yes, me

Dear Soulseeker,

Did you know that anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S.? About  40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older have an anxiety disorder.  

I am one of that 40 million.

I can’t remember specifically when it began: the uncertainty, the sense of unreality, the thoughts that I was going crazy, the shaking, the heart racing and pounding, the sense that something was wrong. These feelings seemed to start out of nowhere in my mid 30’s. One day I was fine, then all of a sudden, BAM. It would usually hit me when I was away from home: in the drive thru of Starbucks or casually shopping  in a store. So naturally I wanted to get back home as quickly as possible, and if I couldn’t, such as when I was stuck in the drive thru of Starbucks, then I just hoped and prayed that I did not pass out sitting in my car. Because that’s how I felt. You know the tunnel vision you get right before you faint or pass out? That’s how I would feel along with the feeling that something bad was going to happen.  So I would turn the AC up on high so that I could get some fresh air  and I would turn the radio down so that I could focus and get myself calmed down. Seriously, that was how I would cope with it if it happened in the car.  If I was in a store, I would get back to my car to try and talk myself down from the panic. Then shakily, I would drive home.  It would take me a few hours to calm down once I got home. 

My deepest fear was that there was something seriously wrong with me. I had 3 really small kids. My husband worked a lot and I was home by myself with the kids much of the time every day. I remember one night I couldn’t sleep, and I lay there in bed trying to figure out what could possibly be causing me to feel this way. The one conclusion that I kept returning to was that I was losing my mind, and that scared me to death. 

I finally went to the doctor, who was a little overwhelmed with my story. You see, initially I attributed all of this to some bug spray that I had used in the yard. I was grasping for anything to try and explain what was happening to me. I had gotten some of the pesticide on my feet and maybe I didn’t get it all washed off?  Maybe some of these symptoms were a result of that? The doctor ordered an MRI. He was looking for MS because I was the prime age to be at risk for that, but fortunately, my MRI was good, but then that meant it wasn’t really a physical thing after all. He explained that he thought I was having panic attacks.

The good news is that this can be dealt with. It’s been my experience that most doctors want to start you on medication. That was my doctor’s suggestion. But I didn’t want to do that. In my opinion, that’s a slippery slope, and I wasn’t totally convinced that the doctor was right. Over 10+ years later, I can admit that he was right. I have anxiety. But I am happy to say that I am able to control my anxiety without medication. I never started it. I didn’t want to depend on medicine to control something that I might be able to handle on my own, and I didn’t want to find myself addicted to something that was then going to cause other problems further down the road. What if the medication stopped working? It’s a rabbit hole, and unfortunately many people have suffered through this experience. Being the control freak that I am,  I needed to know that I could control this on my own. 

With my background in psychology, I knew that I could deal with this on a cognitive level: self talk to calm myself down, deep breaths, some self reflection as to what may have triggered my anxiety.  On an intellectual level, I knew what the consequences of my anxiety could mean. If most of my panic attacks occurred when I was away from home, I could easily wind up staying home all of the time because of fear.  And you know what that’s called? Agoraphobia. I was not going to allow that to happen. I forced myself to get out. I went back through the drive thru line of Starbucks. I went back to the stores where I had experienced panic attacks, and guess what? I was fine.  I was able to replace those anxious scary situations with more positive ones. Now did I feel great the first time I went back? No. I was scared. But I told myself that I could do it, and everything would be ok. 

My anxiety is greatly improved mostly because I have a name for those feelings, and once it starts, I am able to shut it down pretty quickly. I know that caffeine tends to make me more anxious and cause heart palpitations so I stay away from it. It’s been a long time since I’ve had a panic attack, but it’s always in the back of my mind that it could happen again and  probably will. If it does, I will be ready for it.

Unsure if what you are experiencing is an anxiety disorder? Take a look at this chart from the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. If you can point to something that is triggering your anxiety ( job interview, traumatic event, a big test at school) those feelings are natural and appropriate for your situation. If you are in the line at Starbucks feeling like you are about to faint and something terrible is going to happen for no reason at all, then those feelings are not appropriate for the situation and you might look into learning more about anxiety disorders. The good news is that there is treatment for this and there are 40 million others who have felt the same way, so we’re not alone. 

Just know that you aren’t going crazy or losing your mind. Those anxious feelings are real, but you are definitely stronger than they are. So get informed and be proactive. 

Next time, I’ll be talking about anxiety and the crazy times we are living in.  Haven’t we all had just about enough??

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I'm honest, sarcastic, funny, loyal, a goal setter, determined, health conscious, a dreamer, a bibliophile, and a creative.

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