I promised my next post would be about my awesome Fab Fit Fun box, but we are on vacation and I realized that I didn’t pack the products and I would really like to show them and give honest reviews, so let’s change to a more unpleasant topic…Anxiety. I always kept my anxiety a secret from friends and family. I lied to get out of situations that were uncomfortable so no one would find out. Here I am putting it in a blog for the world to see!! But, I have come to realize over the years, that so many more people struggle with anxiety and the more I talk freely about it, the better I feel. So here goes…..
Sophomore year of college it begins. I’m a 19 year old (pretty care free) girl sitting in an economics lecture. I hated the class, I took one of those three hour lectures so I only had to go once a week from 6:50 pm to 10:00 pm of all times (what was I thinking)! It was toward the beginning of the class when all of a sudden I felt a haze in my brain, it was like the room was spinning and all I could hear was the professor talking gibberish. I felt out of my body. My heart started racing, my hands were soaked, and I thought I was going to just pass out right there in that chair. It’s crazy how moments define you. If you ask my husband or my kids, they tell you I have a super crazy memory. Remembering an economics class wouldn’t make it high up there except for this one particular day. I can literally still feel and see myself in that classroom. I was so afraid that I was going to pass out that I couldn’t get up. I sat there for three hours doodling in my notebook, drawing circle after circle to try to distract myself. It’s funny that even way back then when I had no idea what was going on I used distraction as my main technique. I felt like I was dying, but was too embarrassed to get up for fear of collapsing and having an ambulance come. So class ends and I bolt out of there and I remember hiding in my room, not telling anyone what had just happened. I think I made it through the rest of the semester self medicating with alcohol and skipping economics. I avoided that class like the plaque, but only that class. I associated that feeling with that classroom (for now). When I did happen to have to go to class I sat right next to the door and I always had my escape plan (if it happens again, grab your bag, and run!!). I did not do very well in economics, let’s just say, but I never did get up and run.
Fast forward to that summer home. I worked in a law office and was pretty much going out with friends and having a few drinks at night (kids…if you’re reading this I was 21…wink, wink). It started happening again at odd times. This time period is a little more fuzzy for me, but I finally remember telling my mom that I thought I was having a heart attack during the night one night and off to the ER we go. Well they ran tests and blood work, pregnancy test, drug tests. When they came in to tell me the results, I remember thinking OMG I smoked pot last week, they are going to tell my mom and she’s going to be so mad (haha!) I really was a good kid. I never drank in high school, I smoked pot maybe 7 times in my life (I also had a very bad panic attack after smoking a few weeks after this and never touched it again). But I was 20 and stupid!! Anyway, all tests came back negative and I was upset. You would think having nothing wrong with you would make you happy, but it only made me more anxious over the next months. Looking back, it’s weird because no one in that ER room said to me, “honey, I think you’re suffering from anxiety and panic attacks.” If they had maybe I could have started living with it and coping with it better. I went to a cardiologist and wore a chest halter that takes EKG’s everyday because I was convinced my heart was just going to explode. Again it all came back normal and again I was more upset. “Come on people, these feelings are real, there has to be something wrong with me!!”
This is getting long already so I will bypass specifics. It came and went on and off for years. I did pretty well through my twenties. Had my first daughter at 25 (I definitely had some anxiety through the pregnancy and after she was born, looking back definitely had some depression, but I was a very young mom with no friends with kids and home by myself for most of the time so I kind of didn’t even see it). I loved being a mom and I loved being with her, but I definitely lacked on self happiness (if that makes any sense). I had virtually no panic attacks though during this time and I figured, “thank God, my heart healed…hahaha!!)” It wasn’t until 2015 (I’m 24 years old) back in school for nursing that I realized what had happened to me all those years. Anatomy and Physiology lesson on the brain and my professor talking about panic attacks and an alarm went off…that was it. All those years, I was having anxiety and panic attacks. Why didn’t anyone tell me this. Seriously guys, I had no idea that was what was going on. All those doctors, nurses, they had to have known. My professor talked a lot about anxiety because it was something she struggled with. She recommended a book by Claire Weeks, “Hope and Help For Your Nerves.” I highly recommend it if you like to read and are struggling with any sort of anxiety. It goes through the process of what is actually happening when you have a panic attack and ways we deal with it and coping mechanisms. I carried this book around with me for years (no joke), and if I started feeling anxious, I took it out and started to read and told myself this is what is happening.
So at least now I had a diagnosis. Don’t get me wrong for the next 13 years I definitely still thought that I was dying from some diagnosed cardiac issue and had two more ER visits where I thought I was not going to make it out of there, but for the most part I was able to tell myself this is just anxiety (just anxiety is such a bad way of putting it because it is not just anxiety for anyone who has dealt with this). I made it through three years of nursing school with basically no issues until the last month of school (seriously, I was about to graduate!!) I was sitting in class (again a long lecture, why couldn’t this happen in the hour long classes). I got that out of body feeling, racing heart, sweaty palms, couldn’t hear a thing the teacher was saying. This time I knew what was happening and I was prepared (because since that economics class I sat next to the door every single class). I left my things and walked out of the room to the bathroom. I tried to control it. I tried to tell myself it was anxiety, but I couldn’t and I ended up going across the hall to one of my professors (I’m safe I thought, I’m surrounded by nurses). She took my blood pressure, my sugar level, pretty much felt like I was in a hospital. She called the head of the department (I was scared of her. She was a real old school nurse, that was so strict). She wanted to call an ambulance, I pleaded that I was fine. Since everything was normal besides my heart rate being elevated they didn’t call an ambulance (thank God because I would have been so embarrassed). They had one of my friends drive me home and that was that. All good again until my second day at my brand new nursing job a few months later, and I had to tell them I didn’t feel good. I left the hospital feeling defeated. That’s it, I’m giving up, I can not even have a normal life. It was that day that I finally decided to seek some medical help and I called a psychiatrist.
I’m so sorry, I’m trying to make this brief but there’s just so much to tell! The psychiatrist saw me that day and I remember thinking, I’m going to be cured…hooray!!! Well he listened to me talk for less than five minutes (I wanted my husband to come in to listen because as great as Zac is, he never experienced anxiety or panic and I think sometimes he thought I was making it up or could just turn it off. He understands better now). Zac never made it in the appointment because by the time he dropped me off and parked the car and came in to the office I was on my way out the door with two prescriptions for Xanax and Zoloft. Again though, I felt so happy I was going to be cured. I took two doses of Zoloft and felt worse than I’ve ever felt before. I decided it wasn’t for me and vowed never to take anti-anxiety meds again. (There are so many different situations and so many different ways to help different people. I am one of those people that get anxiety about taking anxiety medications. I think I’m going to have every side effect they mention. So many people told me over the years to take just a little bit of this or try something else, but it’s just not for me. That being said, I know people who have completely changed after taking medications. Always seek medical advice and remember that no two people are the same. What works for me, may or may not work for you. I am not giving any recommendations, just my own personal trial and errors.). I started self diagnosing and self helping through the internet (again not the way to go). A lot of people recommended going to see a counselor instead of psychiatrist. Through the years I’ve been to about 10 appointments with a counselor. I highly recommend it, it was great to finally talk freely about all I experienced (could you imagine how long my first appointment was…if I’m telling you all this, imagine all the details I told them). The problem I had with the counselor was that for as good as I felt after the appointment, I felt 100 times worse before and during. Being trapped in a room with the door closed and no where to run and nothing to distract me was unbearable. So probably to my downfall, I stopped going.
If you are somehow still reading this, I’m getting to my lowest point. Over the years my anxiety made me stop doing things I loved. I stopped flying for fear of being trapped on the plane and having a heart attack (panic attack). I could live with not flying right, I could drive. Well then I had a horrible panic attack driving home from Delaware with my youngest (a year old) in the car. It was one of the worst hours of my life. I called my mom and talked with her the whole ride home crying. I wanted to pull over and call 911 because again I must be having another heart attack, but I kept thinking what is going to happen to my baby in the car. She’s going to be so scared, (I’ll be embarrassed) I can’t leave her. So I cried and clenched the wheel the entire way home. They say panic attacks only last for a few minute but I swear mine lasted the whole time! So now I’m not flying and I’m not driving over an hour away. I’m good, still living the life with the kids taking them to the pool and the parks and all their activities. But then another even closer to home and the radius where I feel safe gets smaller and smaller and smaller until no lie, I was scared going to the grocery store a mile from my house by myself. I was anxious walking across the street to pick up my kids from school. The second I was back in the house I had that wave of relief. I told no one about this. I was so embarrassed and so ashamed I was basically living a hermit life. I made my mom come with me if I had to go further than a mile from my house. I started feeling safe driving again, but only if she was with me. Then bam, panic attack driving an hour away with my mom and that’s that. My mom basically drove me and my kids around for a good year and a half (with my poor uncle who had Parkinson disease because she couldn’t leave him at home. He loved getting out and always talked about all the adventures we had. Thank you Uncle Bernie!!).
Summer of 2019, I had a girls night with my two oldest and took them out to eat (close to the house of course). They wanted to go to Dairy Queen (literally two miles from where we were, but it was somewhere I had not been by myself in two years. I really tried to convince them to have dessert at the restaurant but seeing the disappointment, I couldn’t stand it. I tried never talking about my anxiety and fears with the kids but they were 11, 8, and 5 they had to have known something was wrong. I remember them always saying, “why does G (my mom) come everywhere with us?”. I would tell them G just loves us so much (true but she probably needed a break). So I decided at that moment that for them I needed to do something. I didn’t want to miss their sports activities or make them miss out on things because Zac or my mom wasn’t available to drive with me (this was already happening). I started driving to dairy queen. My hands were sweaty, and my heart was racing, but I made it. I called my mom and said, “I just made it to Dairy Queen!” For those of you that know me, this is probably a complete shock to you (or maybe it’s not, maybe you figured it out). In any event, I didn’t tell anyone except my mom and Zac that it had come to this low for that long. I remember how happy and triumphant I felt that I drove two miles away (crazy, I know). So from that day on, I challenged myself to go a little further and a little further. I am by no means cured, I still won’t drive further than probably an hour away from my house by myself and although there are months when I have no anxiety, it always creeps up in some way.
Which is why I’m writing this today. Because, today, while I’m down at the beach on vacation with family and having a wonderful, relaxing time, I woke up with a racing heart, shaking hands, and that uh-oh feeling. I’ve realized that the more I try to hide these feelings and the more I pretend it’s not happening and distract myself, the worse I feel. So I started to write. Word by word, paragraph by long paragraphy I’m feeling better. Thank you for reading and thank you for understanding. I know this is something that I will never cure and I know that I still have tons of work to do (I really want to fly to see my sister in San Diego), but I’ve overcome a lot and living more everyday. So I encourage you all to share your stories, talk to your friends, seek help, because there is so much life to live and I’m tired of missing out on it! Maybe by next year I’ll add travel blogger to my resume!!!