Living with anxiety

I had my first panic attack when I was 4 years old. I didn’t know that’s what it was until I was 21. I sat in my therapist’s office and explained the events of the day that have left me phobic about having anything around my neck, the day my parents decided to get a divorce, the day I sat in the car while they fought by the creek, the day my winter coat bundled all around me made me feel like I was going to suffocate. I explained to her about these weird things that would happen to me every so often throughout my life. Words would seem to speed up and slow down at the same time. The world just sounded wrong. I would get this strange taste in my mouth that I have never been able to describe. My heart beat quickly and all I would want to do is lock myself away until it all stopped. She nodded her head and very calmly said, “They’re panic attacks”. I wondered why none of the therapists I had seen in the last 13 years had ever told me that.

Mara was an art therapist who worked mostly with young children with post traumatic stress disorder. She was able to pull things out of me that I could never express in therapy before. I was so used to functioning through my anxiety that I became really good at hiding it. Through seemingly juvenile drawings, I was able to release emotions I didn’t even know were there. It was a turning point in my life that I am eternally grateful for.

I am currently diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and social anxiety disorder. Let me explain a little bit about what each of those things mean to me.

When not on medication, I am in a constant state of anxiety. I worry about everything. Here’s a very telling example: in 6th grade I used to worry about taking the SATs. It’s not rational worry. You can’t talk me out of it by telling me that it doesn’t make sense. It still keeps me up at night.

Then, on top of that constant over laying anxiety, every so often (at my worst it was several times a day) I’ll get panic attacks. Sometimes they can be explained by stressful events in my life. Sometimes there doesn’t seem to be any explanation at all. These are the worst because I start to feel like I’m forgetting something that I should be worrying about, so I panic even more.

Now, my friends and my family . . . those closest to me . . . were shocked when I told them I had social anxiety disorder. I was that good at hiding it. My aunt always said that I was the one who never cared what people thought of me. I was really, really good at making people think that. Meanwhile, my every move was designed on the thought of what someone else was going to say. And then everything I heard, every look I saw on someone’s face would send a down pour of questions into my head. “Are they talking about me? Did I do something stupid and not realize it? Am I doing something wrong?” And on and on. And then there’s the phone. Oh how I hate the phone. I actually have to work myself up to make a phone call. Work related stuff has never been a problem because there’s a certain expectation of how I’m supposed to perform and I can handle that. Personal calls are an entirely different story. Is the person going to speak clearly? Will I be able to understand them? What if there’s a silence? What am I supposed to say? There are a very few close friends and family members that I enjoy talking to on the phone. I can’t even order a pizza without panicking!

With medication? Oh wow, what a difference! I still get the occasional panic attack and I still hate talking on the phone, but I can walk through my normal day-to-day without fear. It’s as if a fog has been lifted, and I don’t know how I managed to walk through it before. It’s amazing to not have to work so hard just to get through a day. Every so often, I’ll stop taking my medication. I just want to see how I’m able to fare without it. I do pretty well for a couple of months, and then that fog comes rushing back. People can say whatever negative things they want to about pharma-psychology, but I am beyond grateful for my meds! I am able to truly enjoy life. You can’t get any better than that!

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4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by poolman on March 11, 2011 at 10:46 pm

    I think most of us experience the same symptoms at much lesser degrees. At least I can understand your emotions that you describe but I can overcome them. I had two very stable parents until my dad died of a heart attack when I was 18. He was not quite 42, so it was a shocker. That was 35 years ago. Dad was a lifer in the army. He was military through and through. That, and his horses, occupied his time. We were pretty devastated, I was the oldest of three boys and mom was a homemaker. His older brother died of the same at 39 or 40. I really felt for his parents many years after the event.

    I am glad you have meds to help you cope. I will pray you can eventually give those up and achieve peace and confidence without them. Holy Spirit can help.

    My SIL has extreme anxiety and is on meds also. He is also an alcoholic that hasn’t had a drink in two years. He is still trying to work through that. He’s Apache Indian and was adopted as a baby. His adoptive parents divorced when he was 19, so his life was somewhat more stable than yours, except for the adoption part. That, plus his dad was/is emotionally abusive. That 8is probably due to several tours in Vietnam as a medic and some disability due to cancer from the effects of agent orange.

    I think it is pretty common today to find damaged humans. Families have been broken and we have so many magnetic and microwaves zipping through our atmoshere, it really messes with the natural rhythm of our being. Plus all the poisons we live in and have put into our systems. Our society is not condusive toward health, psychological or nutritional, and that in turn produces an unstable biorhythm within us. We really need to tune into ourselves and get away from all the artificial influences that mess with us. It is almost impossible in our busy lives.

    We have to learn to overcome and not let life drag us down. It’s a constant fight. I lean on God for that. The closer I get, the more foreign and unattractive the world system gets to me. One thing that made a huge difference was turning off the TV. I occasionally watch, but it is rare. I think that helps. That and really focusing on other people and trying to lift them emotionally. Smile and communicate off the cuff. Human interaction is awesome therapy. I love spending time with my grandsons. It is precious time that I can concentrate on pouring love into. Smiles are contageous. 😀

    Reply

    • I really do love my life. I look back at all of the “tragedies” and can see that they have brought me to where I am now. My daughter, the brightest light in my life, would not be here if not for some of those tragedies. I grew up with (well, mostly without) an alcoholic father, but because of it I met some of the most amazing people (I started Alateen when I was 13). Each step in my life has brought me to where I am. The psych issues as well. They’ve made me who I am today. And I like who I am 🙂

      And yes, smiles are contagious 🙂 🙂 🙂

      Reply

  2. […] written about my anxiety before. I wrote about what it’s like to live with anxiety in a general sense. I wrote about how my social anxiety makes me feel guilty over ridiculous […]

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  3. […] written about my anxiety disorders before. I wrote Living with anxiety to explain a little bit about each of the three anxiety disorders I am currently diagnosed with. I […]

    Reply

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