Why Are You Telling People This?!
One of the very first rules of writing is to “write what you know.” So when I got serious about starting a blog, I made a short list of things I knew a lot about. One of those things was anxiety.
I know what you may be thinking — why would anyone want to write about something so complex and potentially embarrassing? And why make it public?
When I was in my early twenties, I probably would have asked myself the same question. Having anxiety has been one of the most frustrating and embarrassing aspects of my life. And up until several years ago, I did everything in my power to hide it from people, even those closest to me. Then I realized that I was never hiding it at all.
It’s no secret that I wear my heart on my sleeve, and this is true for both positive and negative emotions. So when something unpleasant or downright sad or scary happens, I can’t mask my reaction. While I never really talked about my panic attacks, it wasn’t a secret either. For years, they were happening in school, with friends, and at work. I never named them because I figured that I was the only person on earth who felt this way.
Anxiety has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I have a very distinct memory of being in first grade, dressed in my plaid Catholic school girl uniform, walking from the school to the cafeteria, suffering a panic attack as my teacher tried to calm me down. I was crying, hiccupping, and trying to catch my breath over something that was probably trivial, even to a six year old. While I’m sure my teacher uttered numerous calming and encouraging words, the ones I remember hearing were, “You have to stop worrying so much. You’ll give yourself an ulcer!”
Great, I remember thinking. Now I have to worry about getting an ulcer too . . . what’s an ulcer?
My mind continued on this pattern for the next twenty-five years. And I’m still fighting it on an almost daily basis!
So why am I sharing this? Because I now know that there are other people out there who are dealing with the same thing. And I don’t want anyone to be alone!
Work in Progress
Let me be clear – my anxiety is far from cured and I do not have all the answers. I’m not blogging about anxiety because I have some magic remedy or cure to stop the racing thoughts, pounding heart, and unfound fears. I’m blogging about it because I’m not trying to hide it any more. Yes, at times it is still horribly embarrassing and I would do almost anything to never have to deal with it again. But I want to be open and honest about it so people can at least try to understand what is happening. And maybe other people dealing with anxiety can find some hope (or at least companionship) in reading about someone else’s struggles.
Another thing I have to make perfectly clear is the fact that my anxiety hasn’t been steadily getting worse or better. There have been times in my life where I’ve gone years without having a panic attack. In high school, I was in such an amazing place in my life that I blew off insults, laughed at unexpected problems, and had sky-high confidence.
Then there was that time where I missed a doctor’s appointment because of a water main break. One of the roads on my route to the office was closed due to the break, and I couldn’t find a detour, so I simply pulled over in the middle of the ghetto and sobbed uncontrollably until my appointment time (and the attack) had passed.
I still can’t drive on the highway (the ½ mile on ramp between Squirrel Hill and Oakland totally doesn’t count), I need a Xanax to visit the dentist and board a plane, and even though I love the beach, I am convinced that Jaws is lurking beneath the waves waiting just for me.
But there are some positives – everyone I know is aware of my anxiety. My family knows, my husband knows, my co-workers and managers know, hell, even my dog knows. I don’t use it an excuse, but it is a very real thing that sometimes limits my ability to work, love, play, and be productive. I can only thank these current people in my life for having the patience of gods and goddesses for hanging in there with me.
Light at the End of the Tunnel
Another good thing about this journey is that I know when a panic attack is happening. While being aware of the situation doesn’t always make the actual experience easier to deal with, I am noticing that while the heavy breathing, tears, and spiraling thoughts are commencing, there is a teeny, tiny, itty bitty part of my brain that knows this will pass. Most times that part of my brain is the equivalent of an amoeba trying to take on a great white shark on steroids, but it’s there.
Maybe the most encouraging recent development has come from my dad. While I didn’t realize it until I was well into my teens, my dad had been struggling with panic attacks, depression, and anxiety his entire life. I won’t go into all the ugly details, but suffice to say that there have been multiple times in the last twenty or so years that he was in a horribly dark place. And it’s only been within the last decade that he’s made such amazing progress that he has all but declared himself free of this beast. Although he admits that it took him nearly fifty years to get to the place he is now, the fact that he got there at all is proof to me that it is actually possible to overcome this monster, no matter how overwhelming it seems.
So I want to start sharing my experiences with anxiety with all of you. At times it will be embarrassing for me, but I’m going to do my best to push through that with some humor. My hope is that by documenting these episodes and looking back on them, I’ll understand them better. And maybe people around me will understand them better too. But the most important thing I hope to achieve by putting this “out there” is to connect with others dealing with anxiety. It can be a lonely, scary place. And sometimes just knowing that someone else is wrestling with the same monster can ease the burden a little bit.