- Mental Health
When Anxiety Takes Over: Part I
Is Anxiety Real? A Personal Story.
From the time I was a child, I had fear and worry. My father was a firefighter and often, we would pass houses that had caught fire and would talk about the "realness" of a house fire. I can remember feeling so bad for the children who lost all of their toys in house fires (not realizing that toys were just material things then). In response to this, I had a detailed "plan" in my mind of how I would get out of my house if it should catch fire, AND I had a "grab bag" filled with my items that I would take with me. I might have been about 8 years old at the time.
As years passed, my fire fears still remained, but more were added. By the time I was 14, I had gripping fear of nuclear war. What started this great fear? I watched a very scary movie, that ended, yes you guessed it, everyone dying. Nice, right? I guess there is a reason why they rate these movies now! My parents were newly divorced at this time and did their best to tackle my very "real" fears. Dreams of wars and fires were frequent. Other than this craziness, I think I was mostly normal!
At 15, a classmate decided to murder his parents in a satanic fashion. He had a "hit list" as well and everyone in the school feared that their name was on it. He was taken away, but everyone feared that somehow, he would break out and get to us. The fears that I had led my parents to consult a preacher for counseling. I didn't take anything the preacher was saying seriously. Prayer was weird to me. I couldn't make sense of these real things at the age of 15.
At 17, I can remember a comet passing by the earth and the anxiety I felt was frightening. I thought for sure that this comet would hit the earth. To make matters worse, the media (I hate the media with a passion) kept filming the group of people who all committed suicide because they thought the comet was their "mother ship." Well, at the age of 17, I was quite naïve believing that maybe, just maybe, they are right! Well, the comet came and went, and life moved on.
At the time, I didn't share many of my anxieties or fears for belief that people would think I was nuts. So I continued to harbor my thoughts in my head.
The September 11th attacks spurred a whole new set of fears for me, of course. I was 21 at the time and like everyone else, I felt a fear each time a plane flew overhead. I made sure though, that I didn't go in any tall buildings or get my mail without putting gloves on first (because of the anthrax!).
At 23, I was working my very first job outside of college when I finally went to the doctor with a 14 day headache. It was resolved that my headache was the tension that had continuously built up in my neck from all of the stress and anxiety I was putting myself through. I didn't like my bosses, AND I had to be a "supervisor" for the assistant teacher in my classroom (who was not cooperative). Needless to say, it wasn't a good first job. I was introduced to my first anti-anxiety medication at this time, and it worked. I finally calmed down a little and my headaches lessened. Of course, I left the job less than a year later too!
Life moved on and I had a few worries here and there, but looking back, I feel it was the calm before the storm.
I was pregnant with my first child at the age of 27. My whole world changed at that point and all of my anxieties and fears doubled. Four weeks before my son's due date, there was a huge mine disaster in Utah. My husband worked in a mine and I had this tremendous fear that the same exact thing would happen to my husband and I would be left alone. The media (of course) kept continuous coverage of this! As a result, the worry resulted in early labor. Fortunately, my son was born okay! During the C-section though, the medicine they had me on caused me to hallucinate, and I kept thinking I was dying and no one would be able to take care of the baby! It sounds crazy, I know, but these were my real thoughts.
After my son came home, I had a fear that my dog (a Corgi) would somehow attack my newborn child. As a result of this, I never let anyone place my child too close to the dog. In addition, I became obsessive about who held my child and for how long. I feared that my baby would be dependent on being held all of the time. I can beat myself over the head for this now. When my husband went back to work about 11 days after our son was born, I cried my eyes out. My days were filled with worry. Along with this, I fell into a depression because my life was now completely changed. My routine was not the same. I had a little life that depended solely on me. Talk about pressure! I was introduced to a different type of anti-anxiety medicine at this time. It helped somewhat, but deep down, I was still harboring my anxieties. Until I learned to work with these, and get to the root of the problem, they were always going to be there.
The Breaking Point
When I was 29 and 5 months pregnant with my second child, a dear friend, and my husbands stepmother passed away suddenly. As I sat in front of her coffin and watched her 7 year old son look at his dead mother, something inside me switched. At that point, I vowed to never have my sons be without their mother. Now came the time when my anxiety kicked up a notch.
After the birth of my second child, I entered myself into the emergency room 3 times in a 12 week period. I had fears that something was greatly wrong with my health and that I would die and not be able to be there for my boys.
In the next 2 years, I convinced myself that I had every imaginable disease out there. Usually, the most extreme ones. I put myself through endless tests and even an unnecessary surgery. During this entire process, I never shared my fears with those close to me. I never came right out and said, "I am afraid to leave my boys behind at such a young age." Because saying those words out loud would validate that I had a real problem.
In 2011, at the age of 31, I began getting physical sensations in my hands and feet. As someone who obsesses and worries, I used the internet to fuel my fears. I convinced myself that I had the top 5 worst illnesses and diseases. I was sure that I wouldn't live until Christmas. My breakdown happened in the middle of summer. I began to simply flip out. My husband (because I had not shared any of my thoughts) was basically clueless. I took myself to the doctor and we began a series of testings to "rule out" big issues.
Now, a person's blood work can be greatly affected by anxiety and stress. My sugar and proteins were both high, and after much research, having excess cortisol (the stress hormone) in your body, it is likely to raise many numbers on a blood test. My antibodies were tested for an autoimmune disease; I had two MRIs and two nerve conduction tests done (that were painful). In the end, I did not have any major disease or any autoimmune disease, for that matter. Slight neuropathy and carpal tunnel was a "result" from the damage I had done to my nerves (from anxiety). Arthritis was to blame for aches and pains in my joints and muscles. But overall, it was all boiled down to anxiety turning into a physical illness. They were thoughts in my head becoming real. I was literally going out of my mind. Medicine was a Band-Aid, but I had to get to the root of the problem by talking about it and figuring out how to change my thinking.
It was now suggested that I see a psychologist.
In Part II of this series, I will detail the journey of seeing a psychologist, as well as other healing factors that I implemented.
In Part III, I will share the setbacks and "relapses" that I endured, ways loved ones can help, as well as other learning experiences that took place.