A Week in My Life With Anxiety
I almost didn’t write this article. Many with anxiety know that when you have a task looming over your head, it can become so completely overwhelming that the thought of attempting it becomes something you want to run away from. Waves of anxiety can come and go. There are good days and bad days, and sometimes bad weeks. And being a woman, and a fairly new mother on top of it, there are several other factors added to the symptoms. When hormones are unbalanced and sleep is inadequate, it becomes very difficult to catch yourself and reverse the dark thoughts that can seem to take over.
I already loved her work and personality, but now she’s my new hero. Somehow, it can be so comforting to be able to identify with a celebrity on such a grave, personal issue. She mentioned how she was always trying to please her peers, changing and molding herself to appease her friends. That may sound like an “average” teenager trying to fit in and work through self-esteem issues, but there is another level to it; having anxiety as a teenager, and not knowing you experience it, it just seems you are a constant worrier. Always worrying about whether or not someone likes you, constantly being in your own head, continuously reliving and over-evaluating everything you said and did in public throughout the day and being stressed out over whether or not it was viewed properly is utterly exhausting. And it’s not the norm. Something Bell said hit very close to home to me. “When I was 18, my mother sat me down and said ‘there is a serotonin imbalance in our family line. If you start to feel like you are twisting things around you, and you feel like there is no sunlight around you and you are paralyzed [sic] with fear, this is what it is.’”
My story is very similar. When I was about 20, my mother began discussing her anxiety with me. It was right about the age where you start noticing similar characteristics to your parents more and more. It was an eye-opening conversation, to say the least. All the constant worry and stress I experienced as a child, all the sinking moments of depression, not being able to talk myself out of absurd fears and emotions, all of it. Suddenly I realized I wasn’t defective, I wasn’t “crazy” — I was just like my mom, and I was going to be OK. From then on, I became more aware of these symptoms. Things got a lot easier. I likened it to those times when you’re in the middle of a nightmare, but suddenly in the dream realize it’s a dream, and you have the power to manipulate the situations within that dream. I felt miraculously in control of my life for the first time. I felt empowered. But the stresses of life can take all of that away. This last week was one of those times.
After having a child, everything changes. Your body, your mind, your hormones, the amount of stresses due to having various new bills and new, foreign goals and responsibilities. I am also a business owner, and learning the struggles of making things run efficiently can be very rewarding but simultaneously frightening. There’s the constant threat of forgetting something, screwing up paperwork, pissing off a client, ruining your reputation. There’s a constant fear of making sure you take care of your employees and get them what they need while making sure they accomplish tasks you have promised to customers.
For the last week, I haven’t slept. It’s a very busy time of year for us at our business, and between that and “mom hormones,” I hit a breaking point. I never knew for sure if I’d ever had a real panic attack before, but I know now that they are real and present in my life. I spent the last week with shortness of breath, constantly checking my phone, re-reading texts and emails, making to-do lists, feeling overwhelmed. And one thing someone with anxiety can tell you is that just because you are stressed out about not having accomplished your duties does not mean you are capable of jumping up and getting them finished. Oh, no. They instantaneously become huge and towering and scary. There are too many to focus on. You become overwhelmed and you sit on the couch and retreat into your mind where you stare helplessly around the room at your multitude of chores with quiet frenzy. You beat yourself up for being “imperfect, lazy, fat and stupid.” You avoid the things that scare you. You try to sleep, but that doesn’t work.
I spent three nights in a row, waking up every 1-2 hours, sometimes from a nightmare about struggling at work, or sometimes from no dream at all, but being unable to breathe. Immediately I was attacked by 13 thoughts at a time: “You need to go grocery shopping but you don’t have time;” “You have forgotten to fill out those forms for three days in a row;” “Why haven’t you done laundry yet, your son is running out of clean pants, you’re a terrible mother;” “You never called that woman back, she’s going to be angry, you’ve failed.” It’s as if there is a court jury in my mind, each juror yelling at me, all at the same time. I can’t shut off my brain, I can’t breathe, I want to cry and I can’t go back to sleep. To a “normal” person, they might realize there’s nothing that can be done about any of these issues at 2 a.m., but not to the anxious mind. For three nights in a row, it was like that. The anxiety chased me from night to day, night to day, and I was finding it hard to focus. When you are worried about being constructive at work, but your lack of sleep robs you of the ability to be constructive, it is truly a vicious cycle.
Then just like that, like Keyser Söze in “The Usual Suspects,” the monster is gone.
You start to have good days again. The experiences of the last few days seem silly and ridiculous. Why is it sometimes so impossible to talk ourselves out of these episodes? Sometimes I can and other times it’s a trap, a black hole. Kristen Bell has some great advice for those of us who struggle daily and don’t want to admit it. Many of us don’t want to face it or deal with it. But there’s nothing wrong with admitting that life can be better and we don’t need to be embarrassed to talk to someone about it. Bell said in her interview, “I got a prescription when I was really young and I still take it today and I have no shame in that because my mom had said to me, ‘If you start to feel this way, talk to your doctor, talk to a psychologist, see how you want to help yourself.’ If you do decide to go on a prescription to help yourself, understand that the world wants to shame you for that, but in the medical community, you would never deny a diabetic his insulin.”
Recognize symptoms of a panic attack and seek help from a professional in the best way you feel comfortable:
Shortness of breath or hyperventilation; Heart palpitations or a racing heart; Chest pain or discomfort; Trembling or shaking; Choking feeling; Feeling unreal or detached from your surroundings; Sweating; Nausea or upset stomach; Feeling dizzy, light-headed, or faint; Numbness or tingling sensations; Hot or cold flashes; Fear of dying, losing control, or “going crazy” (via helpguide.org)
If you are struggling and can’t keep your mind in check, don’t be ashamed and don’t think you have to do it alone.
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Thinkstock photo via OSTILL