Mary Keevers anxiety OCD

I am the face of anxiety.  I am the face of OCD, panic disorder and general anxiety disorder.  Though I may have or have had these things, they do NOT define me.  They are simply a part of my journey.  

My anxiety started in 4th grade.  I’ll spare you all the details in the interest of keeping this aimed at my biggest struggles, but to make a long story short, I’ve had generalized anxiety disorder since 4th grade and there are some days I still struggle with it.  As I now know, one anxiety disorder leads to another and another and so on.  

Here is my (long & detailed) story:

In July of 2013, our second son, Mason was born.  When he was 7 days old, we were getting ready to head to his 1 week appointment at the pediatrician and I heard this horrible coughing upstairs.  It was Brayden, our oldest.  Somehow he had picked up a nasty summer virus.  The pediatrician also looked at Brayden that day and suggested that he stay with my parents until his fever and the worst of the symptoms went away.  If Mason were to have caught it, and had a fever of 100.6 of higher, he would have to have been admitted to the hospital and have had a spinal tap.  I didn’t blow this off, because the exact thing had happened to my niece 8 months prior.  She was around 1 week old, and one of her older brothers had a simple ear infection (which is obviously very common) and she ended up in the hospital for a few days.  Upon hearing he would have to stay with my parents until he was basically symptom free, I felt like this perfect little world I couldn’t wait to live in, shattered.  I had NEVER been away from Brayden for more than one day and NEVER overnight.  Brayden was still adjusting to being a big brother and I was extremely upset that he would feel like I was just pushing him away now that a new family member had come along.  He ended up at my parent’s house for 6 days.  I cried every day, I called my parent’s house every day to check on him, several times a day and I felt awful.  The mom guilt was absolutely suffocating.  On top of all this, I was recovering from a C-section and couldn’t really walk upstairs to clean well.

All I could think about was disinfecting everything upstairs where Brayden had been because I couldn’t have Mason going to the hospital.  Then the mom guilt set in again that I was thinking about disinfecting when I felt like I should have been taking care of my sick kiddo, but I knew my parents were taking good care of him.  It was the most horrible feeling in the world being away from Brayden for 6 days.  And when he came home, I felt like I couldn’t hug and kiss on him as much for a few days because “maybe some of the virus was still lingering” and Mason was in my face 24/7 and I didn’t want to risk it.  I was miserable. I think I was about 3 or 4 weeks into my maternity leave when my dad and I were talking on the phone one night and he said “Mary, have you ever considered you may have inherited grandpa’s OCD?”  Just as a quick refresher, he had an extreme case of it.  He basically only went to work, church and the grocery store.  He would stand over the sink for over an hour every day, several times a day and wash his hands.  He opened everything with a stack of about 10 paper towels (even in his own house) and he would pour dish soap in the laundry machine because he thought it would sanitize his clothes better.  He would blow on his food and his silverware before eating and if he tried to open a medicine bottle and the pills spilled, he would throw away all the medicine.  I could go on, but I think you get the idea.

It had never dawned on me that I could have inherited his OCD.  I spent my entire life kind of lightly making fun of him for how long he spent in the bathroom every time they came to visit. So I took my dad’s question serious and started googling symptoms of contamination OCD.  I think I was able to diagnose myself in about 30 seconds.  I had almost every symptom.  It was hard to grasp.  After my maternity leave was over, I went back to the doctor, a new GP I had just started seeing and she officially diagnosed me with contamination OCD.

Then in 2014, two big events happened that made my OCD (that I was managing “ok” at the time) become 10 times worse.  I was moved for work, from my office, which I had been in for 12 years, 7 minutes from my house, to a city 50 minutes away.  I was devastated.  On top of the move, it was a MUCH bigger building with MANY more people.  My brain was never out of “high alert” mode.  I was basically a walking time bomb; I would shake 24-7, my hair was falling out, I never wanted to talk to anyone (which is soooooo not me) “because they may be sick” and I think I went through a bottle of hand sanitizer a week.  My anxiety went through the roof and OCD became much harder for me to hide from my co-workers, friends and family.  The second thing that made it worse was the Ebola outbreak.  Don’t laugh, I get that it was probably irrational to worry about, but when you have an extreme fear of germs and people are dying in the next state over, it affects you.

The anxiety continued to get worse and finally my GP told me I needed to see a therapist to help work through some of the OCD.  I had NO idea what to look for in a therapist.  I had never been to one before.  I had this notion that things had to be REALLY bad before seeing a therapist. {Wrong, by the way}  I didn’t know where to start in the search process and it was honestly very overwhelming.  I finally found one that I thought seemed to be an ok fit.  I went for about 8 months.  We talked about a lot of stuff, but never really dove into the tools I needed to be taught to beat the OCD.  During my time there, she referred me to a psychiatrist to get on the right anxiety medicine.  Again, this was something completely new to me.  I had no idea what to expect.  I was going through all these new motions but nothing was really getting better.  I even considered getting hypnotized!

I think I lost 12 pounds in 2 weeks at one point in time.  About a year later, I applied for a new position at a smaller location of ours and got it, thank goodness.  I had stopped going to the therapist because she told me I was too “fragile” to start Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to beat the OCD thoughts and to be honest, I wasn’t getting what I felt I should be getting from the sessions.  Like I had mentioned, nothing was getting better.  In the meantime, the psychiatrist put me on all new anxiety medicine and adjusting to new medicine is never a fun process.  We had already been through 2 anxiety medicines and neither of them had worked.

In the summer of 2016 my psychiatrist suggested having a genetic test done, to see which medications would respond best with my body.  I figured at that point, it couldn’t have hurt.  It ended up being one of the most beneficial things I have done to date.  The results blew me away.  Apparently I have receptor blocks to all the traditional SSRI medications, which was why nothing was working for me.  I also have these same receptor blocks to most pain medicine.  My body metabolizes it so fast, it burns off before it can really work.  Which makes sense considering I went through 3 epidurals during labor with Brayden and could feel the spinal block being put in before my C-section with Mason.  If only my food metabolized that fast!  Ha!

With this newfound medicine information, my psychiatrist was able to use the genetic test to try more new medicine.  It wasn’t a quick fix, but by June 2017, he started me on one that seemed to help calm the OCD thoughts just a tiny bit.  However, work was becoming the worst struggle for me.  I was scared of using the bathrooms, didn’t want to use public copy machines (I would use pencil erasers and paperclips to push the buttons to copy and fax), and was scared when people came into my office to talk because I always felt like I would have the one person who was sick, come into my office.  Truth:  that wasn’t always the case, but it did happen a few times.  At this point, only 2 co-workers knew about the OCD and knew how bad I had it.  I’m so completely grateful for their help….their daily help with small things helped me cope.  It got so bad that even with the new medicine, I had to do something, the shaking uncontrollably was back, my blood pressure was high (it’s usually very low) and my hair was falling out again.  Both my psychiatrist and GP both told me that I needed to move back to the office close to home, to help with the anxiety because my body was under an insane amount of stress and they were starting to get worried about me.  In October of 2017, that happened.  Praise Jesus.  I mean it.  Praise HIM (& I’m so grateful for my company).  I was able to move back to my old office, close to home.

I can’t even tell everyone what a weight was lifted off my shoulders.  In my “comfort zone” I was able to perform so much better, with less stress.  Everything was amazing.  I looked forward to going to my office every day and my psychiatrist said that because some stress had been lifted off my body, the medicine would work better.  It was working better and everything was running much smoother for me.  Don’t get the wrong idea though; the OCD was still very much there and very much rearing its ugly head, especially since cold and flu season was on its way, but since I was in a comfortable place, it didn’t put as much stress on my body, I could relax more.

In January of 2018, I started feeling “weird”.  I can’t explain it perfectly, but I felt like, at times, I was on the verge of a panic attack.  I hadn’t had a panic attack since 2012, so they weren’t really common anymore, and definitely not something I was expecting.  I never HAD a panic attack in January, I just felt like it could have happened.  It caught me off guard.  Everything had been going so well….work was awesome, Brayden was having a blast playing travel basketball and we were making some updates to our house and planning an amazing vacation.  I called my psychiatrist and told him about the feelings I was having.  I should mention that 3 months prior he had suggested that I double my anxiety medicine because I needed something stronger.  I told him that when I tried to do this, it made me pretty dizzy (as I mentioned, I have really low blood pressure and that alone makes me dizzy).  So when I called him in January to tell him what was going on, he asked if I had doubled the dose.  I told him no because it was making me dizzy.  He told me I needed stronger medicine and that it was hard to get the right dosage for me since my body didn’t tolerate a lot of side effects.   He gave me some “as needed” medicine to take if I felt like a panic attack was brewing and that was the end of that conversation.

The first week of February I had a full on panic attack, while 45 minutes from home, with Brayden, at hitting lessons for baseball.  I spent 25 minutes in a Starbucks bathroom trying to de-stress and had to take one of those “as needed” pills, which by the way, didn’t work.  I tried to call my mother in law since she lived down the street, but she was vacuuming upstairs and didn’t hear her phone.  I tried to call my parents, but they had friends over and didn’t answer.  My husband, Brock was at home working on our remodel project and had power tools going and didn’t hear the phone.  It was horrible.  I’m pretty sure I looked like a zombie when I went to pick Brayden up from hitting lessons.  I was a mess.  The next day, I called my psychiatrist again and told him I had actually had a full on panic attack.  He told me to keep doing what I was doing and we would look at different medicines the next time I came in to see him, which was in a few weeks, because my body wasn’t tolerating the medicine I was on anymore.

I couldn’t think of any changes that would have spurred the panic attack on.  The only thing that was really putting a huge stress on my body was flu season, since it was so awful and it seemed like everyone around us was coming down with it.  I was constantly on the defense.  The kids and I were on so many vitamins and I was trying as hard as I could to keep everything sanitized.  Brock, my dad and Mason did end up catching something, and I spent a week cleaning and sanitizing our house top to bottom.  I wasn’t eating much and my hands were cracked and bleeding from all the cleaning products and hand washing.  Obviously my body was more stressed out than I realized.  Inearly March (2018) I woke up one morning, turned the corner to head to the bathroom and passed out.  I fell backwards into the hallway closet doors….scratched the hell out of my back and scared myself to death.  The doctor said it was most likely from my blood pressure being so low and how fast I shot out of bed that morning, and not to be concerned.

All I can say is that weird stuff started happening after that.  Suddenly my heart rate was completely jacked up.  My resting heart rate was 110, sometimes 120 and I was dizzy more often.  I would go to Target, get halfway through the store and get dizzy and start panicking because I felt like I was going to pass out.  And guys….let’s be honest, Target is my happy place, and I don’t think I’ve ever felt bad being in any Target store.  I would rush to the checkout and pray I could find one with no wait.  I would go out with my friends and have small panic attacks in the movie theater and my heart rate would go up to the 150’s and I would start sweating bullets and the dizzy feeling would return.  I told myself I wasn’t going to let it get the best of me and it would pass, so I continued to go back to Target and other places around town and push through the feeling of the panic.  The more the dizziness happened, the more anxious I would get, and then panic attacks would happen.  Then I would get nervous a panic attack was going to happen while out and about by myself, and it would start the cycle of feeling anxious and dizzy all over again.

Unfortunately by April of that year, I was scared to go places alone.  I had been through too many panic attacks while out and about and it scared the crap out of me, which just produced more panic attacks.  It had already reached a vicious cycle.  Rationally, I knew I needed to keep making myself do things.  So I would still go out to eat and run little errands here and there….quickly.  In and out in less than 15 minutes was my style.  Then one Friday at the end of April, Brock went out of town on a golf trip and I had the boys with me in my car on our way to get dinner at Panera Bread.  As I drove to Panera, I had a panic attack.  In-the-car!  With my kids in the car.  I don’t know which one of those last 2 sentences freaked me out more.  Not my car!  My car was my “safe place”, my “go to” when I was out and about that I could always retreat to and feel safe and comfortable.  It was my feeling of control over a bad situation and NOW the panic was entering that safe zone….my go to, that always made me feel comfortable.  I just remember being very scared.  I couldn’t believe it happened with the kids in the car….not that it impaired my driving, but the kids make me comfortable….so again…why???  I remember thanking the Lord that there was only one car in front of me at Panera that night.  Having to wait in the drive through line was only making the anxiety even worse.

That next week I found myself hunting for a therapist again.  It may be the worst task ever.  You can ask friends, but the therapist that works for them may not be a fit for you, you can ask doctors for referrals, but I tried that and my psychiatrist only knew of therapists close to his office and I wasn’t driving an hour for therapy.  After a lot of asking around and a lot of research, I found one, and she specialized in panic disorders.

Then things started escalating quickly.  Let me recap my first week of May.  I had to go back to the psychiatrist for an anxiety medicine check, he realized (finally!) I needed to change my anxiety medicine again and started me on a lower dose of something new so I wouldn’t get dizzy.  I also went to my hormone replacement therapy doctor and had a hormone pellet implanted….yes, implanted in my hip.  My levels were so low that I needed major help and part of the benefit of the pellet was that it was supposed to help a little with anxiety and energy.  Then at the end of the week I started seeing my new therapist. We had a vacation coming up the first week of June that I had already decided I was NOT MISSING.  It was a vacation to my future residence, NC (I’m not even kidding)….I had wanted to go for years and I wanted to feel less anxious and ready to enjoy the break.  Plus, let’s be really honest here.  I needed a damn break.

The next couple of weeks before vacation I tried to take it easy on myself and give myself a little grace.  All I really did was get ready for our trip and focus on the anxiety calming techniques my therapist was teaching me at our twice a week sessions.  Vacation by the way was amazing.  I’m not going to lie…the drive down and back was rough because I was scared to death of getting stuck in traffic because I knew that would be a situation I wouldn’t handle well.  But the actual vacation…..completely what I needed.  I was with my mom and the boys, so I was comfortable (Brock had to stay behind to coach baseball and work on our remodel) and there was never a fear about being out somewhere alone having a panic attack because we were all together the entire time.  I also used the time to look into meditation.  You can laugh, because I totally laughed when my therapist mentioned I needed to learn how to get really good at it.  But, it actually CAN make a difference. 

After vacation, my focus was solely on driving and going places alone.  I could beat this.  I knew I could.  I would have moments where I felt brave and I would go to Target and get as far as I could in the store until I started feeling dizzy from the anxiety, then I would leave.  Then usually I would end up going somewhere else too, because I would tell myself if I got through even 15 minutes in Target, I could get through that amount of time somewhere else too.  I also would randomly just drive around on the weekends, desperately trying to make the connection with myself that my car was actually OK and not a source of panic or anxiety.  These were just thoughts, I would tell myself several times a day.  I was stronger than the intrusive thoughts.  But, there were also days I would drive to Kroger or the mall and just sit in the parking lot and would end up leaving.  My therapist would tell me it was OK because I still went with the intention to go in, but I just don’t see things like that.  To me, it was failure.  During this time, Brayden was playing baseball….a lot of baseball.  Since I had also had small panic attacks at the baseball diamonds earlier in the season, I refused to go to the games alone, and Brock was the head coach and couldn’t sit with me, so I enlisted my parents.  I mean, they normally go to all Brayden’s games anyways, but I felt so child-like having them with me because I needed them there, not because I just thought it was great they could make it to his game.

No one can really truly understand how this all made me feel.  I will try to sum it up in 2 points.  1–I’ve always been an extremely independent person.  I used to have a job where I had to travel all over the state for events and meetings and it was no big deal.  I’ve driven out of state by myself before and it wasn’t an issue, if I wanted to go somewhere new and my friends couldn’t go with me, I would still go.   I was very used to having a busy schedule, full of friends and sports and family.  I’m one of those people who can’t stand to waste a weekend at home.  I like to be out exploring new things.  I love meeting friends at new restaurants or places.  That was me summed up in a nutshell before this spring.  Having that independence “taken away” made me probably the maddest and most frustrated I’ve ever been and trust me, anxiety has made me plenty mad before.  The fact it wasn’t going to be a quick fix just floored me.  Why did it happen?  Like I really needed to have another form of anxiety come into my life.  Point number 2–This panic disorder literally couldn’t have come at a worse time.  Summer time is the ONE season of the year that my OCD calms down a little and I’m not constantly worried about germs and sickness.  Why was my “grace season” taken from me and replaced with another anxiety disorder?  None of this ever made me sad, know that.  It downright pissed me off.  Let me clarify, it still very much pisses me off.  More and more every day.  I refuse to let this get worse.

Now, after 18 months, I can honestly say I’ve beat the panic disorder and a lot of general anxiety.  There are times the OCD has gotten a little better, but for the most part, it’s still a daily struggle, especially in the late fall and entire winter.  I committed to putting in all the hard work back in May of 2018 when I started therapy, new anxiety medicine and meditation/personal development.  I was consistent even though everything that happened to me made me so mad and frustrated.  My therapist had become so important to me and one of my biggest fans as I battled and worked through this.  Now we are working solely on the contamination OCD.  Hopefully one day I will be able to type the words (beat OCD) in my story!  

I wanted to write this because it’s very important to me to speak out about it.  Also, talking about it is extremely therapeutic.  I can 100% guarantee you that there are people I’m friends with, that will read this and have no idea this has all been going on.  I can also 100% guarantee you that no one would ever guess I’ve been going through this for the past 5 years because it doesn’t change who I am.  It just changes how I handle and think about certain situations.

Maybe someone else will relate, maybe someone will reach out to one of their friends going through a similar situation, or maybe someone who doesn’t deal with anxiety can understand just how bad it can get and how it can alter a perfectly healthy person’s lifestyle.  If that’s you, I hope you can learn empathy.  None of us know what’s going on behind the eyes of those that we work with, go to school with, see in the grocery store or eat dinner next to in a restaurant.  All I can say is try to think about these things.  We all have our struggles.  Let’s help each other out, shall we?  Let’s be forgiving, let’s be empathetic, and let’sbe open that someone may need us for an issue we may not understand. It’s not important that you may not understand the issue; the important thing is that you are there.

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