I have horrible anxiety.Lil Peep
Hello, Readers! Welcome to my first ever blog series, The My Mental Health Series. My hope over the next five weeks is to educate, advocate, and to let people know that they are not alone. For 38 years, I did not know or understand myself because I didn't have the knowledge that I needed. I decided that I wanted to share what I've learned in the hopes that maybe I can help someone else recognize themselves in my words. Be sure to check out the last installment, My Mental Health: Persistent Depressive Disorder and stayed tuned every Tuesday for a new installment. Also, you can reference the My Mental Health: A Glossary and the My Mental Health: Busting ADHD Myths post for more information. Thanks for stopping by!
I have anxiety disorder. I had my first panic attack when I was in the 10th grade. We had a tornado drill at school and they packed about 200 of us into a boiler room. I was about 4’11” back then and being an overtly short person in a sea of bodies triggered my claustrophobia.
By the time I got back to class, I did not understand what was happening to me. I couldn’t breathe and I was close to hyperventilating. Luckily, my teacher’s husband suffered from panic attacks and she was able to explain what was happening and help me calm down. Thank the moon for teachers, man.
Do you know the old saying that you can’t put the genie back in the bottle? Well, that was the case with my panic and anxiety. Except my genie grew bigger and stronger and more insidious with age. By the time I was 17, I would be diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder.
As if experiencing profound, excessive, and persistent worry and fear about everyday situations isn’t bad enough, anxiety often culminates in repeated episodes of sudden feelings of fear, dread, and worry that quickly peak, resulting in a full-on panic attack. There are also many different types of anxiety disorder, including:
- Agoraphobia – affects roughly 1-2% of adults in the US
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder – affects nearly 6.8 million adults in the US
- Panic Disorder – affects nearly 6 million adults in the US
- Selective Mutism
- Separation Anxiety – affects between 1 and 6% of adults
- Social Anxiety – affects nearly 15 million adults in the US
- Certain specific phobias – affects nearly 19 million Americans
All told, anxiety disorder and it’s various forms affects 40 million US adults. That’s nearly 18% of the population.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
While some anxiety is normal in every human life, anxiety disorder is defined as excessive, ongoing worry and anxiety that are difficult to control and interfere with our daily lives. They can make some day-to-day activities almost impossible.
While some people have anxiety when they are triggered by stress or trauma, others find themselves dealing with it long term and for more dubious reasons. It often co-occurs with other brain disorders.
The symptoms of anxiety include:
- Persistent worry or anxiety out of proportion with the events you are experiencing
- Nervousness, restlessness, or feeling tense or on edge
- Overthinking and focusing and replaying the worst-case scenario
- Concentration issues
- Racing and/or obsessive thoughts
- Difficulty handling uncertainty
- Indecisiveness/fear of making the wrong decision/fear of the unknown
- Uncontrolled worry
- Spacing out/”blank” brain
Physical symptoms can include:
- Increased heart rate
- Feeling weak or tired
- Sleep issues – too much sleep or too little sleep
- Stomach issues – cramps, nausea, diarrhea
- Muscle tension/aches
- Breathing rapidly
An old and unwelcome friend
As I said earlier, my first panic attack came when I was 15, but I’m sure signs of anxiety came before. I was too young to recognize it and the adults in my life were too busy blaming me to wonder if something might actually be wrong. By that time, I had been living in severe mental and emotional abuse and neglect for 8 years, since I was 7. There is no doubt that the effects of that started to show through before anyone recognized it.
When I was 17, I found out that I was pregnant. At first, I was frightened, nervous, and disappointed in myself, but I eventually came to terms with it and started planning my next life moves around a baby. I eventually got excited and happy…and then I had a miscarriage. It was a sucker punch and the mental illnesses growing inside of me seized on the opportunity.
Anxiety and grief swallowed me. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep. I was sad and heartbroken. It made me clingy to the ones that I loved and I started acting very irrationally and erratically. One morning my mom got up for work and I was just sitting in the living room in the dark. I had been there all night, crying and trying to breathe. She took me to the doctor and it marked the first time that I would be treated for anxiety.
From that point forward, there has never been a time in my life where I did not experience anxiety on some level, sometimes so severe I have been incapacitated. For me, it presents in mostly the same ways, just at varying degrees. My heart pounds out of my chest. I can’t catch my breath and I sometimes feel like I’m going to hyperventilate just trying to breathe. I tremble; it’s not just my hands trembling. It’s like a tremor that starts in your very core and works it’s way out. You can see it in my hands, but I can feel it inside of my whole body.
Over the years, the fear has gone away…I almost always know what is happening now, though it doesn’t make it any easier to go through. My thoughts race and my hands sweat. Sometimes, if it’s really bad, I cry. Imagine the most afraid you’ve ever been, the physical and mental response that you had to that. Now imagine that it’s happening for no discernable reason. That is anxiety.
After my trauma a few years ago, I started having panic attacks that were more severe than anything I had ever experienced. After 20 years, I thought I had met with every symptom I was going to get. I was wrong. It started getting so bad that my skin would burn. It would start at my neck and then spread out through my head, arms, and torso. When my skin wasn’t burning, my head and neck would start to tingle like a foot that’s fallen asleep; pins and needles. And the static.
During my most severe panic attacks, there is a static inside of my brain. It reminds me of snow on an old black and white TV. It makes it impossible to concentrate or even have thoughts; it is extremely distressing.
I’ve become very high functioning with anxiety. You see, we live in a world where we are fully expected to continue producing and living life like nothing is happening. Sometimes you tell people and they give you the proper show of sympathy…as long as you keep being useful; keep pretending like everything is fine. Don’t make anyone too uncomfortable.
Imagine, working in an office job at a computer 8 hours a day and you can’t even see the screen in front of you, even though you’re looking straight at it, because the white noise in your head is so loud. It isn’t seen as appropriate to say, “I need to go home. I’m sick and I can’t be here right now.”
The point is, people with severe anxiety have no other choice but to be high functioning. We live in a society that doesn’t give an inch when it comes to invisible disabilities. If they can’t see it, it isn’t happening. You learn to somehow keep going.
Recently, things started to get bad again. Over this past summer, I had a few months where I was riddled with severe anxiety almost every day. It would start early in the morning and would burn through me for 12 hours a day. The snow in my brain making it impossible to work. The trembling and restlessness in my body ensuring that typing was not an option. I couldn’t concentrate; couldn’t make phone calls; couldn’t tell anyone.
I eventually did have to go to my boss. I explained to her what was happening and how severe it was and she was empathetic and understanding. She told me to take whatever time I needed. She said she was impressed by my strength and she was proud of me…for continuing to produce while dealing with such serious issues. It all came back around to how much I could produce while also juggling this monster in my head.
After a few months passed, I finally got my diagnosis and found a doctor who could manage my medications, as it was clear that what I had been taking for the previous two years was no longer working for me much, if at all. I was also dealing with impending major depression; I could feel the darkness breathing down my neck and I starting having pretty scary intrusive thoughts.
My brain kept saying things to me like, “You don’t want to do this anymore. You’re NEVER going to get better, so what is the point in trying? You would be happier if you didn’t exist. Your child would be better off without you.” Clearly, my brain is a SUPER nice guy, huh? All the while, I was still trying to live like my brain wasn’t turning on me…again.
Soon after that, I went on medical leave for work. I cried the day my therapist told me she was taking me out of work for a while to get my meds corrected and get into some intensive out-patient therapy. It was the first time in 30 years of this fight that someone in the medical community (anyone at all, for that matter) had ever said to me, “Look. This is bad…it’s really bad. You don’t have to keep suffering every day like nothing is happening. You need the break. You need to get better. You need to heal.” No one has ever taken my mental illnesses that seriously…least not the dozens of doctors that I’ve seen over the years.
The current anxiety situation
So, here I am. I’m still taking a leave of absence from work and, as you’ve seen here on the blog, I’m working therapy and getting my meds adjusted whenever needed until we get this perfect. Though my anxiety levels have gotten more manageable, I still struggle some days.
This week has been particularly rough. This morning, I had what I call an “anxiety heart attack,” where my chest was so tight and my breathing so rapid that it caused actual chest pains. My hands trembled while I was writing this post, though forcing myself to focus through it has helped.
I’m passionate about writing and I’m writing about something that I ardently care about, so it gives my brain a place to laser focus; sharing my story with you here is a part of my healing journey, so thank you for being a part of this with me. I still carry hope with me every day; sure in the knowledge that I will get control of my brain and the disorders that plague it.
That’s it for this week’s installment of My Mental Health: Anxiety. I hope that you learned something or that it resonated with you, making you feel a little less alone. Anxiety will not stop us; it will not win out. We will fight it and we will win every time. We just have to keep fighting the good fight.
Stayed tuned for next Tuesday’s, My Mental Health: Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. This should be an interesting one because it’s a new diagnosis that I don’t fully understand, so I will be learning right alongside you! Don’t forget to subscribe and follow us on social media so you never miss a post. Also, I just started a brand new email list. I plan to do free printable giveaways soon, so make sure you get signed up!!
Love and light! Keep fighting the good fight! 💜💜
Writing about living with ADHD and mental illness and my journey down a thriving path forward. Breaking stigmas and creating community, one post at a time.