Stories, skills, and positivity- to anxiety sufferers from anxiety sufferers.
As far back as I can remember I've always been a social butterfly. I was always talking with someone, going somewhere with my friends, and even my jobs were based on being around lots of people. So to suddenly be crippled with anxiety, depression with bouts of agoraphobia, I was pretty shocked to see my whole life just fall apart right in front of me.
I was in my second year of college when I started to see symptoms of anxiety and depression. I had gotten sick with mono and missed so much school. Then weeks later, when I still wasn't getting better, it was discovered that I had a thyroid problem. A small gland was causing a huge problem. By this time I was physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted. I had spent my entire second year of college sick. It ended with failing grades. I felt like a total failure. I felt so pathetic. I thought I had wasted time, money, effort and that I had disappointed several people, most of all myself. I didn't have control of what had happened and that really bothered me. I let it get to me. I spoke to my Doctor and I was put on a low dose medication to help my depression until I got back on my feet. I didn't take them long. I didn't feel they were helping. I didn't like how they made me feel or didn't feel for that matter. So I just stopped taking them. I managed to cope for a couple of years. I found a job that paid great. I had been with my boyfriend for a few years at this point, and we lived together and started planning our future. I thought all was well and the past was behind me.
Then, when I was 24 I experienced my first panic attack. I was in a grocery store, my cart was full. I was just grabbing the last things on my list. I had been feeling stressed all that week. We were having company that weekend. I just wanted it all to be perfect. I wanted to be perfect! Suddenly I felt light headed and broke out into a cold sweat, then became nauseous. I felt very short of breath and had some chest pains, I thought "if I take one more breath I'm positive my heart is going to explode!" I was sure I was having a heart attack. Then another customer gave me a concerned look and asked "Miss, are you alright?” It was obvious to me I was going to have a heart attack and die at age 24 in the middle of the produce department. How embarrassing would that be?! How was this happening? What do I do? So I did what any person would do in this situation, I abandoned my full cart and fled to the parking lot into the safety of my car. Once in my car I was able to catch my breath and calm down after a few minutes. I had no idea what had just happened. I was so scared and humiliated to go back in.
When I went to see my doctor, anxiety wasn't what we looked into. They were looking into blood pressure and heart problems. They checked my thyroid again, which didn't conclude anything. Prior to the panic attacks happening things had been building. I had been turning a blind eye to many warning signs and symptoms of anxiety. I simply just chalked it up to something else. Then things really started to spiral out of control. I wasn't sleeping at all, I spent most of the night with these snow balling thoughts that wouldn't stop, and worries that left me feeling sick. I cried a lot at night. With little sleep, mornings were awful. I was getting horrible migraines, body aches and felt nauseous. It constantly felt as if I was getting sick all over again. The thought scared me. I was missing work and being social with family and friends felt like such a chore. I didn't want to leave my apartment once I had had a few panic attacks in public. So, I stayed in. I felt like a hermit. I felt trapped. If I was going to go out, everything had to be planned ahead in my head down to the very last detail. I had to think of every possible interaction and outcome. I didn't want to put myself in a situation that might cause a panic attac. I wasn't really sure what, in fact, had brought on my panic attacks to begin with. Even then I would make up an excuse, cancel, or back out of plans last minute because I just didn't want to deal with the "what ifs" and the chance I could have a panic attack. I would then feel the terrible guilt of lying and letting people down, and the anxiety would just take over. It's was a horrible cycle I had gotten myself into.
This went on for a few years. At this point I no longer was able to work, many of my relationships were strained and I was feeling like a complete failure. I looked at my friends and family that were my age and couldn't figure out why I wasn't "normal" like them. I didn't know what I had done or what was wrong with me that I couldn't function like every other adult. I was on several different medications, which meant taking those medications several times a day. I saw some therapists and doctors but they all said there was something else wrong, referred me some place else, and I was given another prescription. I was numb, unhappy, manic and a shell of my former self. On a daily basis I took a lovely medication cocktail to make me "happy". It wasn't working and I was tired of hiding it. I was tired of putting on this "everything is perfectly fine" face, when I was feeling far from it.
I knew I wanted to change. I knew I had goals I wanted to accomplish and that I wasn't living the life I wanted. So I decided that enough was enough. I needed better help. I found a new family doctor and she helped me slowly wean off of some of my medications. I went to talk to a psychiatrist who specialized in my areas of anxiety and depression. I read up on my illness and learned that it was a very common issue, one that no one talks about. I opened up to family and friends and asked for help when I needed it. The more I knew, the more I was aware of what was causing me to have these thoughts and feelings. I started to realize the triggers, and I was able to learn tricks to cope with them. I started to remove myself off of all of my anxiety and depression medications with the help of my doctor. The process of going off all that medication was a horrible experience. It was several months of detoxing. Some meds were easier than others to go off of. I have often said I would gladly take morning sickness again over weaning off my meds. Oddly enough both situations gave me new life and a reason to fight.
Getting off of all those medications was truly the best choice for me. I was scared at first to be off everything. I didn't know if I would be a different person or like the "new" me. But, I am different in a good way, I'm also older, I’ve had new life experiences and I've grown. I love who I've become! Through these last 4 years I still experience anxiety. I haven't experienced any panic attacks, but anxiety does check in here and there. I understand it more now and so the fear of the unknown doesn't take over like it used to. I understand now that there is help, assistance and support out there and around me if it's needed, and this time I'm not afraid or embarrassed to ask for it. I won't let anxiety define who I am. I am so much more than the anxiety. I think people have to remember that, anxiety isn't who you are. While anxiety hasn't been my favorite life experience it's certainly helped me see the person that I want to be.
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Katie McLean holds a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, and bases her anxiety aid in personal experience, as well as techniques that have been passed on to her by counsellors, friends, and fellow anxiety sufferers.