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When Anxiety Takes Over: Part I

Updated on June 19, 2013
Photography and nature help me ease anxiety.
Photography and nature help me ease anxiety. | Source

Is Anxiety Real? A Personal Story.

The Beginning

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.

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    • Theater girl profile image

      Jennifer 3 years ago from New Jersey

      Ithink it is important to bring topics like this to light. I look forward to the next parts.

    • vandynegl profile image
      Author

      vandynegl 3 years ago from Ohio Valley

      Hi Theater girl! Yes, I agree! Many people think anxiety is not really real, but it is people like me who MAKE it real and then it becomes physical. I think more people should be open about it. It is misunderstood. Thank you for reading!

    • Theater girl profile image

      Jennifer 3 years ago from New Jersey

      Anytime! And I agree, for years I never talked about my issues with others.But I have recently started and have been able to find it to be very cathartic. Mental illness should not have a stigma!

    • moonfroth profile image

      Clark Cook 3 years ago from Rural BC (Canada) & N of Puerto Vallarta (Mexico)

      There is an old Saw--"Nothing is real, except I perceive it so". Keats said it better--"The axioms of philosophy are NOT axioms, until we feel them on our pulse." So the lead-off header of your Hub--"Is Anxiety Real?"--is something of a misnomer, it seems to me. If a thousand specialists in Anxiety tell you, No, you're not going thru an anxiety attack.....and you ARE, who's "right"? Your early and middle years must have been a living hell, but because you didn't suffer from an observable issue, like a bone protruding from your thigh (hmm--that isn't really right) or a temperature of 104 degrees (we should give her something for that) or raw bleeding sores on both your legs (we simply must get her to stop scratching. . .) , no one paid attention. Health care professionals LIKE stuff they can see or measure or test or analyze, all of which actually makes good sense. No rational person enjoys fumbling about in the dark. So people, like you, who have to deal with dark forces and bewildering causes for overt behaviors that just don't make sense to the professionals, will always be on the outside looking in. Your medical/psychological condition will elicit SOME response, thank the gods, but nothing like the money and resources and facilities and professionals that are available at present for observable maladies. So you have to become your own advocate in the fight for recognition. and from the first installment of your extended Hub, I feel you have the experience, the will, and the courage to pull it off. The best of luck to you.

    • vandynegl profile image
      Author

      vandynegl 3 years ago from Ohio Valley

      Hi moonfroth! Thank you for your kind words! And you are right......health care professionals like what they can see and measure or test. "Here's a prescription! Now, off you go!" It has been quite a journey, but I can say that my years after children have been the hardest. Now, I must have anxiety for 3 people instead of one! And yes again, I am my own advocate with this. I strive to learn the most of not just anxiety, but what can be done about it in order to live a little less crazy! Like Mark Twain said, "I've been through some terrible things in life....some of which actually happened."

    • Cantuhearmescream profile image

      Cat 3 years ago from New York

      vandynegl,

      First, thank you... thank you for posting this hub, because I'm sure that you thought twice about it. I'm telling you... the similarities between your story and my life are MIRACULOUS! Each paragraph... I just shook my head violently nodding in agreement.

      Now… I don’t want to make this a hub of my own, but I am just compelled to share :D

      First thing, my father is/was the fire chief!? And… I had a Ouija Board tell me when I was about ten, that he was going to die in a fire… so obviously, I feared the fire whistle for the next decade or better!

      Secondly, I had an uncontrollable fear of ‘death’ my entire life… though it’s a bit more diluted now, it’s not quite gone away. I remember being somewhere around 5, when I started questioning death… that must’ve been about when I first learned of it. Looking back now, I’m wondering if it was brought to my attention in an unhealthy way. I used to fear my parents and the rest of my family dying and the thought alone made me almost have an anxiety attack. To combat this, I used to ask… ‘what happens when we die?’ but nobody ever gave me a good answer, it was always something that started with ‘I guess…’. Ugh!!! So, I’d kneel at my bed at night and pray “Please let my family and friends live forever”; I actually thought if I did it enough and I was serious… it would happen. Then, I’d lay in bed and stare at my ceiling and thing about it, death and dying… and I would get so worked up and cry and couldn’t sleep. So I began reading… I figured if I kept my mind occupied, I couldn’t think about these things… and at 31… I still will not go to bed until I’m ready to pass out because it has become a lifelong habit and even to this day, I think about uncomfortable thoughts when I lay in bed awake.

      My fear of death started to even work itself over to me. I started fearing that I could die at any given moment. I thought… there are millions of ways people die… and I would think about how I could die, in each situation I was in. When I’d be riding in the back of the family van… not only was I worried about fatal car crashes, to the point of digging my nails into the seat… but I’d even think about ‘what would happen if this seat fell out the bottom of the van and hit the road and I was run over by the car behind us?’ Seriously… these are the kinds of things I would think… all day, every day.

      Remember all that hubbub about Y2K? I was 17 and I remember the entire day of December 31st, 1999, I couldn’t even breath. When everyone else was counting down to the ball drop… I was trying to catch my breath… thinking we were all going to die! (Stupid media… they’re worthless… the money is in the tragic events, not the beautiful ones and that’s why we’re subjected to ‘bad news’ all the time!)

      September 11th… I was watching Barney, with my 7 month old son, until I got a call from his father… ‘Do you know what’s going on?’ … I said no and he told me to turn it to the news. I didn’t have to… all I had to do was push up or down on the remote… it was on just about every channel but the one I was watching. Oh my goodness, I felt so scared and alone… here I am, barely a mother, home alone… wondering what was happening to the world. Fearing, what’s next? Are they going to set off a nuclear bomb? They’re only 4 hours or so away now… how much damage are they planning to do? My brother, in the Air force, was up in the air that day… and we had no confirmation until the next day if he was even alive or not. I was mad and I was scared. I immediately stopped all activities. I wouldn’t go anywhere… outside of maybe my parent’s house… for the next couple of months… and everything had me terrified, including the planes that flew overhead every day. I remember falling asleep on my couch one day and woke up to the sound of the train a road away, rattling my windows and I jumped up and grabbed at the walls, thinking it was a terrorist attack! Oh… yes, it was bad for a long time.

      Also… we had 2 corgis… Pembroke Welsh Corgis… I’ve never met another person who actually had one! lol

      I took probably a dozen Psychology classes in college and one of the first things I remembered reading was something of a disclaimer saying ‘do not self-diagnose’… HA! Well, I gave myself, or someone else, just about everything listed in those books!!! I just never shared it out loud. Then… for whatever reason… insecurities probably, led me to bulimia, in which I struggled with for 4-5 years… and that hogged up a lot of my death concerns, though it brought on a whole new shade of darkness into my life. Mentally, I’m a lot stronger now, but I’m convinced I’ll always have problems and if you haven’t figured it out by now, laughter has been something of my defense mechanism, distraction and remedy. I just wanted you to understand how 'not crazy' I think you are/were and how much I can relate. Ah… well, I’m so glad to see you’ve moved forward and to a healthier place and I’m very eager to read your Part 2. This is awesome and I’m so glad you shared! I really hope you haven’t gotten into any permanent damage; you are such a beautiful woman!!!

      I think I hit every button on the page :D

      Hugs to you girly!

      Cat

    • rose-the planner profile image

      rose-the planner 3 years ago from Toronto, Ontario-Canada

      Thank you for sharing your story with us. I have known of a few people that suffered terribly from anxiety. Severe anxiety is a serious and debilitating condition for some and can cause many other residual health issues. I look forward to reading the next installments on your journey. (Voted Up) -Rose

    • vandynegl profile image
      Author

      vandynegl 3 years ago from Ohio Valley

      Hi Cat! Thank you, thank you for your story and allowing me to see that I'm not the only one!

      Oh my, I forgot about Y2K! I really tried to analyze that one....thinking....okay, midnight on the eastern side of the country is not midnight on the western side of the country....so then what? Oh, I had a few scenarios! And, when riding in the back seat of a small SUV on the way to the beach, I was trying to figure out how I would get my kids and myself out of the car quick enough if the car went off of the bridge (or the bridge collapsed for that matter!).

      Oh, and I suffered from anorexia in high school. My compulsion with not eating certain foods is still with me today!

      My Part II will go into my "road" to healing......the setback too, of course!

      Thank you so much for reading and sharing! I appreciate you!

      G~

    • vandynegl profile image
      Author

      vandynegl 3 years ago from Ohio Valley

      Thank you Rose!

      Yes, the anxiety can cause many physical health issues! People don't realize this because anxiety begins in the mind. It is real, and I'm hoping that my story can shed some light on that!

      Thank you for reading!

    • Cantuhearmescream profile image

      Cat 3 years ago from New York

      vandynegl,

      To be honest... you seem very strong in your personality, sense of humor, experience, writing... etc. I would've never guessed you've had these struggles. I don't wish pain or suffering on anyone, but these things make me feel a little more human, you know? It's nice to know that we are such intricate beings and we all have our darker moments.

      Anorexia... geesh girl; I can relate to the compulsion thing too!

      How did I forget to mention the end of the world 2012? lol... Actually, your 'doing the math' reminded me, because that's exactly what I did this year... well... it's already past midnight over there and the world is still here; so it must not end? lol... What a way to live :D

      Definitely looking forward to Part II and I appreciate you!

      Cat

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