I say these words every morning before I start my day. It is my starting point, my first thoughts of many that my overactive mind will have. It took a long time to truly believe what I have written down. I don’t think anybody wants to admit to having a mental health problem. I thought of everything else but that, but this is who I am.
I truly want to share with others my experience with this problem. So long ago, I used to find it rewarding to help others, but anxiety and low self-esteem stole that from me. I want to claim that part of my life back in some small way, so I will try to explain part of my life and feelings about anxiety.
Well, it did take some time.
When I was in grade school, I had a hard time focusing or paying attention. If I grew up today, I would most likely be diagnosed with ADHD. But back in the early 70s my teacher said I was just overactive and would grow out of it. Well, that did not happen. I just learned to cope with it. I thought I was just like everybody else.
I was lucky to have a loving family. My father would indulge me in my many hobbies to try. But I would only get so far in these pursuits and they would be forgotten. Over and over again this pattern would repeat itself. I thank my father for trying, but he did not know there was a little bit more to me than we all knew.
During my teens and 20s, I think a had an average life. I still had a problem trying to concentrate on subjects but managed to pass high school and go to college for a few courses. But I never did finished my first year. So I left school and went to work for an import company in their shipping department.
During this time, if I had a share of Microsoft or Apple stock for every time someone said to me, “You worry too much,” I would be a rich man.
I remembered my dad worried about everything. He would always check the stove or the furnace in the winter to make sure everything was OK before we went out. I always figured I took after him and it was normal.
I was always the careful and safe one. When I would see my friends acting recklessly, I always thought I was the sensible one. But I did notice they had more fun than I did. I always worried if it was the right thing to do and then overanalyzed the fun out of everything. As time went on I did less and less adventurous things.
I was married in my 20s, and that did not last long. We grew apart quite fast. She said I did not go out and try new things. I do admit, she was right about that.
During my 30s I moved up in my company and gained more responsibility and of course more stress. I had my first panic attack, which I thought at the time was a heart attack. I had a stress test and it came back normal, so I was told to relax and try to lower my stress level. This whole thing repeated itself a few years later with the same diagnosis.
During one of my doctor visits, he prescribed Alprazolam, the smallest dose they had and said to only use the pills if I felt I had a panic attack coming on. That first prescription lasted for over a year and half.
Over the years I was still told many times to quit worrying about things. Seeing myself still as the careful one, I chose to ignore any advice they gave. Hey, I know myself, everybody else is wrong.
About 15 years ago my father died of a heart attack. It hurt me badly, and I started to think about my own health, since I have high blood pressure and heart disease runs in my family. Then I lost my job of 20 years when the company I worked for decided to close down. It was not a good year. But I found work and made it through the tough times. I even got married again to a wonderful woman.
As time went on, though, I started to notice pains in my upper chest and I worried there was something wrong with my heart. I felt I would wind up like my father with a heart attack. Things got worse, and I began to worry about my impending death. During another ER trip, I was again told it was “just a panic attack.”
I did end up going to therapy for my shoulders and chest, since my doctor found my slumping forward could cause some pain in my muscles. But again and again he mentioned stress and anxiety might be the cause. I did noticed if I took a pill, the pain went away and I felt better, but I knew it had to be something physical. When the pain came back with a vengeance and I was becoming moody and sleepy, I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism, which fit the symptoms I was having.
See, I know I was right all along.
It took some time to get my thyroid level back in balance with the use of medication. I was less sleepy, but the pain was still there, and the worry about heart problems returned.
Over and over again my doctor mentioned anxiety and even asked if I wanted to try a different pill. I said, “No thanks,” and my doctor said, “Fine.” I just continued to struggle and looked for different physical causes to this pain and feelings.
A few years ago the town I lived in was flooded when the river near my house overflowed its banks during a heavy rain. This was the first time this had ever happened. The water had destroyed my basement, and it was a heartbreaking time in my life. After the flood and during the repairs I started to noticed that anytime the weather forecast had rain in it, my anxiety and chest pains would increase. I was terrified of the rain. I started to enjoy winter because there was no rain. I hated the spring because that’s when the flood had happened. I began always watching the Weather Channel, looking for that next storm, dreading that the next rain would destroy all my hard work of rebuilding.
I started to realize this anxiety thing the doctor talked about was more real than I had ever thought. But I kept it to myself, and I fought the silent battle, even as my anxiety was starting to affect me on a daily basis.
Six months ago I started to notice myself getting angry for very small things.
I would fly of the handle at the slightest provocation. On two occasions my chest hurt so bad that I almost went to the ER. I took my medication and I felt better, but I knew there was something wrong. So one more time I went back to the doctor. After describing my anger, chest pain and worry issues with him, again the anxiety diagnosis was brought up. Once again the conversation about other medications came up and I explained I did not want to go that route.
Then for some reason I brought up the idea of speaking to someone about anxiety and learning some techniques on coping with my feelings. I could get this under control. I figured in one quick visit I’d get some tips and put this behind me.
Almost immediately my doctor said, “Your health insurance covers mental health therapy, I can write you a referral,” and within 10 minutes, I was walking out the door with one in hand.
It took me a week to get enough courage to make the phone call for an appointment, only to be told it could be a two- or three-week wait for an opening. Of course, they asked what was the problem and if it was life-threatening. Since I have lived this way most of my life, I said I was OK and could wait, and gave them my name and info, and that was the end of that. I kind of forgot about the phone call or most likely did not want to think about it, but two weeks later they called and I was given an appointment and a counselor’s name.
A week later I had my first therapy session. It was nothing like I thought. Even though I did internet searches on therapy, it seemed to me that this might take some time and effort.
Now I am quite certain that this does not happen often, but I want to add this unusual tidbit to this story: Just before my third session I was told my therapist was no longer with the medical group and I would be assigned a new therapist. They did not give me details of what happened, but I was not happy that I would have to start over with someone new. But it worked out well in the long run, due to a fine doctor who I had been assigned to.
I guess strange things happen even at the therapist’s office. Try to always keep a open mind.
As of this post, I have had 12 therapy sessions and have learned quite a lot about myself. It was not the in-and-out I thought it would be, but I am glad I’ve stayed.
I am feeling much better.
The point of writing this article is that I would have never accepted the fact that I have an anxiety disorder. It took about six sessions of therapy to finally admit this is what is “wrong” with me. For so many years, I questioned my pain but totally ignored the feeling of anxiety I had. I never put the two together.
I do have pain in my shoulders, but most of the time that pain is from hard work over the years. Still, it gets my anxiety started, and then my muscles tense up, which causes more pain, which causes more anxiety. So we go round and round. Also just getting the feeling of anxiety will cause my muscles to tense, causing the same pain, so it works both ways.
Admitting I have a disorder is the number one cause of my ongoing positive recovery. Out of all the things I have learned, I would have never come to that conclusion by myself. Someone had to point the way.
I could never thank my doctor enough for what she has given me, which is a new beginning. I have a disorder and most likely will have it the rest of my life. But I have learned to cope and accept my anxiety as part of me.
Trust me, all the information on anxiety I found on the web has helped me a great deal. All those stories I have read of other people’s experiences with anxiety has helped me understand I am not alone. But to talk to someone, a doctor, therapist, counselor or social worker, I believe is necessary to truly understand you have an illness that is real and that can be helped.
Please understand, if you decide to seek therapy, it will be hard work. You will learn things about yourself you may not be comfortable with. There are times you may cry and times you may feel great joy. But it is a learning process. You are learning to accept. Trust me, it is well worth it.
If you have uncontrollable feelings of anxiety, talk to someone. Start with your doctor, listen to what he or she says. Do not try to ignore or hide what you are experiencing . You are not alone.
And if like me, you have waited a long time to seek help, remember it is never too late. Every new day brings the possibility of a fresh start and one step closer to better health.
Today, I will move forward.
I will set out to do the best can.
And so can you.
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Thinkstock photo by Ingram Publishing