I have always had irrational fears and suspected I was slightly depressed during high school. I started having intestinal problems the summer after freshman year - but could not find a medical problem. My mother, father, sister, and uncle have all had problems with depression while my aunt had issues with anxiety.
In the fall and winter of my junior year in high school I started avoiding school. I had bouts of hysteria when leaving the house. I also had problems sleeping at night though I could sleep all day; I was tired all the time and had no interest in making food to eat. I would only eat when I was very hungry, and usually something like popcorn because it took little effort. I also experienced a lack of interest in things I enjoy like sex with my husband and reading.
I finally broke down and called student counseling in February and started taking 50mg of Zoloft. I got no real counseling. The irrational fears like closing my eyes while I'm alone reduced dramatically. I took a year off of school. The good feelings didn't last long, however. I am having nightmares about killing or causing the deaths of my family, of my family trying to harm me, of going crazy in a school situation and of screaming and crying hysterically. Basically, I am not getting good rest at night. I am also afraid of messing up my semester in school. I am normally a very good student with A's and B's. I learn quickly, enjoy learning, test very well, and have very few worries about school/tests - even the SATs. Although I am taking classes that I feel I can handle, I have not expressed to my professors what is going on with me. I have missed a couple of tests but I can retake them if I get a note from my therapist but I have only had the courage to ask him for one note. I feel very guilty for missing school but don't understand how to make myself get it together. I feel like admitting my shortcomings is somehow bad - that I should deal with it without letting others see how bad I have gotten.
Even though I started seeing a therapist last week who I like very much, I haven't gotten advice yet. Strange scenarios run through my head that I know are not real but cause me to get upset. I have tend to think that all of my professors are talking about me behind my back, that they are trying to make it hard for me, that they hate me and want me to fail, that they think I am crazy/stupid and wish I wasn't in their class and will try to get rid of me. I am afraid of what others will think of me and don't want to let people know how I am feeling. I am used to excelling in things and feel like I should try to do everything I can to get A's instead of just doing what I can to make a C in order to relieve anxiety. I could miss class and some quizzes and get away with tests and papers but this would make me feel guilty. How would you advise me to deal with this? Maybe a different drug? I am very confused.
Amanda, 22-year-old woman
You have given a great deal of information about your suffering, about the effects this problem is having on your life. I understand your despair and your fear, and that you even feel guilty about being like this, although I am sure you realize that it's not your fault.
My dear, I have had many clients who came to me like this, convinced that they are faulty, damaged, and will never get any better. Three or four sessions of cognitive-behavioral therapy later, they realize that they DO have the power to defeat their fears, and many of them are able to continue their fight against the anxiety unaided by a paid helper like me.
You wrote that you have just started with a new therapist. Give this person a chance to help you to take charge of your own life, against these dreadful feelings that have been plaguing you. I know nothing about this therapist, or the techniques s/he uses, but chances are that you will find a new strength as a result of therapy. Ask your therapist to have a look at my e-book Anger and Anxiety: Be in charge of your emotions and control phobias. It can be examined at the Anxiety and Depression Help Site and bought either there or from Red-e2 for only $US5. You will benefit from reading this book too, but I would encourage you to continue with therapy as well.
I am unable to offer you more specific suggestions about what to do, because despite the length and detailed nature of your message, you have said very little that gives a clue concerning possible reasons for your problems. The way you write, it feels as if you put them down to faulty wiring or something. And of course the person who put you on Zoloft must have thought so too.
Amanda, I HATE drugs like Zoloft. Read the article about antidepressants at my web site, and you'll see why. In many countries, Zoloft is being withdrawn, because of its very nasty side effects, and equally nasty withdrawal symptoms. It is quite possible that your current suffering is due in part to this drug. If you have ceased to take it, you could be in the grip of its withdrawal effects. Or possibly you have become habituated to it, and now it is causing problems without doing its job. I strongly recommend that you contact a physician and undergo a medically supervised withdrawal from it. Assuming your therapist uses one of the several scientifically proven systems of counseling, you will beat the anxiety without the drug.
I don't know you at all. However I am CERTAIN that you have the inner resources to achieve a contented, self-powered life. You have proven your intelligence in the past. The prison of anxiety you are in is in part created by your own fear that you are faulty, damaged, crazy. The anxiety and depression are not part of you; they are problems you are struggling with. They are habits of thought and feeling you have acquired, possibly because the unfortunate members of your family who also suffer have provided a poor model of thought and emotion for you.
What you need to do is to learn new habits of how to view the world, including how to view yourself. Getting rid of bad habits and learning new ones is difficult, but possible.
Rise to the challenge!
Please write to me and let me know what you think of my attempt at helping you.
Have a good life,