I’m never quite sure when it’s going to happen. You would think after all these years, I would have some kind of warning sign before it starts. The situations are different. The settings and people change, but the feeling is always the same.
I was probably 8 years old when I first realized it was there. My older brothers were watching the original Friday the 13th movie. I snuck downstairs and watched from the steps. I didn’t quite understand that it was fiction. I started having thoughts about someone doing that to me — killing me. Later that night, I woke up in a cold sweat. It seemed to start from inside. My stomach was in knots, my pulse was racing, and I found it hard to breathe. I tried to call out for my mom and dad, but I found it difficult to move any part of my body. I was paralyzed with fear.
I had no idea at age 8 that I was having my first anxiety attack.
Anxiety has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. Earthquakes were my first major trigger. I used to lie in bed going over my escape plan in case one hit during the night. I was told that they sound like a train before the shaking starts. Any noise I heard made me activate my plan.
The rational part of my brain knew there was not an earthquake, but my fear and anxiety always won out.
As I got older, the anxiety became more debilitating. Car crashes, planes veering off runways, home invasions, my parents dying, mass shootings — anything that provokes fear in people, I perseverated on.
Social anxiety, general anxiety, test anxiety, compulsive behaviors, fear, worry, apprehension, nervousness. I’m not sure which one came first. Daily tasks are challenging because I view them through a lens of worry. It takes me longer to get things done. I process more. Spend extra time going over plans — verbalizing them out loud so I don’t miss anything.
Repeating myself often, because for some reason, I find comfort in hearing things more than once.
Then it happened. I was finally able to say the three words that seem so difficult to say.
I need help.
I was 40 years old.
I knew she had to ask all the questions. Go over the list of signs and symptoms and check the boxes that I answered “yes” to. My eyes traveled down the page and I noticed that most of the “yes” boxes were marked with an X.
I know anxiety has always been something I live with, but sitting in my doctor’s office that day was the first time I saw it on a piece of paper. The first time I realized that maybe it has taken over my life.
After she completed the questions, she looked up and asked me to describe what it feels like — how it impacts my life. I found myself stumbling. I couldn’t answer why I have anxiety. I wanted to shout at her, “Have you seen my fingernails?” There’s nothing left of them. Sometimes the energy in my body is so intense that the only way I can relieve it — even the smallest amount — is to pick and chew my nails until there is nothing left.
I couldn’t come up with a complete thought — one that made sense after it left my mouth. How do I explain these suffocating thoughts and feelings that occupy so much of my life?
I finally just told her that my anxiety is debilitating — I’m scared. I hate it and I’m not sure it will ever leave me.
She tried to reassure me that with the right treatment plan, I can gain control over this. Control. Isn’t that what anxiety is? Trying to control situations that I am afraid of. Control. Something I try to do too much — too often.
Maybe the right treatment plan is to control less.
I know what I worry about doesn’t makes sense. Irrational, illogical, emotional, crazy. Those words describe the thoughts in my head.
Sometimes I just wish I could hit the pause button.
I know I need to be reassured constantly. There are many times I want to apologize to the people in my life. Tell them that I’m sorry that I need to be told over and over again that it is going to be OK.
I can imagine that living with me is difficult, and I’m sure loving me is even harder.
I know what I say and do sometimes is irrational, but it is very real to me.
Sometimes it is just downright exhausting and my body screams relax, but I can’t sleep.
I’m not sure if it will ever leave me. If I will wake up one day and be free of the pressure — the weight. What I do know is that there are days when it doesn’t take over.
I find on those days that there is one common theme. I choose to live with hope. My heart wins out.
When I lead with my heart, I find that my body slows down. It’s easier to breathe. My thoughts are clear, my smile is genuine, and my life feels full.
I have learned over the years that my journey can and will be filled with hope. I do not have to let anxiety define who I am.
If you think you may have an anxiety disorder, contact your general care physician for help.
(This post originally appeared on The Huffington Post and is reprinted here with full permission.)
About the Author: Sara Lindberg
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