To preface, I love my antidepressants/anti-anxiety meds, which are really just one drug, an SNRI by the name of Venlafaxine/Effexor. It has its side effects (risk of high blood pressure, drowsiness, absolutely wild dreams), and withdrawal is a b i t c h (migraines, severe vertigo, and then night terrors forever, and that’s just with missing one dose), but my god does it help. Since being on the current dosage, my panic attacks have completely evaporated, and I haven’t had anything remotely close to a depressive downswing. As the joke goes, if you can’t make your own neurotransmitters, store-bought is fine.
(also if you’re one of those people who posts the memes about how mountains are antidepressants and meds are shit, I will personally come to your house and make you touch old wet food)
The weird thing about Effexor is that the anxiety ends up manifesting when I’m sleeping instead of when I’m awake, which is both nice and annoying. It’s nice because yes, I’d much rather have anxiety dreams than a panic attack. I’m pretty sure everyone who’s ever had a genuine panic attack would rather have anxiety dreams than a panic attack. With an anxiety dream, I can wake up and reason with myself: “It’s okay that you didn’t buy the calculus book because (a) you’re 34 years old and not in school; (b) you never took AP calculus to begin with; and (c) the math teacher that’s featuring in this nightmare has probably been retired for almost 20 years now.”
With a panic attack, there’s nothing to do but ride it until it subsides–the chest pain, the feeling of being unable to breathe, the heat and claustrophobia, the desperate need to get out even though you don’t know where or why. Your stress response goes absolutely haywire for no goddamn reason, and no amount of logic or reasoning makes it calm the fuck down because it’s coming from your most base instincts that are trying to save you from a deadly threat that doesn’t fucking exist.
My last real panic attack happened right around the time I started Effexor, just after I’d started taking it regularly. It was the weirdest thing: my stress response was still going haywire, but I was looking at it objectively as it happened and acknowledging that this was entirely pointless, body, there’s nothing threatening us and we’re absolutely fine. Before being on the Effexor, the stress got to my brain as well, as it does for pretty much everyone who’s ever had a panic attack, because it honestly feels like you’re dying. You can’t reason it away because you are having chest pain and trouble breathing and the walls are closing in, of course you’re dying. But being on Effexor, it was so bizarre, just looking at it as an outside observer and saying, “Idiot, you’re not dying, your stress response has just decided to fritz out, you’ll be fine soon.”
And after that, it’s been mostly smooth sailing. I think I’ve had one panic attack since then, and again, it was just the same thing: “calm down, body, there is literally no reason for you to be doing this.”
Which brings me to the dreams. The dreams are always vivid, and I always remember them. From what I’ve read, that’s the norm on Effexor. Usually, the dreams are just weird like “we’re at Disney World and I’m juggling bananas while Mickey Mouse cheers for me!” but since this pregnancy started, things have taken a decidedly more anxious turn.
The most common dream is the school dream. Naturally, I’m running through the halls naked, but that’s not the anxious part. The anxious part is that I get to my AP calculus class (again: I never took AP calculus because math and I are not friends), and there’s my high school math teacher, glaring at me as always. He announces that it’s time to take the final exam, and I feel all confident… until I realize that I never bought the AP calculus textbook and never came to class and never did any homework and never studied. I’m pretty sure literally everyone on the planet has had a variation on this dream, but it’s been especially recurrent in the past ~4-ish months.
(actual footage of me in honors pre-calculus)
A couple of weeks ago, as I got my ducks in a row to leave work (which I have since done, yay!), I dreamed that I was in a graphic designers’ version of Chopped. We were each assigned a different document to produce and refine, and we had 8 hours in which to do it. Objectively, for me, producing and refining a document probably would take about ~4 hours, maybe less, but in this dream, eight hours was nowhere near enough. Worse, there was this table on the document that was all horribly misaligned, as if someone had just drawn a bunch of squares and haphazardly stuck them together and I could not get them to realign, and time ran out and I had to turn in a document that looked like complete ass.
Last night’s dream was the worst, if only because it was so real. I dreamed that Sam was in kindergarten, that he had a group of four friends and that teachers called the lot of them the “Fab Five.” Sam wasn’t in school for the day–it was Halloween, and I think we’d taken him to Texas again in the dream story. Regardless, I dreamed that while Sam was out of school, a maniac came and shot up the place, badly injuring the rest of the Fab Five and one of their dads. The rest of the dream involved me in a rage, going to dispense some justice to the inexplicably noseless shooter with my fists. I woke up right as I found him and couldn’t go back to sleep for another hour because the emotions I felt were so awful. Instead, I got up and made sure Sam was still asleep and in bed (he was) and then quietly played with my phone until I relaxed enough to fall back asleep.
(look at these adorable pandas)
I have no idea where all of this latent anxiety is coming from, honestly. My stress levels have dipped way down in recent weeks. We’re done traveling for the foreseeable future, so that stress is missing. I left my stressful job, so that’s done. We’re not in the best place financially, but we’re stable. Sam is healthy and mostly happy (though impatient to stay home with me). It’s the holidays, which makes me happy, and I’m objectively and at least to my overall knowledge stress-free.
Of course, there’s the meta-anxiety that comes with raising a kid nowadays. Everyone’s always had multitudinous fears for their kids; the fears just change shape depending on the world overall. School shootings are now so common that seeing one in the news barely registers as a blip on my radar; it’s become like seeing “there was an accident on 495 during the morning commute,” where I objectively know it sucks for the people involved, but it’s so damn common that I don’t have the emotional energy to work up a major shock and horror every time it happens (which is complete and utter bullshit because this should not be a common thing). And that commonality obviously translates to anxiety as a parent; what if Sam’s school is next? And there are other fears: what if Sam gets taken in by a predator online? What if he’s the unlucky child to contract one of six billion forms of brain cancer? What if he’s bullied into suicide when he’s older? What if, what if, what if…
But I call it meta-anxiety because I have to push it to the back of my mind to even function during the day. Everything is terrifying, and if it’s constantly at the forefront of your mind, you can’t live your life. You can’t help your kid to cope or teach them to deal with the bad things that come their way. You’re just always afraid. So the meta-anxiety lurks back there but doesn’t rear its head often, except apparently in last night’s dream.
More specific anxieties also get pushed to the back of my mind lately, largely because again, I need to be able to function. Those anxieties are all tied to this pregnancy and how Sam will cope with everything. They edge into health concerns, emotional concerns, and the overall how in the hell am I going to take care of twins panic that’s always lurking whenever I tell someone how excited I am.
Health-wise, it doesn’t help at all that 99% of twin birth stories you can find online are honest-to-god horror stories or stories of someone having a completely unassisted homebirth in a stream or something with a dolphin doula and little birds singing.
(no offense if a stream birth is your dream birth, but all I can think about is EELS)
I have exactly zero interest in the latter–I’m a big fan of giving birth in a nice, sterile hospital with a wonderful doctor at my side–so the former is what I get. And these stories are basically all the same. Mom goes in, somewhere during labor we realize that the twins aren’t getting born vaginally, it turns into a C-section, everything seems fine but then Mom’s vision gets blurry and lots of people yell and the next thing she knows, it’s four days later and she’s been given like 72 gallons of someone else’s blood and half of her internal organs are removed. But the twins are fine!
Obviously, this is not the norm. Obviously, it’s not even close to the norm. But goddamn, would it hurt for people to write about a completely boring birth experience, even if it’s twins? “They gave me a spinal block so I was numb from the waist down, I didn’t feel any pain, they took both twins out, the bleeding stopped very quickly, and I recovered in a pretty typical way.” My kingdom for those stories, because at this point, I’m at least 75% convinced that I’m going to spend a month in the hospital after these babies are born.
And, of course, there are other health concerns. What if I get a pulmonary embolism and randomly die? (having a cold is really helpful when you’re worried about that, let me tell you) What if my blood pressure skyrockets and I develop pre-eclampsia? What if my liver decides “you know what, no” and I have to deal with that? What if I just randomly stroke out? What if, what if, what if…
Again, these are all just in the back of my mind because I couldn’t function otherwise. But that doesn’t mean my dreams aren’t tapping into them for material.
And then there’s Sam. Objectively, I know he’ll be just fine with the transition from only child to oldest sibling. Kyle and I both were. But he’s still my baby and I still want to do everything in my power to keep him from experiencing things in a rough manner, to keep him from feeling jealous or left out or lonely. And I know that’s not necessarily possible, but I still sit there and worry about it… in the back of my mind, where apparently my brain is going to get dream material.
Pregnancy is a weird time for dreams anyway. It’s common for folks to have weird-ass dreams while pregnant, because hormones be like that sometimes. But oy, I wish that my brain would just clue me into what’s the matter and let me fix it so I can have some less stressful dreams. Like ones about Disney World. Those would be good.
(and hey brain, if those dreams can be vivid enough that I wake up tasting churros, that’d be great)