By Faith Hunter
I was asked years ago to participate in Hold On To the Light, a forum for writers who deal with emotional or mental issues and I never could. I’d start to write and my fingers would freeze on the keyboard and I’d develop an instant panic attack and I’d stop. I always said, “Next time I’ll do it. Next time I will be able to write the words.” This has gone on for over two years.
I’m a writer, mind you. Fiction, even emotionally charged fiction, is easy. Not this. And it’s intensely personal, so … Hard. Maybe even brutal. But if I’m going to open up, it has to be personal, right? And personal is supposed to be difficult?
Hi. I’m Faith and I have panic attacks.
The hard part wasn’t just the writing of the words. Until recently I wasn’t able to even talk about this issue in a public setting, and when I finally did, it wasn’t freeing, as I had hoped it would be. Talking about all this “weird me stuff” resulted in a rare deep depression that took weeks to lift. More recently, as I’ve mulled over my emotional and physical reactions to attempting to write about anxiety, I have begun to spot the causes and the young lifestyle and the personal history that contributed to my panic attacks. Not that any one thing made me the way I am. Not at all. In fact I think I’d have panic issues no matter how or where or when I grew up. My paternal grandmother had panic attacks, misdiagnosed in the sixties as heart problems. For forty years she took meds she likely didn’t need. She lived to 99 and never had heart problems. It was all anxiety. Dad had depression and other emotional and mental issues that he refused to treat for his entire life, because real men didn’t have emotional problems. They just pulled up their bootstraps and soldiered on, making themselves and everyone around them miserable.
And that is where my “can’t talk about it” mentality came from. Dad. For all my life I pasted a smile on my face and pushed through, even when the anxiety morphed up to suicidal ideation. Even when rare bouts of mild to moderate depression joined the anxiety. I knew they would pass. I knew that. So I didn’t deal with it. I just waited it out. Making everyone around me miserable.
Just. Like. My. Dad.
All this started at onset of adolescence, age twelve. I was the weird kid who hid from the world with my nose in books—science fiction, fantasy, and mysteries. I was bullied. Abused. My family life was falling apart in a nasty, messy divorce that still has intense repercussions 50 years later. My parents sent me to a psychiatrist who prescribed meds. They did nothing to help me, so by my teens and early twenties I self-medicated. But I also I fell in love with writing and discovered that diving into a make-believe world was the BEST way to survive the day-to-day episodes. To fight off the suicidal ideation that sometimes accompanied the panic attacks, I stayed busy. Between writing and the day job (make that night-shift job at a hospital) I was pulling 70 – 90 hour weeks to keep sane.
I didn’t sleep well. I didn’t eat well. In my thirties and forties I discovered Kava and St. John’s Wort, which helped mitigate the rare bouts of depression but did nothing for the anxiety—the heart racing, tear inducing, hide-in-my-writing because I might listen to the suicidal ideation voices in my head. I wrote. And wrote. I worked at the lab. I had success and failures. And I pushed on.
Just. Like. Dad.
Until I developed health issues that forced me to rest.
In my forties I developed weird inflammation in my hands and shoulder muscles. My joints ached. My hands stopped working. I couldn’t type. I had to wear braces when I wasn’t at the lab. I had to hire a typist to transpose my hand written novels. For years it got worse. I was falling apart and I was still overdoing.
The Kava and St. John’s Wort helped. Some. I prayed. I survived. I prayed some more. I went through menopause early and the suicidal thoughts and bouts of depression that had begun at adolescence decreased markedly. Estrogen was my enemy, it seems. My husband held my hand through all this. Decades of physical pain and fighting off suicidal thoughts. Decades of making do.
Just. Like. Dad.
In my fifties I finally told my medical doctor about my symptoms.
I stopped being like my father.
I asked for help.
Now that was freeing! Because I was worried about side effects of drugs, my doc adjusted my herbs and put me on a strict schedule of meditation / prayer, exercise, therapeutic massage, and rest. He insisted I eat right. Go to church. REST. I began to get better. The inflammation decreased. But I wasn’t well. I was still suffering. Living in a make-believe world was my only true respite. I wrote like a madwoman.
Another year went by and my doctor convinced me to try an anti-anxiety med. And—
It was amazing. The anxiety attacks just … melted away. Another doctor told me I might be allergic to corn and I got off corn products. The inflammation began to go away. I adjusted my eating habits some more and changed supplements. I found a passion that got me out of my desk chair and did not hurt my joints—whitewater paddling.
There was no magic bullet. It took changes in every aspect of my life. My husband still held my hand through all this. I am blessed to have him. To have friends who cut me some slack when I had to go off and be alone, or when I was snappy or quick tempered, or when I couldn’t deal with life stuff.
I got better. All because I stopped being like my father.
I asked for help.
Am I completely free of anxiety attacks? No. And since my cardiologist wants me off my current med, because it’s addictive, I’ll have to make new changes to my lifestyle, with the help of my general practitioner. But I am happier now. I seldom have suicidal ideation. I am at peace as much as I am able.
I stopped being like my father.
I asked for help. That is the way I have held onto the light. I asked for help. Asking for help isn’t weakness. Or foolishness. It’s brave. And it’s freeing.
#HoldOnToTheLight is a blog campaign encompassing blog posts by fantasy and science fiction authors around the world in an effort to raise awareness around treatment for depression, suicide prevention, domestic violence intervention, PTSD initiatives, bullying prevention and other mental health-related issues. We believe fandom should be supportive, welcoming and inclusive, in the long tradition of fandom taking care of its own. We encourage readers and fans to seek the help they or their loved ones need without shame or embarrassment.
Please consider donating to or volunteering for organizations dedicated to treatment and prevention such as: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Hope for the Warriors (PTSD), National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Canadian Mental Health Association, MIND (UK), SANE (UK), BeyondBlue (Australia), To Write Love On Her Arms (TWLOHA) and the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.
To find out more about #HoldOnToTheLight, find a list of participating authors and blog posts, or reach a media contact, go to http://www.HoldOnToTheLight.com and join us on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/WeHoldOnToTheLight