I’ve been going back and forth on writing this post for a while now. I’m one of those people who isn’t a fan of being vulnerable or showing signs of weakness. After the month I’ve been through, and the battle I’m still fighting, I think I’ve come to realize my anxiety is more of a sign of my strength than weakness.
I’ve had problems dealing with stress my entire life. When I was two years old, my pediatrician told my mother no one would ever be able to put more stress on me than I put on myself. Go figure, he was a very wise man. I have this incessant need for perfection and approval, not from others, from myself. In school I was always obsessed over my grades, in adult life it’s my quality of work.
The first time I realized how severe my anxiety was, I was around 19 and I had a panic attack in my sleep. IN MY SLEEP!!!! I woke up with all of my muscles so tense I couldn’t move, my neck and arms were stuck in one position. It was terrifying. This was also around the same age I had to have jaw surgery for the first time due to my teeth grinding at night. They tried every medicine and device imaginable to get me to stop, even Botox. I still grind to this day.
I’ve had periods in my life where the attacks dissipate for months and even years. The anxiety is still there though. I’m sure I hold the world record for being able to jump to the worst case scenario the fastest. As long as I’m not on the edge of an attack you would never know, unless of course you know me very well. I once had a doctor tell me I just needed to stop over thinking, like I really hadn’t thought of that. If I could just stop over analyzing then I surely wouldn’t be spending my money on doctor visits and medications. Concert tickets aren’t cheap.
I’ve been coping without anxiety medication for almost two years, until now. I must say this is the worst my anxiety has ever been by an insane amount. I currently can’t even drink caffeine. At my last doctors visit they upgraded me from generalized anxiety disorder, to severe anxiety disorder and panic disorder. Aren’t upgrades supposed to be good things?
So what is an attack like?
Imagine you are having a totally normal day, everything is fine. It may only take one break of routine or one small thing that goes wrong to trigger it, depending on how severe the anxiety is. Suddenly, you can’t breathe, your chest is tight. You feel your heart start racing, I can usually feel it beating in my back. You get hot, your blood pressure is climbing. Every muscle in your body tenses. You want to cry, you want to scream, you want to go to the ER and make sure you aren’t dying because it can feel like a heart attack. Sensory overload is the next thing. Lights, sounds, people, it all becomes too much. All of this generally happens within minutes.
There is no breathing technique I’ve ever found that works for me. I’ve tried them all multiple times. Every ones anxiety affects them differently. I have found that if I feel like I might have an attack, I can listen to Ray Lamontagne and his voice can usually keep it at bay. Something about it calms me, always has. He talks about anxiety and worry in a lot of his songs and I guess I’ve always felt some strange kinship to him. We suffer together.
Another thing a lot of people don’t understand about anxiety, is how overwhelmed the person gets with normal things. Over the past month of me trying to get this in check, I have neglected house work that I always stay on top of, haven’t wanted to leave the house for anything, and basically been a human sloth. Being in a state of panic is draining on the body, you’re constantly in fight or flight mode. We aren’t lazy, or depressed, we are exhausted and overwhelmed. They should give you the option of a temporary personal assistant at the pharmacy when you pick up anxiety meds.
It also comes with bouts of rage and irritability because you’ve gotten to the point of being so overwhelmed with anxiety in its entirety that your emotions are all jumbled together and often come out as rage. We’re not mad, just frustrated at ourselves and our jerk of a brain. Same goes for those who just shut down and don’t talk. I have tendencies to do both.
I get hypersensitivity to disarray, chaos or any sort of change. The unpredictability is terrifying when you’re already freaking out.
This isn’t all of the time, this is during the peak of anxiety right before and during an attack. I’m not crazy 24/7, no need to start a prayer chain for Kent’s well-being or sanity.
Another common misconception is there is one level on anxiety. There’s not. There are three main kinds. Typical, Generalized, and Severe.
With typical anxiety, everyone has experienced it, before a test, due to stress, things like that. It doesn’t last long and is easy to control. No medications at all required and generally no physical symptoms.
Generalized anxiety starts having physical symptoms like fatigue, nausea, and insomnia. Sometimes you can have heart racing and shakiness. This is when the worry progresses to everyday things. Medication would be considered, but not a certainty. You would want to consider therapy or counseling.
Severe anxiety brings the attacks, the shortness of breath, the chest pain and heart palpitations. Basically you constantly feel like you’re having a heart attack. Once I reached this point I asked for all of the medications and anything else they had. I had never experienced it this bad for this long and honestly I just don’t have time for it. I joke that I’ve had anxiety for so long, now its just become obsessed with me. I need a restraining order.
I have been dealing with this my whole life, so I do what I do best and try to find the humor in it. I have to I think. Even with everything anxiety brings, and it brings symptoms you wouldn’t even think of, like constant peeing, I still get things done. I still go to work, I still take care of my daughter, and have a healthy relationship with my boyfriend. I want to sit at home in the dark and watch Netflix and listen to Ray Lamontagne all day, but I don’t, I suck it up and get things done. It’s not always easy, and some days are better than others, but I don’t let it take more from me than it already has, and I think that’s some kind of victory.
I know where my stress and anxiety is currently coming from, the same thing that caused it to trigger last month. It’s nothing new, just a worsening environment I’m working to resolve. I know I’ll eventually slay this dragon, and then at some point there will be another one, but I’m only learning more ways to fight. So bring it…and the Xanax.