It’s been a couple of months since I’ve written an anxiety-themed post. This is probably because, for the most part, my own anxiety has been relatively well controlled lately, something I still have trouble believing.
But I know there are people out there who are still caught in the throes of anxiety. I know there are still people who are terrified as soon as their alarm goes off in the morning, people who sit in their cars and cry during their lunch breaks, who are overwhelmed with treatment and medication options, who want to accomplish SO MUCH . . . if only they didn’t feel like their heart was going to explode every other minute. Because I’ve been there. I have experienced every single one of these symptoms listed in the last sentence. And I’ve read paragraphs like the one prior to this one and thought, “What if I never get there? What if I never feel better?” I have lain awake at night for hours wondering, terrified . . . what if I spend the rest of my life in a constant state of fear and anxiety?
Questions like these led me into depression on several occasions in my life. The anxiety was so overwhelming, so debilitating, that I couldn’t see living life any other way. And those thoughts left me so unbelievably sad that I ended up depressed. I tried therapists, Zoloft, yoga, Paxil, meditation, Prozac, self-help books, Celexa, deep breathing, Lexapro – nothing worked for longer than a year or two at best. Somehow I always ended up back where I started – in a crying heap on the floor, terrified of every coming second in my life, wondering what I was doing wrong and if I would ever crawl out of this hole.
Over the years I read stories about celebrities and everyday people who somehow managed to conquer their anxiety, usually with one or several of the methods mentioned above. But these success stories only made me feel worse – what was I doing wrong? Why couldn’t I accomplish what they did? What if I wasn’t fixable?
My answer didn’t come until February of 2017 when I started EMDR therapy, which I blogged about here. This has has been the single most effective form of therapy I’ve ever tried and it has allowed me to focus on things in my life that I’ve always wanted to do, but couldn’t because of my anxiety.
Although I strongly recommend EMDR therapy, this post isn’t claiming that it’s going to work for everyone. But now that I’ve found something that works for me, I want to encourage people to not give up. Keep working, keep fighting, keep trying until you find what works for you. I know it’s frustrating and infuriating. I know it feels hopeless and overwhelming. I know you feel like a freak and a failure because I’ve been there. But I promise you – there is another side to this. You will find something that works for you. It may be a medication you haven’t tried before. It may be a new therapist or meditation or Zumba or aromatherapy or acupuncture. Just please don’t give up.
I don’t have all the answers. I’m not cured. But I am so much better than where I was even two years ago it’s unbelievable. I never in a million years would have thought I could write a blog like this from such a positive place. I never thought I’d have this much hope. I never thought anyone would come to me for advice or that I’d feel confident enough to give it.
There is no “one size fits all” way to handle (or maybe even overcome) anxiety. Annoyingly, it takes years of trial and error to find what works for you — and it may not be one singular thing that helps, but a combination of various things. I spent most of my life being terrified that I’d never find any answers. And part of me is still really nervous that this is all just a temporary thing and one day the rug is going to get pulled out from under me and I’ll find myself back at square one.
But for now, things are better than they’ve been in a long time. I encourage, I beg, I plead with you to hope for and work towards a future when you’ll feel the same. Because it IS possible!
I leave you with a list of things that have helped me make significant progress in my ongoing battle with anxiety:
- EMDR Therapy (for a full description, read this post)
- Buspar: Of all the medications I’ve tried, it’s been the most effective with the least amount of side effects. I think it’s a relatively uncommon anxiety drug because some doctors don’t seem to know much about it, but it’s been the only one I can tolerate after years of yo-yo-ing with other medications.
- Limiting my caffeine intake: I know, I know. It’s TOUGH. While I’ve never been much of a coffee drinker, I do enjoy the occasional mocha, Chai tea latte, or unsweetened iced tea. But the fact of the matter is that my daily caffeine intake, however small, was contributing to the racing heart, shaky hands, and out of control thoughts. I cut back to only enjoy the aforementioned beverages on the weekends, and it REALLY made a difference.
- A Diffuser: I’ve been reading about the benefits of essential oils for a few years, and now that diffusers are wildly popular, I asked for one for Christmas. Mine is cute and compact and I use it almost every night. Not only do the soothing scents of lavender, orange, and frankincense lull me to sleep, but I honestly believe that they really help me wake up feeling more relaxed and energized.
- A Happy Light: Various therapists have suggested getting one of these over the years, but I seriously doubted its effectiveness. But living in Pittsburgh for thirty-three years makes one desperate for any type of sunlight, even if it’s artificial, so I bought this one on Amazon. I use it for about 10-15 minutes every morning while I’m eating my breakfast, and honestly, I noticed a difference within a matter of days. It really cuts down on my irritability and gives me a bit more energy, especially in the ugly winter months.
- Be extremely disciplined with news and social media. Being informed and educated is important, but learn to recognize when too much bad news is getting to you and set limits.
Do the same for social media – don’t spend your time or energy arguing with strangers or posting negative memes. Spend that energy sharing positive stuff instead!
I hope this gives all my fellow anxiety battlers hope to keep on keeping on!