Living with an Anxiety Disorder – My Story and 3 Simple Management Strategies

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Hi. Care to join me on an exploration of living with an anxiety disorder? Yes? Great!

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Living with an anxiety disorder is a lot like living with an incontinence issue. You can’t control it and it gushes out of you like a secret flow of stress and physical reactions that only you know is in progress.

I’ve been debating ways to talk about anxiety. Do I go full on serious? Can I still approach it from a place of humor while offering empathy and helpful tips?

Well, after these considerations I decided to approach it with at least a touch of humor. After all, that is sort of my M.O.

However, I also realize that some of you find yourselves at the beginning of your journey, or still fighting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. If this is you, please do not be ashamed of the current state of your mental health.

Anxiety is not just “all in your head”.

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If you have recently had a baby and believe you are experiencing postpartum anxiety (PPA) or are experiencing increasing generalized anxiety, please talk to your healthcare provider as soon as possible.

My Anxiety Journey

Looking back, I see signs of anxiety disorder that go all the way back to elementary school.

For example, I think I went to the nurse’s office nearly EVERY SINGLE DAY. I don’t remember if that was all of the elementary school years or just a couple of grades, but I remember years later running into the school nurse and sure enough, Mrs. Meyer still remembered my daily visits.

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For the sake of argument, let’s just say this was the beginning of becoming a nervous hypochondriac. And now I’m raising a hypochondriac – Sorry, Mom and Dad!

A hypochondriac is someone who always believes they are sick even when they aren’t. 

Some things from school stick out.

I was just plain awkward and easily embarrassed.

My self-esteem was not very resilient.

One part of anxiety disorder that I just adore is worrying about things I said in 7th grade.

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I mean, my mind has literally dredged up the stupid, insensitive thoughtless things I said as a middle schooler and WORRIED ABOUT THEM. So maybe I need to go through like a twelve step program to stop thinking about them? Make peace with all the people I offended with my loose childish lips? Can I just facebook message them?

As I went through high school, I was both shy, introverted and awkward. Truth be told, I’m still introverted and awkward, but I’m finally ok with that. It’s how God made me. Now, I just let all this awkward hang out. Come what may.

Unfortunately, shyness comes across as ice cold people hater. Being introverted makes it hard to enjoy a party, and being awkward is just so awkward!

To all of that let’s add some garden variety anxiety disorder.

Being Social Was Challenging

I didn’t want to go to football games and basketball games because I would have to walk in front of people and people would be looking at me! ACK.

If there were people on my path on my walk home I would find another way around, because PEOPLE. ACK.

You want me to raise my hand in class and speak up? ACK.

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Keeping healthy and active in band, choir, swimming, and cross-country skiing made a big difference, I wasn’t great at any of it, but it was fun! I’m sure that all that physical activity helped to keep the full extent of my anxiety in check.

An Anxiety Disorder Free Version of Myself

All the while, confident, adventurous Brit was hanging out just below the surface. Occasionally, she would poke her beautiful head out and convince me to do crazy things.

That Brit spent a month in the Canadian wilderness between her junior and senior year of high school doing a canoeing program.

That Brit headed to college four hours away from home even though she was hopelessly attached to her family.

That Brit went to Australia for a year and traveled by herself, jumped out of a perfectly good plane, and went to work in the vineyards and grape farms of northern Victoria in Australia between semesters. I also kissed my first and last Scottish man. (PS- Best first kiss story EVER, if you enjoy hilariously embarrassing first kiss stories.)

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She Didn’t Stay

I always wanted to stay that fun, confident Brit. Unfortunately, she didn’t stay long. She probably had important shopping to do. 

During my internship to be a Medical Lab Scientist, I was looking at my loan debt one evening and had my first legitimate panic attack. I had no idea what it was at the time. But it wouldn’t be the last one.

My debt still gives me anxiety, but now I just drink some wine and play scrabble and pretend we don’t have school debt and mortgage debt and kids.

Then, I started my first real job as a Medical Technologist in a real lab.

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At this point, anxious Brit entered the scene like a loud, obnoxious, drunk pirate. Anxious Brit was ready to steal some booty and a whole lot of joy.

My job, and living away from home, alone, created an incredible amount of stress. I was depressed. I was anxious. I was being a terrible employee. When I started working seven days in a row on evenings and then switching to days over and over for nine years, my body signed an eviction notice for my mental health.

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I worked hard to be valuable to our team and change the impression I had made at the beginning. I couldn’t talk to my boss without my face flushing, my heart rate accelerating, and my palms sweating. Every encounter would take hours to process and move on from.

Being so far removed from myself, I couldn’t see how much of a problem my anxiety had truly become.

Being a Mom Was Hard

Let’s be honest, being a mom IS hard. Full stop. That’s the name of the game.

I struggled to be a good mom when my twins were born. Take the stress of having one, multiply by two. Now add the stress of a chronically sick infant who had his first bout of pneumonia at four months and another one with a misshapen head that needed a helmet.

Let’s throw in some normal first parent worries about breathing, sleeping, pooping, and eating and then just for shits and giggles – anxiety.

Between work stress, trying to somehow nurse my boys, and never sleeping, things were pretty ugly.

After I was diagnosed with postpartum depression with the boys due to MASSIVE hormonal shifts from a twin pregnancy, I was able to find a little relief from the anxiety when I was treated for the PPD. I didn’t actually realize then how much it was helping the anxiety half of the equation.

With my second pregnancy, I weaned off of it and from there on out, I figured I was ‘managing’ my anxiety like a champ.

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I Wasn’t Okay

No one should be internally hysterically melting down in the back seat of a car because they are going to be three minutes late for a wedding.

No one should have a complete panic attack and have to hand one of their newborn twins off to dad because they saw a flesh colored mole on the internet that was doomed to be fatal.

No one should be standing in a shower wondering what would happen if a meteor came into the building and subsequently rush out of the shower faster than usual.

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But with anxiety, no matter how much your brain knows you are being ridiculous, it doesn’t matter. The physical reaction is the same.

Panic Attacks

Everyone’s experience of a panic attack is probably a little different. In my case, a panic attack completely sucks. The adrenaline rush makes me lose feeling in my arms. I struggle to catch my breath. If I’m holding a baby, I have to put them down so if I die, I don’t suffocate them and take them with me. My brain is like a hummingbird that cannot find a good place to land, with thoughts racing in so many different directions. It feels like the end is coming. Imminently.

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Enough is Enough

Finally, after spending an entire labor and delivery with my fifth son apologizing for EVERYTHING. Yes. I made apologies all the way through my induced labor.

Oh, is my lavender essential oil strong enough the average human can smell it? I’m SO SORRY.

Oh, I’m at that point where all my clothes are coming off? I’m SO SORRY.

Is it okay if I get an epidural now? I’m SO SORRY.

I just punched my husband in the face? Meh. He’ll live.

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At my post-baby follow-up appointment, it was finally time. I was done making apologies for being alive. I was not ‘in control’ of my anxiety as I had claimed for so long.

I was making myself, and probably the people around me miserable when I had panic attacks and anxiety issues.

It took a very long time to realize that life could be better. It could be better for me, for my husband, and for my kids.

It also took me a long time to realize that it’s okay to admit you need help.

I finally got the help I needed and went on a low dose of sertraline (Zoloft).

Anxiety disorders are medical conditions.

Not character flaws or weaknesses.

Finally, I am beginning to feel like myself again. After a full two years of being on the medication, I can say without a doubt that life is significantly better.

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It probably helps that I left the job where I never got any regular sleep to stay at home with my babies… so I could continue to get irregular sleep. The little dictators are pretty tough on me too, but it’s so amazing to be home to watch them grow and learn.

My Advice to You

You Are Not Alone

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There are a TON of people that are on this road with you. Most of us don’t talk about it much. Aren’t ready to admit it. Or don’t have many people they can confide in.

There’s something a little shameful about admitting my brain doesn’t work completely the way it should. There’s not really anything shameful about it at all. It’s okay to talk about it. Calling your doctor and making an appointment is an easy and pretty painless thing to do. They will have access to everything you need to take back your life from the anxiety demon.

If someone opens up to you about their own struggles, make sure you point them in the direction of their healthcare provider.

Take control, anxiety disorder doesn’t get the last say.

Watch for Postpartum Anxiety

After my fifth pregnancy, PPA definitely took hold. I found I was having many more anxiety problems and even a couple of panic attacks.

My midwife was informed right away, and we decided to keep an eye on it. If it had gotten any worse, I would not have hesitated to increase the dose of my medication to keep it in check. Thankfully, it seems to have settled down. It’s only been four months though, so I will continue to watch for it very carefully.

Know Your Triggers

The best way I’ve found to keep my anxiety in check is to avoid my triggers whenever I can.

Sometimes triggers are unavoidable. If finances and bathing are a trigger, you will still (probably?) have to face those. I found that I needed to find additional strategies to deal with unavoidable triggers as they came up.

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Know Your Strategies

What are you going to do when panic hits? Who are you going to call? How are you going to deal with a situation that will most likely increase your anxiety?

Having a plan makes it a lot more manageable.

Maybe that plan is calling your husband, taking a walk, praying and trying to nap. Maybe that plan involves copious amounts of mint chocolate chip ice cream. Who am I to judge?

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Thanks for sticking through to the end.

I hope that if it’s time for you to reach out to someone else you do it. Today. There’s an anxiety controlled version of you somewhere, probably having a pretty great time without you, which makes no sense since it is you. But then we get into weird third person time-space continuum stuff…

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Until next time my friends.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Comments

  1. Hillary says:

    So many things!
    As a kid my anxiety came from dying. How crazy right? I remember, something on my body would hurt and I would ask my mom if it was cancer and if I was going to die. She finally got into the habit of reassuring me after every ailment that I wasn’t going to die right then. I never knew I had anxiety attacks until I was older and knew what they were. No, Hillary it’s not normal to think you’re dying at the age of 8 and not be able to sleep, legs shaking uncontrollably and my stomach in knots. It’s not normal to pack all of your favorite stuffed animals in a pillowcase in case there was a fire so you wouldn’t forget them. Right?
    As an adult my anxiety stems more from the people I love dying too soon, finances, being late to important things, and overanalyzing my loudness. Wow, Hillary you blew their eardrums out at dinner, way to go. They probably are so annoyed with you.

    I have to laugh about some of the things I get anxious about, and as an adult I have learned to call my mom when I start having a panic attack. Part of that is knowing your triggers like you said and knowing how to train your mind to go to a different place once you recognize that this is in fact your anxiety talking. Accepting your anxiety and deciphering when to access your coping skills is the most helpful thing you can do! Know yourself!

    Thanks for sharing Brit! Great read and so relatable. From one anxiety ridden human being to another! Haha

    Longest comment of all time.

    1. I like your long comments, thank you so much for taking the time to respond. This is the type of post where you hope you are connecting to people, but you are also baring a significant part of your life and soul, so you know, it could go either way. I’m sorry you struggle with anxiety too, but it is nice to know that there are others out there, since it sometimes seems like a pretty lonely road. By the way, not weird at all that you had anxiety about dying as a kid. I think once children know what death is, it’s definitely something that crosses their mind. Though, it does make me wonder why I spend so much of my time trying to keep them alive if they are worried about dying, shouldn’t that make them listen better??

  2. Samantha of Mother Haggard says:

    Ugh. Anxiety. Where to even begin? It’s a true thief of joy. I never knew anxiety until I became a mother, and now it’s ALL I know.

    I hate that it doesn’t respond to logic. Like, I KNOW there’s no reason to be stressed thinking about my one year old eventually having to go to kindergarten and then high school and then college and then leaving me forever. Or I KNOW I probably don’t need to formulate an escape plan right now at 2:34AM in case my apartment building catches on fire. I KNOW that it’s probably okay if my daughter skips a nap every once in awhile and It doesn’t necessarily mean that she’ll never sleep through the night again (…right?). But anxiety doesn’t listen.

    Thank you for writing this post. I’m so happy you’re reclaiming happy, adventurous Brit. Because she’s awesome and deserves to be here all of the time.

    1. I’ve literally had all those thoughts. All of them. I have scoured amazon.com looking for an infant fire rope that I can put my child in and lower her to the ground. And have a fire ladder in my closet just in case. Anxiety steals joy and gleefully runs away while we stand and watch and can do nothing about it. The logic thing is probably the worst part. My intellect KNOWS that some of these things are ridiculous, but my brain chemistry is an IDIOT and once the anxiety attack process starts, it’s all downhill.

      I hope you can take some time to figure out how to manage your anxiety too. It’s not a fun way to exist, and it’s so physically, emotionally, spiritually draining to be constantly anxious. It will probably never completely go away, after all, if your child is like mine, you’ll be constantly trying to save her from herself – but girls are supposed to be better about that, right?? And if you need any support along the way, I’ve got you, girl!

  3. What good descriptions of anxiety! I have been fortunate enough to live most my life with just the occasional minor breakdown, but after I had my second baby, I’m pretty sure I had PPA! I SHOULD have called my doctor. But didn’t, because I 1) didn’t realize how out-of-my-head I was feeling, and 2) I was anxious about what the doctor would say, and 3) I couldn’t leave my kids ANYWHERE with ANYONE. It finally got better, but once this third one is born, I’m putting everyone on high alert to MAKE me talk to the doctor if I start acting weird. Like, I need to let someone see my browser history just to check on how outlandish my googling is getting.
    I thought I was having a heart attack one day as we were driving to the zoo and I was running late. We passed the hospital and I contemplated just going straight for the ER! But like, I was totally fine once we got to the zoo, so I’m pretty sure I was not having an actual heart attack.
    Anyway. Great post!

    1. In totally there with you on the heart attack. That is so much what it seems like, numbness, tingling, chest pressure. Ugh. It’s horrible! I am so glad you’ll have people watching out for you after this baby. Anxiety can be so sneaky, we definitely need the people who know us best to have that third party view of how we are doing! I pray you have a safe healthy pregnancy and no PPA!

I love reading your comments you beautiful people

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