This is something I wasn’t sure I would write about but I feel like putting my experience out there may help someone who reads this.
I have anxiety. This is something I’ve struggled with for a long time but it got the worse it has ever been about two years ago. I remember everything that happened when I had my first big panic attack. The night before, I had some friends over, nothing was different than what we would normally do but something felt off. A few hours in I had an overwhelming sense of fear, I didn’t know what was causing it but it was so encompassing that I excused myself from my friends to lay in my bed and try to fall asleep. That night was restless, I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong.
The next morning I got up and tried to shake off what had happened the night before, but in the afternoon I was hit with the most terrifying feeling I had ever felt. I was shaking, my heart was racing, I felt like I couldn’t breath, and I couldn’t stop crying. I’m not usually a crier, I spent most of my life pushing down how I was feeling and just trucking along and in that moment, I couldn’t stop. I felt like I was having a heart attack, and I was home alone. I called my grandmother and she rushed right over to take me to the hospital. When we arrived I was immediately taken back for an EKG because I said my heart was racing, when it was complete the nurse looked at me and said, “You said you feel like your heart is racing? It’s normal, you’re okay.”
How could I be okay? I felt like my heart was going to jump out of my chest, I was so afraid of what was happening to me. I felt like someone had zoomed out on my life and I was watching an out of body experience, I felt so disconnected from my reality and I was terrified. My mom showed up at the hospital and a nurse sat to talk with us to get an idea of what was going on. I was still crying and told the nurse how I hadn’t been eating or drinking much over the past week, my body was just rejecting everything. I also hadn’t been sleeping much and I felt exhausted. She looked at my mom and asked, “Is it normal for her to cry like this?” and my mom replied “No, I’ve never seen her like this before”. I spent another few hours in the hospital, I spent most of the time sleeping and trying to pull myself back into reality and figure out what was going on. I was given fluids and medication for anxiety, the doctor suggested I speak with my primary care. I went home and was in a haze. I needed to take the next few days off of work in order to get myself feeling somewhat normal again. Then started months of trying different medications and doctor visits. With all of this happening I withdrew from classes for my masters and decided to try and focus on myself.
What happened to me was terrifying, I felt like I was pulled out of my life and put into some alternate reality and couldn’t escape. How did this happen? How did it get this bad? Why did it happen now? A lot of things happened in my life leading up to this, I graduated college, finished a huge research project that I was going to be presenting, friends got married and I was helping other friends plan their weddings, and I was starting grad school. It felt like everything was going well and then the rug was ripped out from under me. I still fight this battle everyday, I have days where I am great and I don’t feel a bit of my anxiety but those a few and far between. My heart fluttering, my mind feeling foggy, nausea, crying at random, and feeling like something is wrong, are all part of my normal. Anxiety also effects my sleep, lately I have struggled more with staying asleep, I wake up in a panic most nights, feeling like I am choking and can’t breathe. I eventually fall back asleep and get up for work in the morning and function like everyone else. When my anxiety gets out of control it starts to trigger my depression more and more which causes me to not want to do anything. I can barely pull myself out of bed, I don’t want to go anywhere or see anyone, I just feel like I am pushing through my life with no real purpose. These feelings are all so familiar to me, as they are to so many other people who struggle like I do.
When people ask about my anxiety I have found the easiest way for me to describe what I feel. Imagine you smell smoke, it’s a strong overwhelming smell that instantly lets you know there is a fire, but there is no fire. You tell people you smell smoke and they can’t smell it but you KNOW that you smell it. It’s terrifying, you feel like everything around you is going to burst into flames but there is not actually anything on fire. So you move on with your life, smelling smoke, and not seeing any fire.
When I say to my mom that I don’t want to disappoint anyone and she reassures me that I have already accomplished so much and I’m not a disappointment, I’m smelling smoke.
When I need to constantly reassure myself that my partner loves me and is not annoyed with me all the time or just comfortable and that is why we are still together even though they have given me no reason to feel that way, I’m smelling smoke.
When I don’t hear from someone for a few days and thoughts fill my mind with how much they must hate me and that I am just a bother when in reality we both just have busy lives, I’m smelling smoke.
I know it is my anxiety making me feel this way, but that doesn’t change the fact that I feel it. Saying things like “well you shouldn’t feel that way” or “you know I don’t think that” doesn’t help. I know it comes from a caring place but your words of reassurance do not make my anxiety just go away.
I’ve found ways to cope, my art is the most helpful. Drawing and detailing my art helps me tune everything out and allows me to just focus my energy into something beautiful. Crying has been helpful too, its a physical release of all of the anxiety building up inside of me. Working out has been another large help for me, my heart races when I’m anxious and when I’m working out so in a way it justifies why my heart is racing. Being with certain people calms me down most of the time, my partner and my niece being the two that help me the most. All of these coping methods, and finding the right medication, have helped me get a better handle on my anxiety.
I get asked a lot what others can do to make me feel better. The one thing I can say is, ask. If you are close with someone with anxiety and they mention they are having a rough day, ask if there is any way to make them feel better or comfort them. That is one of the most comforting things to me, when me partner asks, “how can I help?”. It shows they care and want to do something to help me feel more calm.
I wrote a lot about what anxiety has done to me and how it makes my life more difficult, but I do my best to not let me be defined by my anxiety. I fight it a lot, when I go out to dinner or to a movie, or go places by myself, when I travel without my partner, when I speak up on my opinions (which happens a lot), all of these things can cause my anxiety to spike and I live with the realization that I could have a panic attack at any moment but I cannot just quit. I have to keep moving forward, I’m going back to school, I go where I want with whom I want, and I make an effort to always speak my opinion, even when it can lead to an argument, I do these things because I cannot live my life if I let my anxiety win.
I have discovered something else to help with my anxiety and help me calm down a bit and that is CBD gummies. I will write another post on this but I will say they have helped me relax when it comes to some of the physical symptoms of my anxiety.
I want to hear from others, how do you cope? What makes you feel better? What tips do you have for others struggling?
If you made it this far, thank you.
Until next time.