Tag Archives: fear

Unchained: Fear of Going Ballistic in a Public Place

 Here I am in a well-visited bookstore. I sit with a book on one knee (The Name of God is Mercy by Pope Francis) and my smart phone on my other, typing this.

I don’t know if it’s from my Starbucks mocha that I’m still nursing, or if it’s from losing my temper with my two little boys this morning after my younger one’s basketball game.

But I’m suddenly having flashbacks of the mental ward and how I was kept in there against my will — a prisoner cut off from the real world.

I recall pushing my face against the barred window, straining to get a glimpse of some trees or grass.

The feeling of helplessness. Madness. Panic in being trapped.

Now here I am. I’m free. My body. I can go wherever I wish. I can sit here at a bookstore and read while the old, the young, the obese, the hot eye candy, the children pass by, consumed by their Saturday afternoon.

A staff member walks past me, unaware of my thoughts. My feelings. My darkness.

I can simply lash out at anyone — anything — in an instant and ruin lives. Ruin my own. Forever.

The thought scare me. They cut through the medicated complacency that I enjoy.

This book could help me. The entire religion section could. The self help section could. Even the half-nude women on the car mags, on the literary mags, on the _______ mags.

Oh well, just my thoughts. Don’t mind me.

Or should you?

~t

Photo by Topaz


When the Stillness Comes

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Nighttime depresses me. That’s when the demons come out. Don’t say that around the kids, my wife tells me. I don’t. I whisper it to her after they have gone to bed.

But she doesn’t understand. That’s why she is downstairs watching old reruns of Friends and I am upstairs in a dark room, praying that God will let Satan and his demons come after me. If you’re gonna let them come after me, then let them come; I’m tired of my life, I tell God.

Then a thought drifts through my bleak mind: A person in a third-world country would give an arm and a leg to have what I have. A good job. A nice house. A healthy family. Parents who love me. Et cetera.

But, what “normal” people (like my wife) don’t understand is that it’s all meaningless without a sound mind.

Again I tell God to turn the demons loose on me. Let them devour me once and for all. A dark, quiet room would normally freak me out, but the air feels almost tranquil right now. Almost like the night that I put myself to sleep with pills and tequila, never expecting to wake again.

“Who else do we turn to?” St. Peter asks Jesus in the Gospel of John. “You alone have the words of eternal life.”

In the Psalms, King David laments again and again; he always seems to find comfort in the Lord, though.

Lately that comfort escapes me.

My new psychiatrist (the first one I’ve visited since January) put me on a slew of new pills that leave me irritable and groggy. Just doing my basic job at work takes everything I’ve got. Other teachers have fun and are so relaxed and easygoing.

It must be nice.

I pray that I can be like that. I have prayed daily for that. But I’m getting tired.

So tired.

As I end this post, the coyotes (real ones; not ones in my mind) begin howling. They will howl throughout the night, signaling the darkness of night that I fear.

~t


I Guess All Doctors Dislike Xanax

Credit: Stockexpert

 

I use the automated phone service of my pharmacist to renew my Xanax. Every 20 or 30 days, I call them up and get a refill without ever having to speak with a human; I don’t even have to see the doctor.

All that changed a few days ago.

A few hours after ordering more Xanax from the CVS robot, I got a call from the pharmacist. Apparently the doctor finally looked at my charts and realized I hadn’t been in there since 2012.

“You’ll have to see the doctor in order to get a refill,” she explained.

I was pretty desperate because I pushed back a car inspection appointment in order to see the doctor the following morning.

The receptionist even had to check my insurance card again since it had been ages.

I really thought the doctor would just write me a script and send me on my way (since that is what he has always done). This time, however, things went a bit differently.

He was actually hesitant.

“Are you still on Effexor and Lamictal?” He studied his iPad screen as he spoke.

“Um, not any more. I’m on Zoloft, Trazodone, …” My words trailed off. He’s tricked me! Just like a cop.

Then I remembered that he was the one who had prescribed those medications. My paranoia got the better of me obviously. I had already confessed, though, so the secret was out: He now knows about the medication from my psychiatrist.

“You know, you really don’t need Xanax with all those others. We need to get you off the Xanax.”

No!

“But I still get panic attacks when I drive and stuff.”

“Then I’ll prescribe a month’s worth and then we’ll see.”

Not what I wanted to hear.

What if I’m addicted to Xanax? I very well could be. I don’t have enough time or money to go into a rehab program. What will my wife say?

When I first moved back to the U.S., one of my first stops was at a small clinic next to my apartment complex. The only doctor in there told me she didn’t prescribe Xanax because I would “end up in the Betty Ford Clinic like all those Hollywood stars.”

You’ve made your bed. Now you must lie in it.

~t

 


You Can Get Better: Struggling with Panic Attacks

I was inspired to write this post after reading an article about a former CNN reporter who struggles with panic attacks. Although both of ours stem from PTSD, my experiences seem to pale in comparison to the reporter’s; witnessing an electric-chair execution of a convicted murderer is something that I cannot fathom.

I can trace my PTSD back to my childhood. I lived in constant fear, wondering when my dad would explode with rage and begin beating my mother and me. Even now, when someone is walking too closely behind me, as the reporter states in the article, I “feel as if [my] world is ending. [My] heart is racing, [I] begin to hyperventilate, every nerve in [my] body is exploding — it seems [I’m] about to die, and [I] have an overwhelming sense of doom.”

Luckily, I now have medication and coping skills such as breathing techniques and prayer that help me when I get panic attacks.

The worst attacks come when I’m driving on a wide-open interstate or highway, however. The above symptoms usually force me to pull over to the side of the road. I have often been late to work or late getting home as a result.

I can trace this back to my college days when I used to fly single-engine airplanes (Cessna 150s and 172s). One time in particular, I made the huge mistake of making a solo cross-country jaunt without feeling totally comfortable with my instruments. Who needs instruments when it’s a clear day? That’s what landmarks are for.

However, I failed to realize the consequences of a recent flood in the region: Once I got in the air, a uniquely-shaped lake had become completely unidentifiable. Seized with panic, I tried to figure out which way was which. I had to make it back to my tiny airport which had no control tower. It didn’t help that (a) the short runway resembled a postage stamp tucked away in the hills and (b) my precious fuel was being depleted.

I will probably always struggle with these panic attacks. What encouraged me about the reporter’s story, though, were his words toward the end: “For those going through anxiety issues, I have a message: You can get better, you can work through it. It may be therapy, medication, or just the realization that you aren’t alone.”

You are not alone. No matter what you are struggling with.

You can get better. There is hope.

~t


Am I Evil: Living with Harm OCD

 

When I was very young, I remember my dad picking up each of our two cats, Amber and Dawn, and swinging them by the tail. He would laugh hysterically as they flew through the air and landed on the front lawn.

At another point in my childhood, my mother used to babysit a little 12-month-old boy. I vaguely remember my dad slapping the boy for no reason except to watch him cry. He would even pick the boy up by his hair; I’ll never forget the contorted, screaming face of the innocent little boy dangling above his playpen as my dad laughed like a madman.

 

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For as long as I can remember, I’ve had thoughts of kicking, hitting, and torturing cats,  small dogs, and other defenseless creatures.

I think about capturing a rabbit or stray cat and holding it captive, beating it and watching as it suffers and dies.

Until I told my sister a few days ago, no one had ever known this about me. (As I’ve mentioned before, my sister is the only person close to me who can fully relate to everything I go through.)

My sister then shared a link with me about Harm OCD. I had never heard of it. It totally described me:

 

Harm OCD is a manifestation of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) in which an individual experiences intrusive, unwanted, distressing thoughts of causing harm. These harming thoughts are perceived as being ego-dystonic, which simply means that the thoughts are inconsistent with the individual’s values, beliefs and sense of self. Harming obsessions typically center around the belief that one must be absolutely certain that they are in control at all times in order to ensure that they are not responsible for a violent or otherwise fatal act. (Source: ocdla.com)

 

Here are some common intrusive thoughts experienced by those with Harm OCD:

 

  • I will suddenly snap and violently attack:
    • My significant other or ex
    • My child (especially common in Perinatal and Postpartum OCD)
    • My parent or other family member
    • My nephew/niece/godchild
    • A disabled or ill person
    • A baby
    • A friend
    • A stranger
  • I will fail to respond to disgusting violent or sexual thoughts appropriately and will reveal myself to be a monster.
  • I will suddenly have an uncontrollable urge to push someone into traffic, jump out a window, or experience some other impulse that will result in me being responsible for my death or someone else’s death.
  • I will be overwhelmed by harming obsessions and have to act on them to relieve the pressure
  • I will lose my sanity and commit suicide. (Source: ocdla.com)

 

Here is another definition and example:

 

This is a particularly disturbing OCD subtype as the person has thoughts, feelings and even urges of violence to themselves or others. They can be quite intense, and they often feel like they are on the verge of doing the violent act. They feel absolutely terrified much of the time. Many of them feel like killers and develop a personality that says they are a killer of some sort.

I’ve done therapy with a guy who was convinced he was a serial killer. Of course he’d never hurt a soul and he never would, but I could not convince him of that. The obsessions were powerful, continuous, and 24-7. They were so persistent and tenacious that he had given up all hope of resisting them. They had also become quite strong in that the illness was actually telling him or ordering him to commit the violence. (Source: robertlindsay.wordpress.com)

 

This morning, I told all of this to my psychiatrist. I’ve never seen him at a loss for words. He finally said, “You have to see a therapist before I see you again. Normal people don’t do things like that.”

Last week, one of my colleagues gave our family a hermit crab with the full aquarium/habitat and all sorts of accessories. My two sons were ecstatic at the idea of finally getting a pet. However, little did we know that hermit crabs were nocturnal, so we never saw the little guy; he was holed up in a wooden tunnel all the time.

As soon as I got the creature home, the raspy voice of my illness began whispering in my ear: Now’s your chance. The kids are already bored with it. Torture and kill it. Take it back to work and get rid of it. No one will ever know.

I did just that. I waited until late at night, and then I put the crab and shell into the water dish. It kept trying to climb out, so I held the crab under the surface for a solid minute. I pulled it out. No movement. Nothing.

It felt like I had just snorted a line of cocaine: Adrenaline raced through my body and made me feel invincible; all my worries were gone. I was in control!

After half an hour, I began to feel extremely guilty. Looking over at the aquarium where I had placed the crab under a tuft of moss inside the wooden tunnel, my heart began to ache.

Right before bed, I went over to the habitat in a corner of the living room, removed the tunnel and picked up the shell. The crab moved! Its legs flung out, and I supposed it was getting hungry.

I went to bed relieved, happy, and sad.

My doctor told me to get rid of the crab because I couldn’t be trusted with a pet in the house. I told him that the crab earned my respect for being so tough and surviving the attempted drowning.

He doubled my Lexapro and asked if I wanted to get some in-patient treatment.

For the first time since I’ve been seeing him, the doctor didn’t shake my hand; rather, he rushed out of the room, telling me goodbye over his shoulder. The door between the offices and the lobby were closed and locked immediately.

And I staggered out of the lobby with a handful of prescriptions, not knowing what to expect from myself.

I’m still terrified.

~t

(Photo by Topaz)


Hang On

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Sometimes my illness amazes me.

I was in church just yesterday for the first Sunday of Advent. It was a joyous Mass. I loved hearing about the prophet Isaiah in the Old Testament alluding to the day in the future when Christ would establish His Kingdom for all people.

I served afterward by helping my brother Knights of Columbus sell Advent wreaths in the narthex.

What a happy, faith-building day. I love Sundays because I can seek refuge for a few hours in the house of the Lord (a.k.a. the hospital for sinners).

But today (Monday) sucked. My doctor recently put me on Lamictal to stabilize my mood since the Gabapentin wasn’t helping, and suicidal ideation started to rear its ugly head again.

I’m sick and tired of being at the mercy of my emotions. It’s like Texas weather: In 30 minutes it goes from one extreme to the other in the blink of an eye.

The demons came again last night. It never fails. the closer I get to God, the stronger their offensive.

I had one of those dreams that seemed to last all night. My family and I were in a public place, like a shopping mall or a maze of connected warehouses, and I had prior knowledge of either a terrorist attack or a rampaging shooter attack.

I remember grabbing my two little sons and hoping that I could get them out of harm’s way. The worst part of it was that I had no idea when or where the attack would take place. It was like being forced to play a diabolical game-show version of Russian roulette.

In the morning, my wife said I was struggling and whimpering in my sleep for a good portion of the night.

After a hellish day at work, I came home and announced to my wife that I was going to skip dinner. I had no appetite whatsoever. I sat in our walk-in closet which doubles as my own personal chapel.

I prayed, I meditated, I read Scripture.

I can’t give up.

Getting no response from God, I sat there, massaging my temples with my eyes closed. Suddenly a slight feeling of hope entered my soul, as tiny as a grain of rice. That was all I needed, though.

I can’t not believe in God and His promises. When life drags me through a puddle of crap, it sure is comforting to know that there is a greater power waiting to rescue me and make me clean again.

Like the saying goes: When you’re at the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.

~t


The Sorrowful Mysteries

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Monday was the first day of classes at my college. The first week is usually chaotic as I try to get on top of my classes, serve on committees, get late students into correct classes, and so on. By the end of the day yesterday evening (only the second day!), I was exhausted, stressed, and reeling from sin and temptation.

Even though the fall semester has started, it’s still hot as blazes here in Texas, so a lot of students are still wearing as little as possible. Needless to say, it is not uncommon for me to encounter “spiritual landmines” throughout my day: lust and temptation.

I prefer to pray the Rosary at home in a quiet place, but I decided to play the CD during my commute home. I don’t listen to the Rosary on CD very often, especially while driving, but it was one of those days. What better way to cleanse the mind and refocus on God?

The calming background music and soft voice of the narrator immediately took the focus off myself. God knew exactly what I needed because yesterday happened to be the Sorrowful Mysteries. As I prayed along with the CD, the Mysteries and fruits of the Spirit totally matched my struggles. Not only did God put the idea on my heart to pray the Rosary, He also, in His glory, matched me up with exactly what I needed to hear and pray about.

I have listed each Sorrowful Mystery below, along with my thoughts and practical applications that I gleaned from my meditation.

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1. The Agony in the Garden – Fruit of the Spirit: Sorrow for Sin

Three words stood out to me on this one: agony, sorrow, and sin. As I mentioned, it was a day filled with temptation (which day isn’t?), so I was feeling really guilty and sorry for letting my mind dwell on forbidden thoughts throughout the day. Even before I started the CD, I was already asking God to forgive me for not avoiding everything that led me to sin.

Plus, the image of Jesus sweating blood in the Garden of Gethsemane puts everything into perspective: I’m the sinner, so I should have been the one crying out to God to “take this cup away from me.” (Luke 22:42) Instead, out of His love for me, Christ took my place.

scourging

2. The Scourging at the Pillar – Fruit of the Spirit: Purity

There’s that word, purity. The Lord was speaking directly to me. That’s God: He always knows what we need and when we need it.

While I was letting my thoughts run loose, at one point Christ was being beaten within an inch of His life. He is the essence of purity yet was treated as a common criminal for my sake. Remember, He is God in the flesh, and He stooped down to this level for me.

That’s love. Not the warm-and-fuzzy sort of love that comes with infatuation; rather, it’s the self-sacrificing kind that a mother has for her child. I know that my mother would give her life for me, just as I would for my children.

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3. The Crowning of Thorns – Fruit of the Spirit: Courage

Of course, when the word courage was mentioned during the introduction of this Mystery, I said a special “thank you” prayer to God. He was allowing me to see the progression I was to take: be sorry for my sins, vow to be pure, and now He was showing me that I must have courage to “fight the good fight.” (1 Timothy 6:12)

Let me tell you, when you give your whole self over to God, he will rock your world. And it’s scary. On one hand, you know that God is with you — you can just feel it. And it feels awesome! However, it pushes you out of your comfort zone, and you will periodically have doubts. For me, those doubts are crippling to me because I’m now doing something totally out of character like leading a men’s purity group or helping struggling Christians regain their faith.

He-Carried-That-Cross-For-Us

4. The Carrying of the Cross – Fruit of the Spirit: Patience

Okay, so you’re feeling pretty fired up and are living out your faith. That’s wonderful. Now another hurdle is in your path: patience. Just as Jesus endured the long, arduous walk to the place where He was crucified, we must also carry our own crosses (Luke 14:27). There will be times that you stumble and drop your burdensome cross due to its enormous weight; those times call for patience, a fruit of the Spirit.

Actually, even when things are going well for me, just one unanswered prayer can sink my mood and discourage me like crazy. I need to remember that God has His own plan, and it’s usually different from mine!

There may have been a time when Jesus merely wanted everything to be finished. Imagine going through a hyped-up trial, a severe beating and torture, and then, half dead already, having to carry an instrument of your own execution for what seems like miles and miles.

crucifixion

5. The Crucifixion – Fruit of the Spirit: Perseverance

Being a Christian isn’t a part-time job or hobby. It’s a lifetime commitment. So it’s not by accident that the last fruit of the Spirit of these Mysteries happens to be perseverance. God never said it would be an easy life. In fact, the Bible says to “run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” (Hebrews 12:1)

We must persevere and not give up because the cycle will repeat itself: commit sin, resolve to be pure, find courage, exercise patience, and not give up. Persevere because we will fall again. When (not if) that happens, we must get back up and keep trying our best.

I always thought that crucifixion was an immediate death, but it’s not. The Romans perfected this method of execution to prolong the suffering of the victim as long as possible. When criminals were crucified in the first century, they most likely died from asphyxiation after hours or even days of excruciating pain on the cross. (Actually, the word excruciating is derived from crucifixion).

Conclusion

I am so thankful to God for teaching me this lesson as I calmly fought rush-hour traffic on my way home yesterday. Just typing this out helps me to recall and meditate once more upon these Sorrowful Mysteries.

I pray that The Lord will inspire me to write reflections on the other Mysteries of the Rosary as well: the Joyful, the Luminous, and the Glorious. I’m in no hurry, though, because I will wait on God to inspire me. In the meantime, I’ll be putting into practice the five fruits of the Spirit from this post.

~t