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With Anxiety, Losing Control Was the Way to Find It

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Anxiety has stolen something from me.

Three weeks ago, I was “fine.” That’s what you say when everyone asks, so I was. Why risk a margin of vulnerability and say how you feel when the world demands that you be OK?

…Except, what if you’re not?

What if you’re struggling to make it in every morning? What if it’s all you can do to walk into the office? What if all of your energy is focused into “being OK” and you just aren’t?

And that’s where I found myself at the beginning of the month.

I have a high-stress, high-demand job and if it’s not being done well, a lot of people are affected. I typically thrive under situations like this because I like multi-tasking and having a lot going on. I wasn’t even aware that I was dealing with anxiety until my world came to a screeching halt.

Previously, I’ve been diagnosed with depression. One doctor had included anxiety with it, but I had never thought it true since depression was always what manifested itself most frequently. Various medications have attempted to alleviate the symptoms of depression over the past nine years, but nothing really worked long-term. However, I’d finally gotten to a point in life where I could see the patterns and judge my mood and at least be ready for the downswings or bad days. And I was managing. Dare I even say, thriving? More days than not, I had more command of my life than depression had.

But similar to a surgeon discovering another problem after taking away damaged tissue, taking control of depression opened up a previously unknown vulnerability — anxiety.

If I’m honest with myself, I can tell you anxiety first started taking control in August, about six months ago. It was just little things at first and mainly directed toward things at work, like obsessing over how I’d worded an email or thinking about something stupid I’d said during the day. By obsessing, I mean it was all I could focus on when I gave myself a second of free time, not just something I thought about five minutes later or something. I’ve kind of always been like that so I didn’t know that wasn’t normal. Things went downhill from there. I had one supervisor say that she would often take the time to word emails to me differently to make sure there’s nothing in there that I can over-analyze. While I appreciated (and needed) that, I started to question how I had been so transparent with a colleague that my over-analyzation of everything was noticeable. I wondered if there was something wrong with my actions and worried that this would somehow make me lose my job.

As the year moved on and came closer to its close, I felt that sleep was my enemy. If I could sleep deeply for more than three hours it was an accomplishment. I found myself becoming more easily irritated and seemingly always on the verge of an outburst. I kept my emotions under control, but every day was harder than the one before. I began to dread being at work and lived for the weekends, only to have the dread cut into the weekend, the closer it got to Monday. No matter what I tried to make myself and my job better, it just got worse. I even started taking random days off, thinking that I was simply overworked. Naively, I kept assuming it was a work problem and if I could fix that thing, it would all magically be better.

Deep down, I think I knew something was off, but didn’t want to admit it, because I am a confident, independent person. I didn’t need or want help. I was “fine” so long as I could keep managing on my own.

But one day, I couldn’t do it any more; I guess I’d hit my breaking point.

I’ve never been late to work or forgotten to call out if I couldn’t make it and I got woken up by a call from my boss, wondering where I was. She asked if I was OK. I started to say yes and make up an excuse about turning the alarm off, but I couldn’t. I didn’t want to lie anymore. I felt like trash and couldn’t even get out of bed.

I did the hardest thing I could do and desperately said, “No, I’m not. I just can’t be there today.” I expected irritation or disappointment, maybe even a little anger, and all justifiable. However, I did not expect the gentle, “Well, are you going to go get the help you need? You haven’t been yourself for a while.” I wanted to say something like, “I’m fine. I’ve been fine and I’ll be in to work soon,” but I couldn’t. She was right; I needed help.

And so, that’s what I did. I got help. I braved getting out of bed and facing my doctor. I braved being honest about how I didn’t have everything together and felt that I was utterly failing at all of it. And in that conversation, I realized anxiety had stolen not only my life, but my confidence, too.

It took everything to admit my shortcomings to a person I don’t know well, who wasn’t judging me, and I couldn’t even look her in the eye because I was so ashamed of admitting I couldn’t do it on my own and was not in control right now. Saying it all out loud to another person made it all true, but once I started talking, I couldn’t stop. When I finished, my doctor said, “You are dealing with anxiety and you don’t have to live like this. Thank you for trusting me to help you.”

While none of this has been easy and I don’t think I’d go through it again given the choice, I am starting to see daylight again as the medication begins to work. I can look back over the last couple months and see how miserable I was, how lifeless I had been, and how difficult everything was because of my mental status. For the first time in a very long time, I can shut my brain off or listen to the rational thoughts above the irrational ones.

Now that I can think clearly, I can fight the irrational, obsessive thoughts. I can face my stressors and fears, without fear. Anxiety might have stolen my confidence and well-being, but I am better than anxiety and I will not let it beat me.

This story originally appeared on Caffeinating Life.

Getty photo by unomat

Originally published: July 5, 2019
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