Part of living with an anxiety disorder is being anxious about everything. My body cannot recognize the difference between excitation and anxiety, it's all one in the same. And when it gets out of control it isn't just being anxious about something, it's OHMYGAWD THIS IS THE MOST ANXIETY INDUCING THING I HAVE EVER EXPERIENCED! And there's no reason this engages, there's no reason why one day I'm perfectly fine, and one day I'm literally in fight or flight mode all day long. I don't have a choice in the matter; most of the times I know it isn't rational to be freaking out about what I'm freaking out about, it just happens. And I don't have a severe (or at least chronically severe) anxiety disorder. It's pretty mild, it's controllable without medication most of the time. I was at one point classified as severe; so I know what it's like to be panicked over everything. Now I run the gambit from non-existent to severe, and I can't figure out what the trigger is.
The last time it was bad was right before graduation when I put myself on (with my therapist's recommendation) an Ativan regimen to handle the end-of-semester panic. And now, not even two months later, I'm panicky again. And I think that it's because we're getting closer to team training. Which should mean that I'm excited. But I don't recognize that emotion. Excitement and anxiety are so closely linked in my brain that they might as well be the same thing. I'm excited about meeting Owen and experiencing team training, but my body is instead treating this like a life or death situation. And I'm hoping (really hoping) that my brain doesn't decide that this should be a permanent state of mind until September 20th.
I wonder though if what I'm feeling is common for first time service dog owners. I am 100% confident in my decision to get a service dog and I know I fit the ADA definition of a person with a disability. I am confident that Heeling Allies and the lovely amazing trainers they have are training a dog to mitigate the symptoms of my disability. But, part of me still feels... I don't know how it feels. Not that I don't want to go through with this, but that maybe what my "life" is right now is doable. That by introducing a service dog into the mix I will be causing more trouble than it's worth.
But I put life in quotation marks for a reason. My life is right now literally: get up, go to work, go to class, go home, go to sleep (and on some days: go to the gym). That's it. 7 days a week some permutation of that happens. I don't go to movies and I don't go out to eat and it takes having nothing in my refrigerator to get me to go to the grocery store. Forget running other errands, you can order most anything online. That's not a life; that's an existence. And I've lived it for so long that I've forgotten what it is like to have a life. Yeah, I could live like this the rest of my life with the Tourette's manageable and chronically exhausted from trying to make it through my day without a tic attack. But is that really what I want?
Obviously not. That's why I reached out to Heeling Allies almost a year ago.
I think part of why I'm anxious and second-guessing myself is because my tics really do get "better" in the summer. (And better for me, is certainly not "cured": my good days are worse than a lot of people's bad days. A good day for me is one in which I can pass as almost "normal", and I don't pinch a nerve, have a migraine or hurt myself in some other way.) But when I'm removed from the school stress (or most of it) and my work load tapers off a bit, my tics do improve. I'm sleeping more so I'm better able to control it. Do I feel like I'm going to go out tomorrow night? No. I'm barely going to stay awake for my class tonight without wanting to go to sleep. My life right now is manageable. Most days, it's bearable.
When was the last time you applied adjectives like that to your life?
I'm not looking forward to that look when people know I have a dog for Tourette Syndrome. And most people I'm not going to tell. I'm perfectly fine telling somebody that I have a "neurological disorder that causes mobility and balance issues which my dog is trained to assist with" (because that's what I have), but I don't want to say "Tourette's". Which makes me mad. I shouldn't fear naming my disability because people will feel it isn't my right to have a dog; but even the nurse I spoke with on the phone the other day regarding my disability accommodations in school was dubious. But why should they be? There are a lot of Touretters who have to use wheelchairs or other adaptive equipment because their tics are so bad. Is it so different that I'm choosing to use a dog? Which will also offer psychologial support and be able to do things like deep pressure and grounding to help me stop my tics. But there's a stereotype against individuals with Tourette Syndrome and a stereotype against ambulatory people who are not blind with invisible disabilities who choose to use service dogs. And I'm in both categories. Which is why I will probably not choose to call what I have "Tourette's" out in public, but instead I will give people the clinical definition. People feel bad for the person whose brain causes them to have problems walking and balancing and whose brain makes their body do things they don't want it to; people laugh at the person with Tourette's.
I guess part of me is also worried that Owen won't fix everything. I know that it's going to take time (a lot of time) to adjust to my new life and even more time to break the "habits" I've created over the last 6 years to help me cope. The time-frame people use is one year; that it takes a whole year to adjust to life with a service dog, and I hope that's all it takes. Unfortunately, I'd hazard a guess that it takes me longer than a year to stop some of my coping mechanisms I no longer need. That it will take me longer than a year to stop fearing going out in public and to stop dreading every little errand I have to run. But maybe Owen will prove me wrong.
It's amazing all the things you can buy on the internet (specifically Amazon). I really do despise prescription medications (and I'm currently off all of them, except the occasional Ativan), but I don't mind homeopathic treatments. There's this great herb called Valerian Root which is amazing for anxiety/depression. And it makes you very sleepy, so it helps with sleeplessness too. I discovered this when I was still in high school (and needed to give my anti-anxiety meds some oomph), and it is something I have taken off and on since then whenever I am in situations where I know my anxiety will be running high. That, in conjunction with St. John's Wort, works a lot better than low doses of my prescription medications ever did, with no side effects. I'll admit that traditional medicine has its place; but I would like to point out to all the people in the health care profession that butterbur root has decreased my migraines as well as the prescription pills, Valerian Root and St. John's Wort have regulated my anxiety as well (or better than) any prescription ever did, and that melatonin has regulated my sleep patterns to an (almost) acceptable level. All of those remedies with no side effects. As opposed to all of the prescription medications which caused weight gain, effectively killed my metabolism (so that even though I am in constant motion it's a struggle to lose any weight), caused nausea/dizziness, and caused such sleepiness that I would be groggy all day long. Huh.
And yes; I am planning on staying on a Valerian Root/St. John's Wort regimen until my anxiety dies down or until Owen comes. Whichever happens first.