Anxiety not just all in your mind

Shortly after I turned 30 I remember thinking that there was something physically wrong with me. I just didn’t feel right. I was confused and worried about what it could be. I saw a doctor. She performed a complete physical on me. She asked me what my symptoms were. I proceeded to list them. I feel nauseous. I feel like I’m going to pass out. I feel my heart racing and it feels like it’s going to blast out of my chest at any given moment. I was sure I had a disease.

I remembered that I was careful to list off any nagging feeling that had plagued me. I was sure she was going to tell me that something was wrong with me. Instead she told me I was in picture-perfect health. There is nothing wrong with you, she told me… physically.

Discouragement swept over me. Something was wrong… I told her. Instead, she recommended that I see a therapist. I thought at the time, that there must be something wrong. I need a shrink?? A head doctor? Come on, doc, I’m not crazy! Check me out again, it’s got to be something. Maybe I need a second opinion? I was certain she had missed something.

When she assured me that it seemed to be “all in my head” I made the call, and started a relationship with a therapist who diagnosed me with generalized anxiety disorder. She told me the symptoms that I was having were related to panic attacks. At the time I was having them at least once a day, sometimes more.

At any given moment I could have an attack. I remember being in a crowded restaurant and feeling that hot flash all the way down my body. This wave of dizziness would travel from my head, and it seemed to rush all through my body. I cannot tell you how many restaurants or movies, that I had to leave because of this feeling. Fight or flight, I remember this is what my therapist called it.

My therapist wondered if I was having any stress in my life. Anything to make me feel anxious?  Where should I start, I thought.

anxietyattacks

I was prescribed drugs. I took Xanax daily and washed it down with beer. Anything that I could pump into my body that would take away the fight and flight. I drank quite a bit back then. I drank because it made me feel more comfortable and at ease in social situations. At first, I thought my anxiety disorder was a more social anxiety disorder, and as long as I took my Xanax and washed it down with those beers I could hang with it.

When I started having panic attacks in the car while driving, I realized that I would have to consider other ways to deal with it. I remember a friend once told me that she heard vocal lessons, where you focused on breathing, was helpful. So, I started voice lessons. Why not, I said to myself? I was always told I had a good singing voice. Maybe this would kill two birds with one stone. I would become the next Gwen Stefani and front my very own rock band, while smothering this anxiety and burying it for the rest of my life.

Slowly, the breathing helped a bit, as did a regular exercise routine. I started counseling and confronted that massive pile of stress from my messed up life.

I erased the Xanax from my life, as well as the alcohol.

The panic attacks didn’t go away for good. In fact, to this day I still have one on occasion, but I know how to deal with them. Instead of running away from them, I actually embrace the symptoms. I stop whatever I’m doing, acknowledge all of my feelings, and stay in the present moment as each fight or flight feeling travels through my entire body.

I realized it wasn’t “all in my head.” My body is interconnected. My brain, my heart, my soul, my feelings are as interwoven as strands of a rope. My disorder was real, something was wrong with me — the whole me — and yet I was still OK. In fact, I was on the road to being better, which was why I went to the doctor for a physical in the first place. It wasn’t something I could just “stop thinking about” as people would tell. I had to deal with it and I did.

For those of us who suffer from a generalized anxiety or panic disorder (which I do), you might be able to relate to this article. I found it very accurate for me personally.

What I want to say to those that may be suffering, is that you are not “crazy.” Most importantly, you are not alone, AND you can manage them.

My advice:

  • Get a physical so you can erase doubt that you may have a disease.
  • Talk to a professional. They have tools that can help you deal in your day to day battle.
  • Tell your family and friends. A good support system is crucial to help you manage.
  • Exercise regularly and practice yoga for the meditation, wellness and breathing benefits.
  • Most importantly: Love yourself, because you are good enough!
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