My Journey with Anxiety

I had my first panic attack in August 2009. The previous two years were by far my busiest to date. It all started with my decision to leave the television studio job I had worked in since graduating from college six years prior. It was an incredibly difficult decision to leave and resulted in a series of changes that continued on for several years thereafter.

First, I started working a new job full-time in conjunction with starting full-time graduate school, where I studied Clinical Psychology, a subject I had no prior experience in. Additionally, I started dating a guy who would later become my fiance and then husband, all within the span of 17 months. We got married during Christmas break and came back from our honeymoon the day before I started my last semester of grad school (which also happened to be the same day we moved into our new apartment together). Our lives were blissfully chaotic. Grad school was filled with the difficult task of self-reflection throughout the many papers we had to write, along with being required to participate in 30 hours of personal counseling. I quit my job and started another part-time job where I got to work in the field I was studying and completed practicum hours doing therapy on college students, an equally draining and exhilarating experience. Life just didn’t stop moving. Days, weeks and months were long – good yet long – and at the same time, they flew by.

In August of 2009, my body, mind, emotions, they all gave out on me. Out of the blue I started experiencing panic attacks. If you have ever experienced a panic attack, you know that the effects are continually compounding. You not only deal with the panic itself, but you also must face the fear that another one might occur. Will you be out in public and begin to panic? Would you begin to feel trapped in the middle of a conversation and start to panic out of the blue?

A panic attack is a physiological response to an emotional stressor. For many, the stressor is identifiable – perhaps a fear of flying could bring on a panic attack. Or public speaking. Or a social situation. For me, the panic never fit the situation. It would occur at times I otherwise felt perfectly safe. I would panic among the company of close friends or coworkers. Or out grocery shopping, something I in no way feared or dreaded. They came out of no where.

I ultimately realized they were the result of an accumulation of two years worth of stresses I hadn’t dealt with. I never grieved the loss of a job I held during the formative years of my working life. I never grieved the loss of my singleness, something I had yearned for years to part with and yet once I did, I found myself missing at times. I never slowed down long enough to appreciate my newlywed status because the moment the honeymoon was over, it was back to the grind again.

Accepting change has never been my strong suit. But at no point in my life have I dealt with it in the way I did that summer of 2009.

My panic attacks lasted about a month. My boss, a pastoral counselor, felt I needed a time of rest after the chaos of the previous two years. She gave me a week off work with pay so I could unplug from the world and take it easy. I gladly took her up on it. I also decided, after much resistance, to try an anti-anxiety medication. I have suffered from anxiety my entire life but I had always been able to manage it. It never stopped me from participating in anything – work, relationships – anything. But the panic attacks scared me. They began to make me doubt whether I wanted to leave the house. Home felt safer. Home wasn’t scary. I never had a panic attack there so it was still a safe place. But as grateful as I was that home was my safe haven, becoming a hermit was not me. I missed getting outside and hanging out with friends and quite frankly – being happy.

The medicine started kicking in after a few weeks and I began feeling like myself again. When I look back on that time in my life, it feels like such a small blip on the radar but back then it was the hardest thing I had ever dealt with. It wasn’t all bad though. I can see that now. For one, it  deepened my husband’s and my relationship early on. It also changed me forever. It changed my perspective on mental illness. The fact that I have always been a worrier and tend to see the world through “poop-colored glasses” as my hubby tells me, is a direct result of my anxiety. It’s nice to have a name for the nebulous, negative feelings I have always known were within me. I have also adopted a new understanding of the benefits of psychotropic drugs. Why they are viewed differently than any other medicine that assists with chronic illnesses is beyond me. When I got on them to alleviate my panic attacks five years ago, they benefited me far beyond the isolated attacks. They also helped regulate my generalized anxiety. I stopped obsessing over things that were out of my control. I found myself viewing the world more positively. They increased my overall sense of well-being and I felt differently than I had my entire life.

I stayed on the anti-anxiety meds for two years, at which point I decided to wean off them. I knew that having a child could potentially bring up new dimensions of both specific and generalized anxiety and told my OBGYN before Ainsley was born that I may request a prescription again at some point. Shortly after A’s six month birthday I made that request. I have stopped obsessing over the many possible things that could happen to Miss A – choking, getting sick, being in an accident etc. I feel free from the trap that is anxiety – a straight jacket I have lived in for so many years.

It is also extremely important to me that I don’t pass on my anxiety to her. Sure, she may inherit it genetically, but the last thing I want to do is freak out about every little thing she does and cause her to become overly fearful in life. I pray that she views life as an adventure – full of opportunity, not obstacles, and that she does not become stuck playing and replaying worrisome thoughts in her head. That she would dream of the possibilities in her future and not dread change like I do. I desire to be the best mom I can be and that means being the best person I can be – optimistic, encouraging and ideally, not a helicopter parent, a role I would likely fall into quite naturally if left to my own devices.

Recently Jake sent me an article he found online about secondary drowning risks for kids. We hadn’t heard of it and were surprised to read the warnings as summer approached and we eagerly awaited going swimming with our daughter. He told me after he sent it that he was shocked at how well I responded, thinking I would mull it over constantly and catastrophize each cough or other incident A might experience in the pool. I have to admit, I did handle this new found knowledge well. There are plenty of scary things that could happen in this world but there are plenty of beautiful things too. I am going to choose to focus on those instead.

My sweet baby covered in a rash from her amoxicillin allergy. We conquered her first double ear infection, 102.7 fever and rash. Go us!

My sweet baby covered in a rash from her amoxicillin allergy. We conquered her first double ear infection, 102.7 fever and rash. Go us!

Comments

  1. Ange – a very brave and reflective post! I know that all of the change in your lives is stressful and that this past year has been particularly so. But I was delighted to hear that you are adopting the view that life is an adventure to be well lived. You and Jake have made a family and a home — and the home will exist wherever the 3 of you exist. When Hank and I got married, a friend needlepointed a piece that hangs in our kitchen (and has hung in every kitchen of ours for 32 years – this is our 7th one). It reads, “No Matter What, No Matter Where, It’s Always Home, If Love is There.” We have found that to be true from house to house, country to country, state to state. Home is where you all are. xx

    • acharlescoach says:

      So good, Judy. Great perspective and definitely one that I am realizing more and more is true. I love my little family so much and am thrilled to be on this adventure of life with them. xo

  2. Kori Chronister says:

    So wonderful of you to share. I can relate to so much of this! So beautiful how Miss A has inspired you to seek even greater happiness. She is lucky to have you for a mom!

    Love and peace!

    Kori :)

    • acharlescoach says:

      I never replied to your comment, Kori! I am so sorry! Can you tell I have been a little behind? :) Thank you for what you wrote! I am both sorry and a tad glad you can relate… it’s hard, but at least we are all in this crazy life together! Hope you are well! xo

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