An Inside Look At Anxiety
Samantha Schutz, our guest, is the author of I Don't Want To Be Crazy" a poetry memoir documenting her personal battle with an anxiety disorder and the incapacitating panic attacks that first struck during college.
Natalie is the HealthyPlace.com moderator
The people in blue are audience members
Natalie: Good evening. I'm Natalie, your moderator for tonight's Anxiety Disorders chat conference. I want to welcome everyone to the HealthyPlace.com website. Tonight's conference topic is "An Inside Look At Anxiety." Our guest is Samantha Schutz.
Ms. Schutz is an editor of children's books. She is also the author of a recently released book: "I Don't Want To Be Crazy" a poetry memoir documenting her personal battle with an anxiety disorder and the incapacitating panic attacks that first struck during college.
Samantha, thank you for joining us tonight. You are now 28 years old and this book is based on your experiences with anxiety and panic during your college days; starting about 10 years ago. Before I get into those details, how are you doing today?
Samantha Schutz: I'm feeling pretty good. I haven't had a panic attack in a long time - months, really. Of course, I still get anxious and get flutters of panic, but they usually don't last very long. I'm also starting a new job in a few days. I'm a little nervous about it, but nervous in a normal way. In other words, it's not giving me panic attacks.
Natalie: Your book, "I Don't Want To Be Crazy" provides real insight into not only what it's like living with anxiety and panic, but also the personal struggle most people face in trying to get the right treatment for an anxiety disorder. The book is specially written for teens, 14 and up, along with their parents, but it's an excellent read no matter what your age. Samantha, why did you target this group?
Samantha Schutz: There were no books for teens about anxiety disorder. (There are of course, many self-help-type books on the subject, but they weren't engaging reads and they didn't make me feel any less alone.)
There are books for teens about drug abuse, depression, rape, suicide, OCD, cutting, learning disabilities, eating disorders...but there were no books about generalized anxiety disorder or panic disorder--ironic since anxiety often plays a major role in other disorders. In short, I wanted representation.
There was also a big part of me that was writing the book because I wished that I had had a book to comfort me and make me feel less alone.
Natalie: What were the first symptoms of anxiety that you experienced and what was going on in your life at that time?
Samantha Schutz: The first panic attack I ever had was after I smoked pot for the first time in high school. I really freaked out. I was pretty sure I was going to die. Or at least have to go to the hospital. I swore I would never smoke pot again . . . but eventually, I did. Sometimes when I would smoke, I would freak out. Sometimes I wouldn't. It never occurred to me that anything besides the pot was responsible for the anxiety.
The first panic attack I had when I wasn't high was right before I left for college. I was shopping for school supplies with my dad and all of a sudden I felt really strange. The ground felt soft. I felt really spacey and confused. It was like everything was moving too fast and too slow at once.
Natalie: As time went on, how did the symptoms progress?
Samantha Schutz: During my freshman year, my first panic attacks were scattered and seemingly without pattern. Although, I did have A LOT in class. But it wasn't long before the attacks picked up speed and I was having several a day. I often felt nervous, not in control of my body, and convinced that I was going to die. As their frequency increased, it became difficult to do normal things like go to class, the dining hall, or parties.
Natalie: What impact did the anxiety and panic attacks have on you?
Samantha Schutz: This is a really hard question. At the time it kept me a bit withdrawn. Not terribly so, but enough to hold me back socially. Luckily, by that time I already had a few very good friends. Academically, I was doing ok. My grades first semester were actually quite good. But mostly I attribute that to the fact that I purposely picked classes that I knew I would like. I knew that the transition from high school to college would be hard (for anyone) and I thought that it wouldn't be the best time to have to deal with hardcore requirements like math. Now, if you want to know what impact panic disorder has had on my life in the overall sense, well..... that's an even harder question. One that I am not even sure I can answer. Would I be the same person I am today? I doubt it. But what would I have been? These are HUGE questions.
Natalie: Your book is called "I Don't Want To Be Crazy". Did you think you were going crazy? Did it come to that?
Samantha Schutz: There was a very short amount of time where I thought that. It was freshman year right before I went into therapy and went on medication. I had no idea what was happening to me and the only explanation I could come up with was that I had gone crazy. At the time I had never even heard of anxiety disorder. No, I never thought that I actually went "crazy". But it was something I was very fearful of. I guess I envisioned "crazy" as something I would or could enter into and never come out of.
Natalie: And how did your friends, others on campus and family members react to your behavior and illness?
Samantha Schutz: My friends were very supportive. They did what they could, but for the most part they had to just follow my lead. If I needed to leave wherever I was because I was having a panic attack, then we left. If I needed water, then someone got it for me. If I needed to stay up and talk, then there was someone who would stay up and talk to me. I had one friend in particular who was wonderful. She was always there for me. There was also another friend who was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. Our relationship was interesting. We were really able to help each other, but there is some irony in that. She could calm me down, but not herself. And vice versa. I told a few teachers that I was having problems. The classes were really small and I was worried that they would notice how I was always leaving. I lied and said that I was claustrophobic. Any teacher I told was really understanding and sympathetic.
Natalie: Samantha, many people with psychological disorders, whether it's bipolar disorder, anxiety, depression, OCD or some other disorder, feel as if they are the only one on earth with this problem. Did you feel that way?
Samantha Schutz: Yes and no. Yes, because I couldn't imagine that someone knew the depths of what I was feeling. For me, the anxiety was in my head. No one could see it or hear it. It was mine alone to deal with. That added to it being a solitary experience. But I also knew I wasn't the only one. I had a friend who was going through the same thing.
Natalie: And, at what point did it become apparent that you weren't alone?
Samantha Schutz: I think when I realized that other people I knew were having the same types of problems.
Natalie: I can imagine that it was difficult for you - especially at a time when most kids are trying to figure out who they are and wanting to fit in and here you are standing out. What about depression? Did that set in too? And how bad did it get?
Samantha Schutz: I think once I went into therapy and on medication, some of those feelings went away. But for the most part, I don't think I was very depressed. But then again, this wouldn't be the first time that I appeared one way to outsiders and perceived myself as being another way.
Natalie: After I graduated from college I was REALLY depressed. I was having so many panic attacks and I felt broken and hopeless. I had no idea what I was doing with myself. I was back living in my parents' house. I hadn't found a job yet. Things felt very shaky.
Samantha Schutz: My anxiety and depression were at the worst they had probably ever been. I cut myself off from my friends and almost never went out at night on the weekends. I remember having very serious talks with my parents about going to the hospital. I didn't know what to do with myself. And neither did they. We decided not to . . . but my parents played a big part in getting me out of the house and then back to therapy. I was really grateful for that. I really needed someone to swoop in and take charge.
Natalie: So now we have a sense of how anxiety, panic and depression had a grip on you. I want to address diagnosis and treatment. How long did you suffer with the symptoms before seeking help? And was there any turning point where you said "I really need to deal with this?"
Samantha Schutz: I was in therapy and on medication within two months or so after getting to school my freshman year. The moment when I went for help was almost comical . . . at least it seems that way now. I was in Health Services (I went there a lot in college) and there was a poster on the wall that said something like "Having Panic Attacks?" I know that seems strange, but it's the truth. I can't even be sure I had even heard the phrase "panic attacks" before, but when I saw that poster, things made sense. That same day I made an appointment with the Counseling Center.
After my initial appointments with a therapist I was asked to make an appointment with the staff psychiatrist. It was easy. There was a path. And giving over a bit of control over to my therapist and psychiatrist was comforting after feeling so out of control with anxiety.
Natalie: How difficult was it to find help?
Samantha Schutz: As I said above, it really wasn't. But I don't think that that's the average response. I think people sit with things longer and let them fester. I am thankful that I possess two qualities: being forthcoming about my feelings and being proactive about my health. I believe that these qualities are a big part of the reason that I was able to ask for help.
Natalie: Did you have the support of your family? If so, in what way did they help? And was that important to you?
Samantha Schutz: Being forthcoming about my feelings and being proactive about my health. I believe that these qualities are a big part of the reason that I was able to ask for help. I told my parents about my anxiety disorder around Thanksgiving of my freshman year. I think finding out was a big shock for them. They probably thought I was off having the time of my life at school and when I told them what was really going on I think it really shocked them. They also didn't get to see my panic in action until I was home after my junior year. I think that not seeing me in the middle of "it" might have made it harder for them to understand what I was going through. But when I was having a hard time after my junior year and then again after I graduated my parents were there for me. They were very supportive and tried to get me whatever help they could. It was great having their support.
Natalie: So talk about the road back. Was recovering from panic disorder and depression easy, hard, extremely difficult? On the scale of difficulty, where did it lie for you? And what made it that way?
Samantha Schutz: I think recovery is a great way to describe what I have gone through in the last few years.
For the last few years, whenever I tried to talk about my experience with anxiety disorder, I ran into the same problem. I couldn't describe myself as having an anxiety disorder because I'd gone months without having a panic attack. And I couldn't say I had an anxiety disorder because I still felt its effects. Trying to find the right verb was more than just semantics.
For many years, having an anxiety disorder shaped nearly every bit of my life- where I went, who I went with, how long I stayed. I do not believe that anxiety disorder can be flipped off like a switch, and accordingly, simply using past or present tense did not accurately reflect how I was feeling. The body has an unbelievable capacity to remember pain, and my body was not ready to forget what I had been through. It was only about a year ago that I settled on saying, "I am in recovery from anxiety disorder."
As far as recovery goes, my life is VERY different than it was when I was diagnosed with panic disorder ten years ago. Since that fall, I have seen more than a half dozen therapists and taken as many different medications. I've had two episodes where I nearly checked myself into a hospital. I have been to yoga and meditation classes, swung tennis rackets at pillows, practiced the art of breathing, tried hypnosis, and taken herbal remedies. I've done things that once seemed impossible- like going to crowded concerts or sitting with relative ease in a packed lecture hall. I've also gone many months at a time without panic attacks or medication. I don't know how to quantify how hard it was. . . but it sure wasn't easy. It was what it was. I dealt with things as they came.
Sometimes times things were good and I didn't have many panic attacks. Sometimes things were bad and I had several panic attacks a day. I just had to always remember that panic attacks always end and that bad days and bad weeks always end too.
Natalie: You tried different treatments, different medications. At some point, did you just want to give up? What motivated you to continue on with seeking treatment?
Samantha Schutz: I don't think I ever wanted to give up. There were sometimes when things looked pretty bleak . . . but I kept trying new meds and new therapists because I wanted to get better. That even though things are pretty bad, there is something they are getting out of feeling bad. There have been a few times that I have felt really depressed and I wanted to feel depressed. It was comforting. I think that at some point I decided I really wanted to get better and that was a sort of turning point for me and I started making more progress.
Natalie: One last question before we turn to some audience questions: You mentioned at the beginning that you are stable and better able to live your life. Are you ever afraid that the anxiety and panic attacks and depression will return? And how do you deal with them?
Samantha Schutz: Sure I do. I am still on medication and I wonder what will happen when I go off it. Have I learned tools to deal with my anxiety? Have I passed through that stage of my life? I don't know. I am really hopeful though.
At the end of my book there is a poem that says a lot about how I felt on this subject. Keep in mind that this poem reflects how I felt several years ago. I am in a house. I am in one room and my anxiety is in another. It's close. I can feel it. I can go to it. But I won't. It still felt like the anxiety was there. That it was close, but that all of the work I was doing (the meds, the therapy) was helping to keep it at bay. I don't feel like it's as close now. I don't feel like I could fall back into it as easily as I once did.
Natalie: Here's the first question from the audience
terrier7: Was there a line of demarcation that kind of separates who you were before the panic attacks/anxiety and afterward or was it a lot more gradual than that?
Samantha Schutz: There is no hard line. I can only wonder how things would have been. It's not like I was very outgoing before and then really shy afterward. I think it could take me a lifetime to figure out how things are different, but even then, is it important to know? And really... I will never know for sure what is different about me. I was diagnosed at such a critical time. I was 17. A lot was changing about me and developing anyway.
Natalie: Thanks Samantha, here are some more questions from the audience.
trish3455: I experienced many different symptoms of anxiety and I worry that maybe it's something serious and not anxiety. I have read many books and it seems I experience symptoms that are not common. Did you experience this?
Samantha Schutz: I know I thought that a lot too. There were times I thought I had some weird illness. There are so many different symptoms and so many different ways that people feel. The important thing is to NOT diagnose yourself. Let a doctor do that.
Debi2848: Does the panic/anxiety attacks embarrass you and you have to leave a family gathering for no reason and can't go back for fear of having a bad attack in front of people?
Samantha Schutz: I think that for a long time I just left where ever I was if I was having a panic attack. So I wasn't there long enough for many people to see what was going on for me. I don't think I felt very embarrassed by my anxiety. I did feel bad that I was putting my friends out and that they left all sorts of places because of me.
sthriving: I have had anxiety and panic attacks for about 7 years now. Things like driving, socializing, etc. I can now do without any hesitation, but I am still on Xanax. Do you think there is anything wrong with having to take medication to enjoy doing things?
Samantha Schutz: Hard question. I remember when I was first thinking about going on medication I was hesitant. The psychiatrist asked me if I would have trouble taking medication if I was diabetic. I said of course not. There have been times when I didn't want to go on meds. Others where I could not swallow the pill fast enough. It depended on how I was feeling. I am sort of in the same boat now. I have been on meds for a long time and am wondering if I should go off. I wonder if I need it? But then part of me wonders if I should stay on. If I am feeling good, why mess with it. But again, I am not a doctor.
It's different for everyone and of course your doctor should have some input into this decision. This does not sound like one decision you should or can make alone.
support2u: I have had anxiety all of my life and recently started having what I would call panic attacks and I start hyperventilating and breath holder. How would someone like me cope with this and how did you?
Samantha Schutz: There is a type of therapy called CBT: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy This therapy is all about teaching you specific ways to deal with specific problems. In CBT a patient might do a lot of breath work on learning how to breathe in a way that will help you calm down. I hope you are seeing a doctor. I know I sound like a broken record. But I can only speak from my own personal experience.
Neeceey: Did you develop any specific phobias? I have a medication phobia among many others (bridges, crowds, elevators, etc.)
Natalie: Sort of. The thought of passing out scares me a lot! There were also a lot of places I avoided and things that I hated doing because I would have panic attacks. Having a medication phobia is rough. especially when medication is something that can help you.
3caramel: How did you manage to overcome your fears, I am unable to go to restaurants or go on trips and I don't know how to overcome that?
Samantha Schutz: I mentioned CBT before. That might be helpful. There is also something called Aversion Therapy. These therapies give you strategies to deal with your fears.
How did I get over mine? Some of them faded. Some of them are still there. I think what was most helpful was trying to go to places that freaked me out. If I went to a club (a place where I had had many attacks) and didn't have a panic attack, then that was a success. Then, the next time I would be nervous about going to a club, I would remember that I was ok the last time. I would try to build on that.
Natalie: Okay Samantha, the next questions are about your book. How long did it take to write your book?
Samantha Schutz: It took about 2 years from the time I decided to write it to the time I gave it to my editor. But I had many years worth of journals to use for inspiration.
Natalie: Here's the last question. Has your life changed after writing your book?
Samantha Schutz: In some ways it has. I get fan mail from adults and teens telling me how much they love my book and how much of an impact I have had on their lives. I've had people give my book to their kids or parents as a way of explaining what they are going through. It is amazing to know that I am having an impact on people. I also think that writing this book gave me a lot of distance from my experiences and a way to look back on it and make sense of it. I don't think it could be considered closure, but it has definitely helped.
Natalie: I am sorry but we've run out of time.
Samantha Schutz: Thanks for having me!
Natalie: Samantha, do you have any final words for us?
Samantha Schutz: The only thing I can say with certainty is that my commitment to therapy and my willingness to try new medications has made the most difference. I know that it seems hard and it is awful to have to go on and off meds trying to find the right one... but it is worth it. It is also worth it to try new therapists.... it's like a good friendship. Not everyone is the right fit. I am really lucky I am seeing an amazing therapist now and it makes all the difference.
Natalie: Thank you very much for being our guest tonight Samantha.
Samantha Schutz: My pleasure!
Natalie: Thank you everybody for coming. I hope you found the chat interesting and helpful.
Good night everyone.
Disclaimer:We are not recommending or endorsing any of the suggestions of our guest. In fact, we strongly encourage you to talk over any therapies, remedies or suggestions with your doctor BEFORE you implement them or make any changes in your treatment.
Gluck, S. (2007, February 23). An Inside Look At Anxiety, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, June 17 from https://www.healthyplace.com/anxiety-panic/transcripts/an-inside-look-at-anxiety