I’m undergoing an interesting emotional exercise today, and I’m not doing it on purpose.
On Christmas Eve I started feeling the signs of an upcoming cold or sinus infection. Well, after two weeks of good days and bad day it finally morphed into a full on bacterial sinus infection last Thursday. I’m unfortunately all too familiar with these. I have major pollen and mold allergies so all too often my sinuses will flare up and then turn my nose into a very hospitable breeding ground for all manner of nasty bacteria. Fortunately I started allergy shots about a year ago and my 4-5 infections per year have dropped to just this one in the past year. So I’m thankful for that.
My least favorite thing about sinus infections is the congestion. It’s not your everyday nasal congestion, it’s my-sinuses-feel-like-two-baseballs-are-shoved-up-there congestion. So much pressure. So much pain. So little breathing. It’s misery. I’ve tried just about every decongestant modern medical science has to offer. Sudafed PE (phenylephrine) is a joke, I think it is only sold as a placebo. Afrin (oxymetazoline) does eliminate the congestion but breaks the proverbial dam that is the congestion and turns my nose into a river, plus they say not to take it for more than a day or two. So as far as non-prescription stuff goes that pretty much leaves me with ordinary Sudafed (pseudoephedrine), your everyday ordinary decongestant that they keep behind the pharmacy counter (thanks to all the people who try to cook it into meth).
Now, I’m no doctor, just an ordinary consumer who has had a lot of experience taking this drug, and boy do I have a love-hate relationship with it. Most of the time it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it gives me insomnia, and sometimes it doesn’t. The one thing that I know for sure is that by the 3rd or 4th day I’ve been taking it, I get hit with nasty anxiety. And guess what today is . . . that’s right, day 4. It’s always a huge debate whether or not to take it, but when the choice is either to spend the day not breathing or spend it with some anxiety, sometimes breathing wins the debate.
It’s funny because I used to not know that this was one of the side affects. I used to attribute these feelings to the stress of having missed a few days of work . . . but I wouldn’t have that feeling if I missed work for a different illness. A curiosity, but never one I explored deeply. Then I finally went to grad school and learned about all these things in the world that can trigger mental health disorder symptoms in an otherwise healthy person. Conditions like hyper or hypothyroidism can cause depression or anxiety. Birth control pills can cause depression, and so can some acne medicines. It’s quite remarkable how many there are out there. And there is was on my professor’s PowerPoint: Sudafed can cause anxiety.
It was quite the revelation. Never had I read the little section on the box of potential adverse effects. So I started experimenting (back then I got enough sinus infections that I could do self trials). Sometimes I’d use the Sudafed and boom, anxiety. Other times I would forgo it or just use it the first day, and miraculously no anxiety. It seemed all too ridiculous. I’d always thought of anxiety as this whole mental disorder, a problem that was due to something requiring therapy and new approaches to life, but here in this case all it was was me taking a non-prescription medicine for one day too many.
Despite me knowing all this now, I still find myself on days like today, where I would just rather breathe. So here I am, trying to get through work, constantly having to remind myself that not every email that comes is relates to some crisis and that every phone call isn’t going to be some angry student or parent about to yell at me. Days like these give me great empathy for my friends, associates, and clients who suffer from anxiety. It’s such an unpleasant sensation and some days mindfulness, breathing exercises, and thought re-framing can only get you through the day and just can break the symptom. In this case only a good night’s sleep or two and 24 hours with no Sudafed will only do the trick.
Hopefully by tomorrow I’ll be able to breathe on my own and not need it.