LIVING WITH ANXIETY
I remember the first time it happened. I woke up from a sound sleep with the feeling that an elephant was sitting on my chest. I sat straight up in bed and immediately my hands began to sweat. I began to shake uncontrollably from head to toe. I couldn't catch my breath. Was I having a heart attack? I was only 23. I was pretty healthy, at least I thought I so.
What. Just. Happened.
I got up and went about my morning the best I could, but I couldn't quite get over the event that woke me up with such a jolt.
I got in the car and started my drive to work. My legs felt like jelly. My head started to spin. My eyes were blurry. My heart raced. My hands were sweaty and shaking. I couldn't catch my breath. I knew that I needed to pull over -- and fast -- or I was going to wreck my car. Was I dying?
I got to work and called my doctor's office. I was scared.
The physical symptoms started to go away a little. But, my mind was racing even faster than my heart. In addition to having a heart attack and dying, was I also going crazy?
Mind. Body. Mental. Physical.
A vicious cycle.
That would be the first of many trips to the doctor over the next few months. EKG's. Echocardiograms. Test after test. Appointment after appointment. All the test results showed was that I had a perfectly healthy heart. In fact, I remember the doctor telling me that I had one of the most beautiful hearts he had ever seen. Textbook.
Well then doc, WHY did I feel like my insides were trying to crawl out? WHAT was wrong with me because SOMETHING was definitely not right.
They were starting to 'know' me at the doctor's office. I felt embarrassed showing up so often in search of answers to my 'hard to explain' but definitely REAL issue.
One day, the doctor who had been so thorough... so kind... so understanding... put his hands on my shoulders, looked me straight in the eyes and said, 'I know what's wrong with you. You have Generalized Anxiety Disorder. You're going to live. You're going to be ok'. He told me he suspected it immediately, but knew that I would have only believed him if he put me through a battery of tests and offered solid proof that I was indeed not dying.
But... what did that even mean?
I had heard the word 'anxiety'. I had probably used it a time or two. But, I had no idea that it was a 'condition'. A disorder. A life-altering situation. I had no idea that what seemed to appear out of the clear blue that morning months before was something that would rear its ugly head time and time again in the years to come.
The doctor prescribed a low dosage of Xanax. I was terrified of taking it. I hardly took a Tylenol if I had a headache. Would this little pill make me feel even weirder than I already did? I stared at the bottle and paced. Debated. Finally, I decided I'd take a half of one of the tablets so at least I'd only feel slightly weird if I did have side effects.
I couldn't believe the almost instant relief.
My heart wasn't racing. My chest wasn't pounding. I cried. It's like my body just needed to be reminded of how to function normally. That little pill did it. And the only side effect I felt was... tired. I could live with that. I took the other half the following day. I honestly felt 'cured' at that moment.
I had to work harder on shutting off the mental part of the anxiety game. And anyone who has it, knows that's even more challenging than quelling the physical symptoms most of the time.
Oh yes, a vicious cycle.
A sneaky thing, that anxiety.
I can feel totally normal one day and wake up the next with full blown panic. Sometimes I can understand it and know why it's back based on what's going on in my life at the time. Sometimes? It just shows up for no reason at all.
I've had just about every single physical symptom of anxiety a person can have.
Eye issues, stomach issues, shakiness, sweating, nausea, shortness of breath, a choking feeling, pounding chest, ringing ears, sore jaw, headaches, intense muscle aches, breast pain, cramps, tingling in the fingers, hands, legs, feet. Sometimes for a few moments. Sometimes for MONTHS.
I've been convinced that I have MS, a brain tumor, cancer (of just about every body part), stroke, heart attack. I've self-diagnosed myself with all of the above. I've also gone to specialists for confirmation of what I'm SURE I already know. I was wrong.
I've woken up in the middle of the night with such all over paralyzing fear that I'm not even sure I could get to the phone to call 911 if I had to. I have never woken up my husband to share any of this with him. I suffer quietly until somehow I fall back asleep.
I am currently not in a state of anxiety (although remembering some of the things I've mentioned here is somewhat of a trigger). That could all change tomorrow. That's the most bizarre thing about living with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. The 'not knowing' when it'll strike.
I am happy. I have an amazing husband, beautiful children, a great job. I feel financially secure. I live in a safe neighborhood in a warm and cozy house. Many would say I have nothing to feel anxious about. I have to believe anyone who says that does not have Generalized Anxiety Disorder.
Doesn't matter all of the good stuff. Anxiety doesn't care. It's physical. That sparks mental. And again, the vicious cycle is back.
So, I share all of this for several reasons. One, if YOU are suffering with anxiety and feel totally alone, embarrassed and scared to death -- please know that you are NOT alone. Far from it, actually. Every time I have opened up about this on the air or on social media -- I am always blown away by the number of people who reach out saying they feel the exact same way.
Finally, I'm opening up about my battle with anxiety to try to erase the stigma. While I have never really struggled with depression, I know that it's the sister to my disorder. They walk hand in hand most of the time. There is NOTHING to be ashamed of.
I am not a doctor (although, I have WebMD'd enough that sometimes I feel I am slightly qualified. ha!), but I do know from my own experiences with anxiety that it is REAL. I believe it's in my chemical make up. It's just part of ME. My least favorite part.
I've gotten to where I just like having Xanax with me. I don't take it. I just like knowing it's there if I really need it. In an emergency situation. I like lavender oil. I like breathing exercises. I like natural remedies.
They don't always work. Sometimes, NOTHING works. It just has to pass. Nothing is more frustrating. Particularly, when the anxiety lasts for a long period of time. Days. Months.
People who don't have it don't really get it. And, that's ok. I probably wouldn't understand it either if I wasn't living it.
But, I am. And I'm here if you need a friend who gets it.