Maybe you’ve never met me. Maybe you know me well.
Maybe you’re not familiar with me. Or maybe you’d never tell.
Maybe you know someone who knows me. Maybe you’ve come across me once or twice. Maybe you hate me; wish you’d never known me. Maybe I’m attached to you, tightly like a vice.
Maybe I’m with you daily,
Something you just can’t shake.
Maybe I haunt your dreams,
Then with you again, as soon as you wake.
Maybe I am the increased heart rate,
That quickens your breath and tightens your chest. Maybe I am the nausea and lightheadedness, That stops you feeling and doing your best.
Maybe I am those irrational thoughts,
That flood your mind and confuse your thinking. Maybe I am the shaking hands and mumbled words, The gaping hole into which you feel you’re sinking.
Regardless of how much you bother me,
How much you like to control some of the things I do. I know what triggers your presence now,
And I understand what makes you, you.
I know you’ve caused some damage, But I know the damage will heal.
I know I never chose you,
But I definitely know you’re real.
I know you can be managed,
You can be tamed, treated and set free. I know that you are anxiety,
But I also know that anxiety is not me.
My name is Linda. I have anxiety, but anxiety is not me. It is a part of me, but it does not define me.
In the beginning.
I was always an anxious child; I hated change, I loved routine, I would worry incessantly and I was a perfectionist. Without realising it, I have probably suffered with anxiety for as long as I can remember, but it wasn’t diagnosed until my late twenties. I am now thirty-four.
Over the years my anxiety has manifested in a number of different ways.
I experienced my first ever stress-induced migraine when I was in Grade 5; I was 10 years old. After feeling numbness on the right side of my body and having slurred speech, I was taken straight to the emergency department. Thankfully, stroke was ruled out, but I have suffered migraines ever since.
Throughout my high school and university years, my anxiety manifested as obsessive compulsive behaviours – excessive hand washing, routines and checking things due to paranoias and superstitions. Most of these ‘routines’ were completed in secret (more from embarrassment than anything else), but thankfully over the years, they have subsided.
Then, in the later years of my teaching career, the world as I knew it completely changed.
After 6 years of primary school teaching, I was questioning whether I wanted this to be my ‘forever job’. As much as I loved being a classroom teacher, I felt like I wanted to experience new opportunities. I just couldn’t put my finger on what I wanted to do instead.
I went to my former principal for advice, chat to my current principal at the time about how I was feeling, and also consulted a life coach. I came to the decision that I would apply for a teaching position in a secondary school, to see if this was the new path I was searching for.
In the end, I never had the chance to find out.
In early 2010, with a very heavy heart, I resigned from my teaching career due to severe anxiety and panic attacks.
I think the unknown (or even the known – the fact I wanted to change career paths) set off my anxiety without me realising it.
My anxiety and panic attacks became so severe that I was house bound for almost a year. Everything I knew – my daily routines, my thoughts, my feelings – they all changed. I was losing control. I was no longer me. I had no purpose. No reason to
get up in the morning. I was in a very dark place.
I spent almost every day on the couch in front of the TV. I watched the same TV shows every day. I had breakfast, lunch and dinner at the same time every day. I had formed new routines, but they were not routines I wanted.
Because my anxiety was causing so many physiological symptoms, I was too scared to leave the house alone. Some days I was too scared to be alone in our home while my husband was at work. I worried that panic would set in and there would be no one around to help me.
I was always lightheaded but in a way I’d never experienced before. I felt like my head was in the clouds; like it was hovering over my shoulders, floating. I initially thought it was blood pressure related, but every time my blood pressure was tested, there was no need for concern.
I experienced nausea on a daily basis, too. I was always hungry. I knew my nausea would pass once I ate, but I found it difficult to swallow and push past the nausea. It was a vicious cycle. My nausea would wake me during the night, too. I had a container of crackers by my bed so I could have midnight snacks without getting up.
Surprisingly, I was able to sleep well most nights. Unless I had an appointment the next day; then it would take me hours to fall asleep. And knowing I wasn’t yet asleep made me even more anxious. I heard every noise. I felt every movement as my husband rolled over in bed. I counted every hour until my alarm would sound.
I also experienced vertigo on occasion, which was triggered by my anxiety. This was usually on the day of, or the day after, a major event or outing. For days before the event I would work myself up. Irrational thoughts would fill my head. I would worry incessantly and I was panic ridden.
The actual panic attacks were what bothered me the most. They were triggered by a number of things – being alone, going to the supermarket, being in warm environments, standing for too long, having a steamy shower, driving over bridges, being in elevators, driving in unfamiliar streets and driving on freeways.
My panic attacks would start with an elevated heart rate, then quick breathing which resulted in lightheadedness. This would then lead to nausea and my stomach would drop. Cold shivers would run across my body, all while feeling clammy and sweaty. My body would shake involuntarily and my mind would be racing. I couldn’t process my thoughts. I couldn’t think clearly. And I spoke with panic and desperation.
Then I would cry. I would cry out of sheer frustration that my brain was letting me and my body down. I would cry out of embarrassment. I would cry out of relief once the panic subsided. I would cry because I hated feeling this way and I wanted it to stop.
Although some of my triggers still remain, I was able to work through others. By doing
things over and over again, and knowing I was going to be okay, it helped to build my confidence. Now, things like being alone, going to the supermarket, standing, driving in familiar places and having a hot shower, have become normal, everyday tasks for me again. Things I don’t think twice about.
Six years ago, it was hard for me to think that I would feel like myself again. I honestly thought suffering severe anxiety and panic attacks would be a daily struggle for me.
I consulted a naturopath, a dietician and a couple of psychologists. I also had monthly check ups with my GP, who recommended anti-anxiety medication, but I was too anxious to use them (the irony!!).
What I found to be most helpful was having a creative outlet. In 2011, I started my own online business designing and hand-crafting personalised name art for kids’ bedrooms. Creating artwork for children helped occupy my mind and time; it gave me purpose again.
During my six years as a teacher, and my five years creating artwork for kids, I met and connected with many people. What I came to realise was that many of these people, especially children, also suffered from different forms of anxiety and mental illness.
Sadly, it also became hideously clear that mental health issues still carry an ugly stigma; and they shouldn’t!!
I want people to know that mental illness is real. It is not ‘made up’. It is not something we choose. It is not an ‘excuse’ or an ‘easy way out’. Quite the opposite, actually!
But most importantly, having experienced anxiety from such a young age, I want to help children. I want to empower them. I want to let them know that they are not alone. I want to help comfort them.
So, I decided to take action.
After spending almost a year researching, designing and chatting to parents, I designed the little wuppy® – a sausage dog worry puppy.
This is my way of turning my life experiences into my purpose; my way of helping others.
Everything that happened in my life, lead me to where I am now.
My name is Linda. I suffer from anxiety, but anxiety is not me. It is a part of me, but it does not define me.
The little wuppy®.
The little wuppy® is a sausage dog worry puppy designed as an aid to help ease children’s worries, and to help comfort them.
Children can talk to the little wuppy®, hold it in their hand, pop it in their pocket, bag or pencil case, place it under their pillow, keep it in a special place in their room, or use it in any way their imagination takes them.
The special feature of the little wuppy® is its heart. When placed against a child’s heart, a child can send their worries to the little wuppy® so they don’t need to worry anymore.
About the Author: Linda Privitelli.
Linda is a 34 year old former primary school teacher and artist from Werribee, Victoria.
By combining her love of drawing, her obsession with all things sausage dog, her personal experience with anxiety, and everything she has learnt whilst teaching, Linda designed an aid to help ease the worries of children.
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