I talk a lot about depression, and while that’s important, my anxiety can be just as debilitating, if not more. And if you’re (un)lucky like me, they go hand-in-hand.
When I think back, I can remember having anxiety as young as 12 years old. I can remember having intrusive thoughts about my family dying and I would be obsessively praying they wouldn’t. I also watched The Weather Channel around the clock because I had developed a phobia of storms. I’d watch even if it was good weather. When it would storm, I would get a stomachache and pray over and over.
My anxiety went largely untreated until after I had kids. After my first child, my anxiety manifested itself in weird ways, and if you would’ve asked my then if I had anxiety, I would’ve told you it was just fine. But I wasn’t. When Isla was born I freaked out about the temperature of every room in the house. I had read an article about the “ideal temperature” for babies and couldn’t help but worry about it. I bought little thermometers for each room the baby would be in at any point in the day and adjusted the air/heat accordingly.
I also obsessed over breastfeeding. I kept a detailed log on when I fed Isla and which breast I used and for how long. I kept it for the entire eight months I breastfed. I logged her diapers, too whether it was wet or poopy and how many times throughout the day. I did that for an entire year. That embarrasses me now but anxiety will do what anxiety does — makes you obsessed, worrying about things that aren’t always worth worrying about. But the thing is you can’t stop.
I obsessed over the baby monitor, watching it until I couldn’t stay away any longer. I worried about how loud or quiet the sound machine was and if David and I were too loud downstairs. You’d think as my kids got older I would relax a little but you’d be wrong.
Loud noises would freak me out and it’s still a trigger to this day. I don’t really obsess about those little things anymore but my anxiety is still here and at an all-time high because of the coronavirus. I have panic attacks, some that work me into a complete frenzy. I still feel panic and dread on Sunday nights, like when I was a kid. Sometimes I create problems in my head that aren’t real problems — like someone is mad at me and I worry about thinks I did or said to make them feel that way. My imagination runs away from me and I usually let it.
My anxiety gets really bad around the time of an ECT treatment. It stresses me out to think about going under general anesthesia and I have to talk myself down beforehand. My anxiety hasn’t gotten any better, even after having about 20 treatments.
I take meds for my anxiety and I try to employ coping skills that I’ve picked up in therapy but sometimes it still gets to me. Little things like taking a shower stress me out but I have no idea why. I think that’s what bothers me most — there’s no rhyme or reason to it and it’s hard to control.
A couple of weeks ago I had an anxiety attack at the dentist (which has never happened before). I was supposed to get some fillings replaced but before they could get started I panicked as they put the nitrous gas mask over my nose. It was embarrassing how much I cried but I couldn’t do anything about it.
A lot of people experience anxiety. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, more than 40 million Americans have an anxiety disorder. There are different types, such as Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder and Phobias. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S. Half of people with depression are also diagnosed with anxiety.
I’m lucky to have a great therapist and psychiatrist who help me deal but only one-third of those suffering with anxiety are treated. Medication and talk therapy can help manage anxiety. I depend a lot on my medication but they only do so much. I have a list of coping skills I use, read more about that here. It’s also important for me to keep a schedule/routine. Interruptions can be a huge trigger, which is why it’s so hard right now with coronavirus. It’s also crucial that I question my thinking when I get caught in a cycle of negative thinking. I ask myself if my thoughts are true and if I’m being realistic or catastrophizing.
Aside from that my other triggers include interrupted/not enough sleep, socializing, traveling and loud noises. When I’m triggered by these things, an attack can feel like someone sitting on my chest. I sweat, shake and can even work myself up to being hysterical if it’s really bad. At times, I feel like throwing up and that I have a million butterflies in my stomach.
Sometimes anxiety attacks can feel like something else, so here’s a list of symptoms you could possibly experience:
- a feeling of impending doom
- a feeling you are in danger
- heart palpitations
- chest pressure
Anxiety is so difficult to manage. I’ve been dealing with it since I was a kid, so I get that it’s not easy. Nothing is easy when it comes to mental illness. But I think the best thing to do is talk about it. I mean, 40 million Americans have it but it’s not widely understood and doctors don’t always screen for it and some don’t even accurately diagnose it. We need to keep the conversation going until it’s normalized — and that goes for all mental illness.