Stories, skills, and positivity- to anxiety sufferers from anxiety sufferers.
January 3rd, 2011 was like any other day. Nothing too eventful happened, but I remember cleaning out my closet with a friend and having a family dinner. I really wish I would have known what was about to happen because I would have seized the crap out of that day.
I still remember waking up in the early hours on the 4th of January, gasping for air, as if I’d been drowning in an ocean and somehow found my way to the top. I remember being terrified of what I had dreamt, which was odd because I never really had nightmares. I took a few minutes to calm down and decided to go back to sleep. I shut my eyes, but the terror had completely taken over me. I remember thinking my heart was going to explode it was beating so fast. For the rest of the night I was awake and in complete panic. I figured, if I could just get back to sleep, everything would be back to normal when I woke up. The problem was, I couldn’t sleep. I was awake for hours. I thought I was dying and told myself I would rather die when people were around, than alone in my room. Nothing was natural anymore, not even breathing. I would take these intensely deep breaths over and over again, hyperventilating. It was exhausting. In a month, I had lost 30 pounds, barely ate, and slept only a handful of hours.
As a kid, some would call me anxious. I remember thinking my house was haunted and that every creak I heard in the night was an axe murderer. I was convinced that every doctor visit would end with a terminal diagnosis. While it was true that I was anxious, I was a paradox because I also felt invincible, like nothing could get me.
After a few days of constant anxiety, I went to the doctor. The doctor asked me if anything had happened in the last couple months. I was in my final year of University and was feeling pretty confident, and I had great roommates and friends—things had been looking positive. He told me everything seemed fine, but had run a few tests, including a chest x-ray. I committed the cardinal sin of anxiety, and WebMD’d my symptoms. I was completely convinced I had heart failure. I couldn’t even bring myself to google heart failure so I was prepared to drop dead at any moment. I was so anxious on my way to the x-ray that I decided to walk the 1.5 hour trek home in a snowstorm, and I cried the entire way.
As the new semester started, my Dad drove me back to school. I began having a panic attack, when along with the classic symptoms of a panic attack, my face went numb and I couldn’t even feel my nose. It was the first time this had ever happened and it caused me to panic even more. I stayed at school for a couple days before my parents came to get me. I went back to the doctor and he prescribed me 18 tablets of anti-anxiety meds, and told me I’d be fine. He did suggest I take some of my final semester off, so he signed me out of school for a month. I felt abandoned and completely alone. Within a few months I remember watching tv after crying for hours, wondering how I would ever adjust to this new normal. I remember thinking I understood why some people choose to end their lives. Sometimes it becomes unbearable—the alternative seems more pleasant. This was rock bottom.
By this point I had already stopped doing things that seemed normal to me because of my anxiety. I wouldn’t take bus anywhere, let alone a plane. I remember almost passing out on the subway because I was panicking so much. Pretty much every activity I did caused me to have a panic attack, so I would say no. I couldn’t drive long distances without having major episodes. I couldn’t attend an immediate family member’s funeral because the idea of death scared me so much. Every few weeks a new symptom would arise. For weeks I couldn’t swallow food without being convinced I would choke. I would work myself up so much that I began avoiding a lot of solid food. At my final choir performance, my left arm was in so much pain, I was convinced I was having a stroke in front of the entire audience, and was wondering if I could make it through the song. For over two years I wasn’t sleeping properly, had brutal panic attacks almost daily, and lived with constant anxiety.
Eventually, I got sick of not actively participating in my life. I went to counselling a few times where I learned some strategies on how to deal with panic attacks. I began exercising and cut out the majority of caffeine and sugar I was consuming—things that worsened my nerves. I also stopped saying no to things because I was scared of panicking. I realized the worst that could happen would be a panic attack, and I knew that I could always get through them.
Over the last five years, I’ve had a lot of support. I learned a lot of my friends dealt with similar issues and talking to them helped a lot (although sometimes it didn’t help, and would actually trigger a panic attack). That said, I faced a lot of ignorance from people who didn’t understand. For instance I had an amended work schedule, because some days at work were very hard. A lot of my colleagues would make fun of me and would say it was all crap. That was really hard to deal with because there wasn’t much I could show them to prove that it was real. But that’s the problem with mental illness, right? People only tend to believe what they can see. That was probably the most frustrating part. I don’t know how many times I would explain to people how it feels like your body is playing tricks on you and how I would never wish this on anyone. My anxiety became the punch line to a lot of jokes, but to me, it reinforced just how important it is for people to share their stories.
I spent a lot of the past five years wishing to go back to January 3rd, 2011. I often thought that I would trade anything in the world to take back that one night. The truth is, at this point in my life, I wouldn’t want to go back. While my anxiety almost destroyed my life, it gave me so much more. It made me more compassionate and understanding of others who are facing similar struggles, and it motivated me to do something to change myself. Mostly, it taught me more about myself than I ever knew—how strong I actually am. It made me extra grateful for the things I was able to accomplish because at times they seemed impossible. I still struggle with panic and anxiety every day, but it’s nothing compared to what it was. I learned to manage it and found ways to bring myself out of it. I decided almost two years ago that I would let anxiety exist within me—but not control me, and every day it gets better.
11/17/2015 01:30:48 pm
Thanks for sharing your story Carolyn. It is amazing what being open with others can do!
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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.