2012 Mental Health Hero Cartoon-A-Thon
Drawing done by Chato Stewart
In twelfth grade, I wrote an essay called “Thinking Too Deeply About Over-Analyzation”. The topic was pretty self-explanatory: I picked apart (or, rather, over-analyzed) the very manner in which I over-analyze.
I got an A on the essay. I also got a comment from Mr. Jones, my Writing Workshop teacher, inked in red pen on the cover page: “Summer, you’re going to get an ulcer one day.”
Hi Mr. Jones! I’ve decided to bypass the ulcer and exceed your expectations — like the over-acheiver that I am — & go straight for an anxiety disorder.
I had my first panic attack in college and, roughly estimating, I’ve added over 400 more to my resume to date. After the first one, my family physician wrote me a script for Xanax — which worked well until I developed a tolerance for it. Then, he gave me a script for Paxil. For two years, the Paxil stopped my panic attacks, but they flat-lined my emotions, my creativity, and my liveliness. The best parts of my life — interacting with friends, writing, and studying communication — became bland. I tried and failed to withdraw from Paxil twice.
The third time was, indeed, the charm. Over a (long!) period of seven months, I withdrew from Paxil as I began grad school. It wasn’t easy by any means. My withdrawal story was published in the LA Times and recorded for an upcoming-yet-still-unnamed-documentary. I’ve been contributing to the World of Psychology blog on PsychCentral since 2008 and I’ve been writing my own blog, Panic About Anxiety, since 2011.Just recently, I began writing a column for my local alternative newspaper, The Williamsport Guardian, on the topic of mental health & wellness.
Now officially diagnosed with panic disorder, I’m still trying to tame my panic attacks, my perfectionism, and my over-analytical tendencies.
I say “tame” and not “eradicate” because the perfectionism & analysis have certainly helped me academically and professionally. I have a B.A. in Communication from Lycoming College and an M.A. in Communication from the University of Delaware.
Unless you catch a glimpse of me shaking during a bad panic attack, you can’t necessarily “see” the panic disorder in me. You can’t see the agoraphobia, the heart palpitations, or the uncomfortable adrenaline rush. Nor can you visually see the stress-induced migraines I get regularly. Invisible illnesses are very real, and I’m a strong advocate of extending compassion and understanding toward those who are suffering from them.
And why am I sharing my personal story with the internet? Mental health disorders still carry a stigma — and the more we share our stories, the more quickly the stigma will fade away. I want to be a part of that.
Friend me on Facebook @chato B Stewart.
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Bonus My kids Drawings