Let's Talk About Anxiety- My Story

When I sat down with the therapist for the first time she asked me, "When do you first remember having these feelings of anxiety?" 

I had to think about it for a minute, but I have memories as early as 5th grade. I cried every single day of 5th grade. I came up with coping strategies that were ridiculous, like listening to Disneyland music on the way to school and pretending I was on the monorail and not a bus leading to my own personal hell. It was ridiculous, but it worked. 

Once I got to school I'd think to myself, "This really isn't as bad as I thought it would be, I'm OK, some of this is actually fun!" And then the next day it would start all over and the terror would hit. I didn't realize I was having issues, it was just my reality.

The best description I've heard for anxiety is this: "It is your brain confusing responding to an email, with getting chased by a hungry lion." It's funny, but it's true. And the chemicals in your brain don't know the difference. 

I fared pretty well in junior high and high school. Even though school wasn't super easy, I did well. I had good friends and I was really good at taking care of myself. I loved my curfew on the weekends because it meant I could come home and go to bed on time, I didn't realize at the time it was because unconsciously I knew that getting too little of sleep left me highly susceptible to my disorder. I was taking care of myself physically, participating in soccer, dance, cheer, gymnastics, etc. I completely forgot about the issues I had in 5th grade. 

Then college came. This time I didn't have a curfew set by my parents, so it got harder to say no when people wanted to stay out late. I stopped working out, I started eating a lot of junk food because that's just what you do in college! I remember joking with my friends and telling them once a month I just needed a good cry to cry out all the stress, fear and frustration that had been building up over the month. Surprisingly the cry never coincided with PMS, it just would randomly hit. I'd tell my roommates and friends I didn't feel well, and then cry all night. In the bathtub, in my bedroom, and silently in bed while my roommate slept. I'd struggle to breathe, I'd get dizzy and fall on the floor, I'd dry heave as if my body was trying to purge the feelings, I'd either over-eat or under-eat. I'd cry until I felt numb. And then the next day it would all go back to normal. 

After getting married, things worsened. I lost all of my friends, I struggled to make new ones, I gained weight and fell into a Binge-Eating Disorder. I'd get home from school/work and eat and eat and eat until I was sick. It felt good to eat, it was a release from the stress. I remember the night I went to Smith's, bought cupcakes and came home and ate almost all of them. When I finished eating them I realized I had no recollection of eating them all. No memory of it. It just happened, my body took over and ate them all and I was unaware. I hid them in the outside trash can so my husband wouldn't know. The next day I confessed and cried. I told him I had a problem and I was pretty sure I needed help. Only, I didn't get help. And it only got worse. 

Panic attacks became more regular. My triggers were usually a silly argument with my husband that I would blow out of proportion. Many of these episodes I have very few memories of. I'd remember my husband coming in to me and holding me and telling me to focus on the air, to breathe it in and out. He'd tell me he'd love me and that I was gonna be okay, that we were gonna be okay. 

The panic attacks went from happening once every few months, to once a month, to once a week, and then to multiple ones weekly. It started getting scary. 

One night, I heard my cat come in the doggy door and started to panic. Now, my cats have a bad habit of bringing things into our home. Mice, birds (dead AND alive), and even snakes... so the fear was valid. However, even once I saw she hadn't brought anything in, I continued to worry. I worried myself sick. At 3 AM I was still lying there awake after 5 hours of trying to sleep. I ended up getting up and went to my home salon to clean. I had nothing better to do in the middle of the night after all. At this point I started crying. I began to fall into darkness. That's the best way I can describe it. It's darkness that feels never-ending, like you might not make it out alive. 

My husband came in around 3:45 after hearing my crying and I could see how scared he was. He asked me what was wrong. I remember nothing after that. The last thing I remember was he eventually gave me a priesthood blessing and took me back to bed. I fell asleep around 6:30 am.

The next day I told him I was ready to get help. I scheduled time with a therapist and a doctor.

In April 2016 I was diagnosed with GAD (Generalized Anxiety Disorder), Depression, Panic Disorder, and PTSD from two different experiences. (One was a car accident, and one was this experience in a movie theater) 

I went to therapy a few times with two different therapists before we moved. It was helpful,  I felt validated and understood. It was good to know I wasn't just crazy.

I got on an anxiety medication that helped significantly. I have not had a panic attack since. 

A few months later I met with my doctor to talk about the medication. When I explained to her how much I had improved she asked me what symptoms I still had. I chatted with her about the fear, the worry, the sleeplessness, the constant tightness in my chest, clenched jaws, awful bowel movements, my avoidance of freeways, taking off work because I couldn't cope, etc. She told me, "If this is an improvement, I can only imagine how horrible you must have felt prior to medication. I want you to love your life again." I was prescribed emergency Xanax (which I have used twice since and was SO grateful for it!) and we upped my dose on my daily medication. 

I started doing yoga at home and now at a gym. I started meditating multiple times a week using the app called Stop, Think, Breathe. I plan nights for me to stay home. I don't over-commit myself. I give myself grace when I fail. And I still have hard days. I checked out lots of books from the library about mental illness and even purchased a few from Amazon. I learned A LOT that has helped me come up with my own "treatment plan" that doesn't just include medication.

Dealing with anxiety is something many people have to do every day. It is really a process of trial-and-error to figure out what works for you. I wanted to avoid medication at first, but now I am SO glad I got on it, I finally feel pretty normal. 

Some days I wake up with the feelings of fear. The kind that make me want to curl back under the covers and never get out. Sometimes I still blow fights with my husband out of proportion, but now I can give myself a 15 minute break, shed a couple of tears and then we can make up. It doesn't take 4 hours to calm me down anymore. 

I wanted to write this post so you could understand a little more about anxiety/mental illness. It looks SO different for so many people. But this is what it looks like for me. If you have your own mental illness, I wrote this to encourage you to seek help. Therapy helped me for awhile, and then I felt okay without it, and instead gave time to other things (like reading, yoga, mediation, early bedtimes, temple trips, etc). I gave up gluten, which didn't make a difference. And have now given up meat (which HAS made a big difference!). I drink more water, and less caffeine. I try to put  my phone down more often and focus on reality. 

I chose to not write about the physical/medical side of anxiety in this post. I've learned so much about the different chemicals/hormones in our brains, the stress cycle and what causes anxiety, however, I didn't want to cover that today, this post is long enough! But knowledge is power! Learning more about my illnesses has helped me in unimaginable ways. 

I hope you find the strength to make your life something you love. I hope you accept help from others, even if you do not have a mental illness of your own. I hope you know, in those darkest moments, when you almost hope you don't make it out alive because the pain and turmoil is too much to bear, that you are loved. You are important. You make a difference. You are NOT defined by any illness, and most definitely not a sickness in your brain. 

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Ashley Ziegler said...

I think I started experiencing anxiety and depression in junior high but didn't recognize it as that.. it definitely hit me my senior year of high school and now more so than ever. My triggers are usually work or overwhelming amount of editing, homework, reading, etc.

Day by day!

Bailey @ Becoming Bailey said...

I don't usually comment on your blog, but I truly believe the Lord led me to this post. I've been struggling with depression and had to go back on medicine. Thank you for reminding me that my life is worth it.

Tayler Morrell said...

I grew up with a mom who suffered from anxiety. When I went to college, she finally got some help, went to therapy, and got medication...it was hard because my dad (a Marine) was stationed at the worst place ever--Barstow, CA, the middle of nowhere desert and my family hated living there, and my sister, in high school, was barely being diagnosed with ADD.

I had also suffered from anxiety throughout my life, but never really had panic attacks. My mom would call me (and herself, and my sister) a stress-cookie. I thought we were just more susceptible to stress. I had a few panic attacks every year at college. Justine witnessed his first one right after we were engaged, at around 9 pm one night during my last semester of school. After crying to him for about 30 minutes, he took me to see Hunger Games at the dollar theatre (even though it was super late) because he knew I really wanted to see it and thought it would help take my mind off things. He went into our marriage knowing this could happen. And, it would every few months. It got really bad right before I had Rhys because Justin was about to graduate, with no job, I was going down to part-time teacher the next school year and would be losing insurance and half our income, we didn't have a place to live that would fit Rhys and I was 8.5 months pregnant. That was my first falling to the floor, barely able to breathe, hyperventilating, rocking back and forth panic attack.

I didn't realize it the whole first year Rhys was born, but I was suffering from Postpartum Depression which exacerbated my anxiety, and vice versa. I felt like a terrible mother, wife, and teacher and I barely smiled anymore (even though Rhys would always make me smile). I hated how I felt and my panic attacks were worse and sometimes (ok, a lot of times) I'd lash out at my students, and I hated that and I so regret it. They didn't deserve that. Finally, I my mom told me I should talk to my doctor and she went with me. My sister (the ADD one) had just barely been diagnosed with hyperthyroidism after two years of mental health/physical health issues, so we thought maybe that was the cause. Thankfully, my thyroid is just fine. But, I definitely did have PPD and GAD. So, since June 2015, I have been on a the lowest dosage of Zoloft.

I've decided to stay on it during this pregnancy after talks with two different OB's, as well as my super brilliant doctor cousin, who said it'd be better for me to be mentally healthy for the physical health of this baby to stay on it. But, that's why I haven't upped the dosage, even though I probably should've during the summer. I've had a few more panic attacks...one or two of the drop to the floor ones, but mainly they've been retreat like ones--stay in bed all day and do nothing.

By the way, my mom is still on her anxiety medication, I'm on mine, my sister is still on her thyroid medication which helps anxiety, and now my 16 year old sister was just diagnosed with GAD and put on medication...so I guess it's genetic in my family!

Lauren @ Lot Forty Eight said...

You're really brave for posting this.