#dontcallmecrazy, My name is Noelle

My name is Noelle.

I suppose if I had to “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air Theme Song” my life, it would go like this:

This is the story all about how a dorky, bookworm became addicted to alcohol, popping pills, fearful of literally everyone, nearly committed suicide and then turned it all around, got married and became a clean, life-loving, mental health advocate.

All thanks to anxiety.

It was always a passenger in my life, but there are two instances I can recall where I thought, “What the hell is this? What’s happening to me?”

  1. I went to a skate demo at 19. I tried talking to a few of the guys and suddenly my face twitched. Like, full on demonic twitch. I remember them giving me this weird look and walking away from the conversation.

  2. I went out to eat with my mom  for my 20th birthday. I could not eat. The noises in the restaurant were so loud. My hands were too shaky to carry the food to my mouth. I huddled up in my jacket and prayed for it to be over so I could just get back to my apartment and hide.

After those two events, anxiety took over. It was devastating. If you haven’t experienced anxiety before, consider yourself lucky. Think of first date jitters, on steroids, for every interaction you have. There is no “just getting over it,” and there is such a stigma surrounding mental health in general, that I didn’t have anyone I could go to for help. From 19-25, I used alcohol to manage my anxiety. I suffered from low self esteem (because I didn’t know what was wrong with me), so I let myself get used the wrong way just to feel something, just to have an interaction with someone for a few hours. Life was hell.

There were times where I would go a week without leaving my apartment, unless it was to walk my dog. There were times I would sit in the dark, holding a knife wishing it would all end. I wasn’t even suicidal at that point. I was just burnt out. My system was always aggravated and I never got a break. Walking out of the door took effort. Insane amounts of effort. Every once in a while I would have a good day, or a good week… or if I was really lucky a good month. But it never lasted.

I finally got fed up and decided to get help. Up to that point, I was strongly against prescription pills (but not alcohol… I see the irony in that). But I was on the precipice of life. I was ready for anything that was a deviation from my life. I was 25 the first time I took Xanax. I have never felt like that in my entire life. Even now, when things are going so well, I don’t have that absolute calmness that Xanax afforded me. I should have seen it for what it was that first day, but I was a starving woman faced with a buffet. I wasn’t even capable of stopping at that point.

My prescription was increased after one month. I started noticing that, when Xanax wasn’t in my system, my anxiety was actually worse than it had ever been. So I started feeding those sober moments with alcohol (something I had gotten better with the year prior to starting Xanax). I wasn’t technically ever sober between the two. Right before committing myself to the hospital, my prescription had increased to 4mg immediate release and 1mg extended release every day. I’m not sure if that means anything to you. It didn’t mean anything to me, but apparently that is a massive amount of Xanax for one person to be taking without any time of counseling.

Which brings me to the final, bad stage of my anxious years. I took Xanax for two years. The last six months had turned me into someone I didn’t recognize. Everything revolved around the relief those little pills brought me. To say I was addicted would be an understatement. I started suffering from withdrawal and discovered what seizures felt like (hell, in case you’re wondering.) I was suffering from horrible anxiety, drug and alcohol addiction, and then suicidal thoughts started to plague me. I started planning my death, wanting to make it as clean as possible. Then, that was taking too long.

Over the course of 24 hours, I made three calls to the suicide hotline. Some small part of me knew I didn’t want to die. Those poor people. There wasn’t much they could do to help me. My final call was to my mom, asking her to check on my dog. She came over after that. She pounded on the door. I didn’t answer. Then she came around to my window. She saved my life that day. We went to see my doctor, who didn’t realize my suicidal thoughts were a result of the Xanax, and she suggested I Baker Act myself. I committed myself to the fourth floor locked ward of Naples Community Hospital. They worked with me to get over my addiction, suicidal thoughts and even equipped me with some tools for managing my anxiety. I met some wonderful people in there. We were all battling our own demons, but we were in it together.

When I left the hospital, I was scared. I was grateful. I tried finding a psychiatrist, but couldn’t book anyone affordable and couldn’t pay for anyone that was available. So, I took to the internet. I read just about everything I could get my hands on to learn how to manage my anxiety without drugs or alcohol. I noticed subtle improvements at first. Then the big changes came. I was able to speak publicly in front of a large group of people. I was able to go on job interviews and feel confident. I was able to meet the love of my life and get married.

I acknowledge that I have anxiety now. It creeps up sometimes if I drink too much or if I have a lot on my plate. It’s just a shadow of what it once was though. More than that, I know how to handle it when it pops up. So instead of suffering for weeks, I suffer for a day at most. I am honestly grateful for my experiences. I am more patient with others. I am stronger. I am more confident because I know that I can get through whatever life throws at me. My experiences have also enabled me to help others who are struggling. I tell everyone about what I went through, and it never ceases to amaze me how many people have their OWN story. So yes, I have anxiety. But I wouldn’t trade my story or experiences for anything in the world.

#dontcallmecrazy. My name is Noelle and I have #anxiety, but it does not have me.

- Noelle Matthews, 2018