that yes, I was experiencing stress, as I  just learned that my birth mother had passed away. And that it also took me by surprise. ” When you experience these episodes, does it feel like the walls are closing in on you? I was confused as to what she was asking.  No, it feels like I’m dying. Like my brain is disconnecting from my body. Like the only way, I can get air, and a deep enough breath is if I were to go outside.

My doctor explained my symptoms to me. They were symptoms similar to an anxiety/panic attack. She explained that some individuals who have through traumatic or stressful events can experience these anxiety/panic attacks. And that they are usually associated with Generalized Anxiety Disorder.

After finally getting a diagnosis and learning about what exactly anxiety disorders were, I started to think back when I was really little. I remember being about 3 or 4 years old. I was living with my mother at the time. I remember that I would just get this fear or dread. I would sit in my little wheelchair, playing with one of my toys. Watching cartoons. And out of nowhere, I would start to feel uneasy. I would get the feeling as if something bad were going to happen. I would start bursting into tears. I had symptoms of anxiety when I was a child! I thought to myself.

Today, I am managing my anxiety with therapy and medication combination. I was also diagnosed with Depressive Disorder. The medication that I take for my anxiety also helps with the depression. As I’ve reached adulthood, my anxiety has leaned more towards Social Anxiety . However, with my medication and the techniques I’ve been taught in cognitive behavioral therapy, I am able to cope in the moments when I feel anxious.

For individuals who have mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety disorders, it can be pretty hard to talk about with others. This is because there is a stigma that comes with mental illness. In our society today, there is a stigma attached to mental illness; as though having a mental illness such as depression, anxiety, or even bipolar is not “normal”. Or that if you struggle with a mental illness, you are “weak” or “crazy”.These false labels, stigmas, and stereotypes are just not true! In fact, I believe we who handle these mental health conditions are a lot stronger because of them!

If you, or you know someone who is struggling with mental illness or Suicidal Thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255. Help is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You can either call directly or they even have a chat line for FREE.

If you live in the UK, call SAMARITANS: 116123. Help is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for FREE.

You are never alone!

CP And Me

Cerebral palsy (CP) is caused by abnormal development of the brain or damage to the developing brain that affects a child’s ability to control his or her muscles .”
 – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

I was born two and a half months early in October of 1983. During the time I was born, technology and medicine were not as advanced as it is today. Preemies were given little hope by doctors and hospitals of survival.

After I was born, doctors had little hope that I would survive. I was put in the NICU of Nassau Medical Center (Nassau University Medical Center), Long Island, New York.  My father recalls seeing me in the incubator, hooked up to, tubes in order to help me breathe. Doctors told my parents that they should prepare for the worst. Doctors also diagnosed me with severe cerebral palsy. They told my parents that I would never be able to walk or talk, even if I did survive. My parents decided to have me baptized in the Chapel of the hospital.
Today, I am 35 years old. I cannot walk. But I can talk. (My husband would certainly tell you that I am VERY verbal! 😂)

The CDC defines Cerebral Palsy:
“Cerebral Palsy is a group of disorders that affect a person’s ability to move and maintain balance and posture.” (Centers for Disease Control and prevention 2018)
In my case, cerebral palsy affects my ability to walk. I can stand up a little, but it is with the
help of another person and grab bars.
There are four types of Cerebral Palsy:
  • Spastic Cerebral Palsy
  • Dyskinetic Cerebral Palsy
  • Ataxic Cerebral Palsy
  • Mixed Cerebral Palsy

Within Spastic Cerebral Palsy, there are three (3) subtypes of spastic CP:
  • Spastic diplegia/diparesis
  • Spastic hemiplegia/hemiparesis
  • Spastic quadriplegia/quadriparesis

I have Spastic Quadriplegia (“Quad”) Cerebral Palsy (CP). Spastic Quad CP is the most severe form of CP, and it can affect all four limbs of the body, trunk, and the face of the individual with this form of cerebral palsy. Individuals with spastic quad CP often cannot walk…
“..often have other developmental disabilities such as intellectual disability; seizures; or problems with vision, hearing, or speech.” (Centers for Disease Control land prevention 2018)
Despite all the challenges associated with Spastic Quad CP, many individuals with this type of cerebral palsy (with or without developmental, intellectual disabilities, seizures, hearing/speech/vision impairments) lead happy, productive lives. I am one example, and I have plenty of friends with spastic quad CP who are very happy, intelligent, independent, productive people.
What’s the saying…?

“Never judge a book by its cover.”

That has never been truer if you are someone with a disability.
My Quad CP affects my entire body. I need assistance getting out of bed, going to the bathroom, taking a shower, getting dressed, getting in my power chair during the day, and also help to get back in bed. My husband,  help do all these things. He is always so patient with me. Some days, I am more spastic then other days. Spasticity is one of the main symptoms of Cerebral Palsy.

“Spasticity is a condition in which there is an abnormal increase in muscle tone or stiffness of muscle, which might  interfere with movement, speech, or be associated with discomfort or pain.” (The National Institute of Neurological Disorders And Stroke)
During winter time, my body is extremely spastic. To combat a lot of the extreme spasticity or stiffness, there are a lot of individuals with spastic CP (as well as individuals with other types of cerebral palsy) who require muscle relaxants to help with muscle tone, spasticity, Mobility, and in some cases, pain management.
For my spasticity, I require a muscle relaxant known as baclofen. I take this medication through an intrathecal baclofen pump. (But, more about that in a future post! 😬)
Not everyone who has CP has the same experience. There are other individuals who have Cerebral Palsy who do not need a wheelchair. Others with cerebral palsy might only have one side of their body that is affected. Some people with CP may have very little spasticity.
As a person with cerebral palsy and a wheelchair user, I do not want sympathy from my readers. I created this blog so that people could be more aware of disabilities like cerebral palsy. I hope I have done that today. And if you or someone you know has cerebral palsy, know that the future is bright!

There are plenty of resources online to help a child or an adult in their journey living with cerebral palsy. Easter Seals UCP helps children and adults with disabilities, in the US. You can find out more information here. If you live outside of the United States, or in the UK, click here.

Imagine, For A Moment…

Scenario 1

You look at yourself in the mirror. Trying to brush your hair for the day, you start breaking a small sweat. You think to yourself: “Why does my Cerebral Palsy have to make my upper body so stiff?” You struggle to get your right arm to reach the very back of your scalp. Trying to get “that” part in the back; the part that never seems to want to lay flat, no matter how many times you struggle to wet it, and brush it. “Whatever!” And with that, you drop your brush in the bathroom sink. You notice that your upper body is starting to relax as you stop struggling to brush your hair. “Good enough!” You tell yourself in the mirror. And wheel about your day, in your power chair.

Scenario 2

“How many days has it been since my last bowel movement?” You wonder to yourself, while sitting in the public restroom stall at work. You have Chronic Constipation. You wish that you didn’t have to deal with this condition, especially at work. The bloating in your stomach. The feeling of finally going, but you still feel stopped up. You flush the toilet and come out of the stall. You walk over to the sink, with your hand over your stomach. While washing your hands, you look at yourself in the mirror, wondering whether the Miralax the doctor prescribed you two weeks prior, is working.  While drying your hands with a paper towel, and tossing it in the trash, you tell yourself in the mirror, “You can’t be the only one going through this.” You wonder if there is anyone else out there who would be brave enough to admit that they suffer from Chronic Constipation?

Scenario 3
It’s been two weeks since you left your bed. You feel tired all the time. You are a freelance blogger, who works from home. You are behind on a lot of your deadlines, and you can’t remember whether you paid your rent or not. You can’t seem to figure out why you feel this way. Feelings of sadness, irritability, body aches, and fatigue. You make an appointment with your doctor. Describing your symptoms over the last two weeks, your doctor conducts a test. This test ranks you at having symptoms of moderate to severe Depression.

My name is Jennifer. I am an adult with Cerebral Palsy. I also have Chronic Constipation, Depression, as well as some other conditions that are not described in the above scenarios. I have decided to write a medical blog based on current conditions that I do have, as well as previous conditions or illnesses that I have had. You will also read about personal experiences from other individual perspectives, and how they have  handled these conditions. I want to share these stories with You.

My goal is to spread more awareness about disability, mental illness, and health conditions. I hope at the end of this blog I will have helped break stigmas and stereotypes related to disability, chronic illnesses, and mental health conditions  such as, depression. Every minute of every day someone, somewhere, is going through an illness, chronic condition, physical disability, or mental health condition that you may have never been aware of. Stories need to be told to help spread awareness.
Some of the medical conditions that are going to be covered in this blog, include:

  • Cerebral palsy
  • Chronic constipation
  • Depression
  • Asperger’s and autism spectrum disorders
  • Self-limited colitis
  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Adult ADHD
  • …And more
Please like, share, and subscribe to learn more about different medical conditions, and how they are dealt with, from personal experiences and accounts.  Thank you!