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The Perfect Way My Psychologist Explained Anxiety


Fifteen years ago, my life was a dark, scary place I just could not escape. 

I was paralyzed with fear, could not leave my home, was afraid to be alone. Every day, all day, I thought I was having a heart attack. I was sure of it. I was sweating, dizzy, chest pains, short of breath. After many trips to the emergency room, doctors appointments, stress tests, heart sonograms, I found out my heart was absolutely healthy. My family doctor finally said I was experiencing panic attacks. I had never even heard of a panic attack! She referred me to a psychologist. After spending many hours with the psychologist, I started to learn so much about anxiety, panic attacks and myself! 

I was put on medication for anxiety and depression, and to this day, still take it. Medication helps me manage the anxiety and panic attacks, but learning about myself and why I was experiencing these issues helped me more than anything. My psychologist explained anxiety like this to help me understand it a little better:

Imagine you’re cleaning up around the house because you have company coming soon. You pick up an object and don’t really know where to put it, so you shove it in your closet and shut the door. You just need it out of sight for the moment. Throughout your life, you keep doing this, shoving something in your closet for the moment, intending on taking care of it later when you have more time. Eventually your closet is going to fill up. At one point, you will open the door to try to put one more thing in, but your closet is so full, everything comes falling out at once and you are buried in all the items you’ve been keeping in there. Anxiety is our body and mind’s way of saying, “Hey! This closet is getting pretty full! You better start cleaning soon!” And when we ignore the warning to start cleaning, and our closet is finally full, a panic attack is our body and minds way of saying, “I told you!”   

Needless to say, my closet was exploding! I had a husband who had been out of work due to a back injury and major surgery, two children who needed me and, two days after my husband’s back surgery, our 5-year-old son had a bicycle accident that ended up with him in a coma for a week at a children’s hospital an hour and a half away from the hospital my husband was recovering in. I was being pulled in so many directions, all while trying to be the “rock” that kept our family going. That alone needed a closet the size of bank vault!  

After several sessions, tears, heartache, I started to slowly get better, and was able to manage my anxiety and panic attacks. It has been 15 years, and I still have the anxiety and panic attacks, but 99 percent of the time I can manage them on my own. I learned to look at life differently. For years I held on to anger, pain, disappointment and it was eating away at my soul. I started to realize every bad thing that ever happened, happened for a reason — I just never took the time to try to see it differently. The issues from my adolescent years helped me be a better parent to my children. The issues from my parent’s marriage made me work harder to have a better marriage for myself and my family. The loss of loved ones made me appreciate those I still had in my life even more.

So in a weird way, being diagnosed with severe generalized anxiety made my life better. It made me deal with things I didn’t even know I needed to deal with. It made me see life differently, which in turn made me a better person, parent and wife. It still is hard at times, but it is manageable!  My hope is for anyone suffering from anxiety and panic attacks, talk to your doctor, ask about a psychologist, clean your closet out so that you can start loving life again!

The Mighty is asking the following: How would you describe your disability, disease or mental illness to a child? If you’ve done this before, tell us about that moment and the child’s reaction. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected].com. Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.