Let’s talk about anxiety.
Hi friends! Nope, no food today. Today I want to talk about something else; I want to talk about living with anxiety.
(Why talk about such a serious topic on a food blog? Well, I figure I’ve talked to you about infertility and eating disorders, I may as well go all the way! Plus, if my story can help one person out there, well then, I’ve done my good deed. Also, I’m totally into oversharing, which is part of the reason why you come here in the first place, right?)
Over the past year, I’ve realized I suffer from anxiety. I’m going to go so far as to say I’m pretty sure it’s of the chronic variety. I didn’t really know what it was at the time, but ever since last fall I’ve been reflecting greatly on my life and my mental health, and I realize that I’ve probably been suffering from it for at least 20 years. Sometimes it’s manageable, sometimes it’s not. On those times it’s not, I just shrugged it off and thought it was just me. I’m just an anxious person, I’m a worrier, and I really, really hate germs and bugs, and things I can’t control.
Looking back, my first really full blown anxiety attack happened about 9 years ago. We had an ant infestation and I was in full panic mode. I called my husband (he was in a meeting) and he had to leave and come home because I he couldn’t understand what I was saying, I was so hysterical. I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t focus for weeks. I felt like ants were all over me, all the time. But when that happened, I didn’t think of it in terms of anxiety, I thought about it as “I hate ants”. The ants went away, my anxiety subsided. No problem, right?
Over the following years, I was just me, living with anxiety but not knowing it. Little things would throw me off, like a roof leak, Jordan having to stay home sick, freaking out if I missed the gym or whenever Mel had a last minute business trip. These are things that would upset anyone when they happen, sure, but for me it was different. An outsider looking into my brain and see me reacting to these problems would think I was overreacting greatly. And I was, and I knew it, but I couldn’t help it. I just thought I was an irrational person; I didn’t connect my feelings (and the subsequent depressive ups and downs) with a problem.
The first time I realized there might be something to my anxiety issues was a few years later when we had lice. My husband had to call the nit picker lady back to our house weeks after it was over because I’d been regularly rocking back and forth on the living room floor ripping my hair out and scratching my head convinced they were still there. Eventually, that subsided too, although I still occasionally spray tea tree oil on Jordan’s backpack and slip it in her shampoo, and if you sit 4 feet away from me and have a piece of dandruff in your hair I can see it. Again, it went away, and I went back to my old self, the person who couldn’t handle doing homework with Jordan or going out with friends socially because they might realize how irrational I was behaving.
Last fall my anxiety came back with a vengeance. All of a sudden I could no longer function. It was worse than any other time, the attacks came more frequent and the depressive episodes lasted longer. I couldn’t work, couldn’t exercise, had no will to socialize or do anything but lay on the couch all day. But I still didn’t think my anxiety was that bad. I mean, on movies and TV the person suffering an anxiety attack feels like they’re dying. They feel like the walls are closing in; like they’re having a heart attack. The heart races, they sweat. That’s what an anxiety attack is, right? That wasn’t happening to me. Just like with my eating issues, I couldn’t even do anxiety attacks “right”.
Guess what? That heart-gripping sweating anxiety attack that they show in movies and write about in novels? That’s not the only kind of anxiety attack. Anxiety can manifest itself in many ways, and I’m an example of that.
One of my attacks starts out with a mood, like I wake up on the wrong side of the bed. I go through my day with a dark cloud over my head. I can’t be a part of my family, I can’t function properly. I liken it to when you’ve had too much to drink and you know you’re not right, but it doesn’t matter because you’re drunk and can’t stop being drunk until it’s run it’s course. A few hours later or sometimes the next day, I’m okay.
The other kind of anxiety attack I have is more traditional. Something triggers it – Jordan being sick, a bug bite, anything out of the norm that changes my day – and all of a sudden I have tunnel vision. Everything around the edges goes snowy and gray and I can’t focus on anything but the trigger. I often become manic, checking myself for lice or bug bites or cleaning or whatever the action is to the reaction of my trigger. Then it ends and I literally cannot do anything the rest of the day; all I want to do is sleep.
I thought I was just suffering from anxiety attacks, that one day, over time, it would go away, just like it had in the past. My exercise regimen would eventually put it back in check, or we’d go on a family vacation that would reset my mood. This time, no matter what I did, it wasn’t going away. And then I had a conversation that, quite literally, changed my life.
I was talking with a friend who told me she’d just started taking anxiety medication. She said she didn’t even realize she had anxiety, but had gone to the doctor and described how she had no patience with her family or life and she was unhappy a lot and angry a lot and yelled all the time. After more conversations with her doctor, they told her she was suffering from anxiety and had been for quite awhile.
In that moment it was as if a lightening bolt struck me. That was me.
Yelling all the time, no patience. Unhappy, angry, depressed. Periods of being okay, then periods of NOT being okay. That described my life.
When Jordan was born, I had really bad post-pardum issues. Looking back, I really should have talked to a doctor about it, but I never did. I went on to stay home (when I’m so not a stay at home type person). Yelling became my way of communicating. Jordan didn’t hear me unless I yelled at her. As she got older, we would fight. I would lose it with her more than I like to admit. If she had friends over, I’d lose it. I had zero patience. A lot of time, the same went for my husband. For almost 11 years, I just figured I was one of those parents who was just a yeller.
I realized I’ve been suffering from anxiety the entire time Jordan’s been alive. And longer, when I look at signs in my life from high school up until her birth. It was shocking, really, to realize this. Even though I didn’t have “traditional” panic attacks, I still suffered from anxiety. Occasionally it was in check, I could handle it. Then it would flare up and affect my well-being. I’d get depressed, sometimes badly. But then something would turn it around. Exercise was what helped me out of my post-pardum, and from there it became my anti-depressent. I’d jokingly say exercise was my “little pill” because without it, my mental health suffered. But as long as exercise worked, most of the time, I could keep my anxiety in check (remember, I didn’t realize what it was), except at home when I tried to help Jordan with her homework or parent in general.
Last fall, the anxiety came and stuck around. My life was being affected: I didn’t want to workout, work, travel, or socialize. I was depressed. But I still didn’t know what to do about it. Talk to a doctor? A therapist? Medication? I didn’t want to do any of those things. I wasn’t ready yet.
Two things happened this past January that finally pushed me to getting help. First, Jordan forgot her violin on band day. Such a simple thing, right? So what, right? Wrong. I remembered in the middle of my half-assed workout (at this point I was barely working out, I had no drive or energy to even do that) and I burst into tears. On the stair master. In front of the entire gym. I was so hysterical because she forgot her violin I had to leave and go home.
Then, a week later, we got a minor roof leak. Remember, control issues are one of my triggers. We had a roof leak several years ago that was a huge ordeal. This one was minor (it was fixed the next day) but it drove me into an attack that lasted an entire day. At one point I remember thinking, what’s the point of living life if this is how it feels?
Now, those thoughts are not new for me. They’re not good thoughts, but I’ve thought that way off and on (passive, as my therapist calls it) since I was 15 years old. But I’m 38 now and I’m totally over feeling that way. I was tired of always feeling the anxiety right there, just below the surface.
The next week I found my counselor. She diagnosed me with anxiety and depression caused by anxiety. She wasn’t too into me taking medication, but when she did my depression survey and I told her about my history, she suggested I talk to my doctor. A week later I started taking anxiety medication.
The first few days on the medication was rough but literally I felt better on day 1. After a week I felt like me again (the side affects went away) but I felt like me…without anxiety. It was a weird feeling.
My counselor described anxiety to me in a way that was really easy to understand, and it helps put it into perspective for those who don’t suffer from it:
People who don’t suffer from regular anxiety live on the ground floor of a building. They go about their lives, grounded. Something happens to cause stress or anxiety, and their mood jumps to the top floor. They deal with the source of the problem, then move back to the lobby.
People who live with anxiety on a regular basis live on the roof of the building. They’re always up there, up high, waiting. When something happens to cause stress or more anxiety (even something small, like their daughter forgetting a violin) there is no where to go but off the roof.
From day one on my medication, I stopped yelling. I have not lost patience or yelled at Jordan (unless she deserved it) once since I started treatment – even when we’re doing homework. I made it through a slumber party and I didn’t snap once. She’s taken to seeing how far she can push me until I yell at her for real (seriously, #thatgirl).
My husband has told me several times now how much happier I seem. His words: they no longer have to walk on eggshells around me. He’s been having to do that for so many years and now he doesn’t. That part makes me sad for putting him through it, and part makes me happy I am finally fixing it. I took a trip without stress. I’ve been socializing with friends more. I signed up for a half marathon and have started having purpose to my workouts.
I’m happy again. I’m ME again, the me who I was in between anxiety episodes, except the anxiety of day to day life is just that: day to day life.
Do I want to stay on medication forever? No. But right now, this is the journey I’m on. We’ll see where it takes me. Right now, it’s given me a new lease on life, a new excitement about my work, and it’s allowing me to experience life like, well, a person on the ground floor.
Thank you for reading today, if you got this far. Know that all of you, being here, reading this blog with me, are some of the reason I’m happy today. And if you’re someone who is suffering from anxiety, I urge you to talk to someone. Find a friend, a relative, doctor, or therapist. Send me an email! You don’t have to live that way anymore, life is better from down here, believe me. 🙂
(If you are experiencing a medical emergency, are in danger, or are feeling suicidal, call 911 immediately. Suicide Hotline: 800-784-2433. Immediate Medical Assistance: 911. Crisis Call Center: 800-273-8255 or text ANSWER to 839863.)