What do you do when anxiety, fear, and worry leave you nothing but scared of the world around you? You FIGHT. I was DETERMINED that anxiety was NOT going to rule my life forever.
My first anxiety attack that I had my car back in 2014, combined with my obliviousness to the symptoms of the daily anxiety I was living with, together left me living in a state of denial and constant stress. It was not healthy. It did not help that I was too proud for my own good and did not want to admit to anyone, let alone myself, that there was anything wrong with me. I did not want to admit that my mind betrayed me and even worse; that my mind had the ability to affect my body.
As I dealt with the increase of my anxiety, I was so ashamed of myself for what I viewed as a blaring weakness. Before anxiety took hold in my life, I remembered the times that friends had came to me after having experienced panic attacks and anxiety. My friends wanted someone to talk to and I was glad to be there. I didn’t understand it one bit, but as their friend I wanted to help them through whatever life threw their way. I didn’t know what to say to them to help. I didn’t have a clue what I could actually do, which was so frustrating. I am ashamed to put this into words…. but as one of my best friends was talking to me about her anxiety attacks, I was inwardly thinking that she was weak and just needed to get over it. I remember thinking to myself that she just needed to not worry. How hard could it be to just stop worrying? Stop obsessing over something that had not happened yet? Couldn’t she just move on, not think about it, and get over it?
I feel so wretched to know I thought these things. My own thoughts that I had towards my own friends’ anxiety was part of the reason I didn’t want to admit what was happening to me. I had found myself in exactly their shoes and I didn’t want someone thinking those things about me. At that time, I cared what people thought more than I cared about the changes that were taking place inside my mind. I remember telling my friend to just get over it…man is that the wrong thing to say now that I have anxiety.
Anxiety is not something you can just get over, because someone tells you too. In fact, someone telling you to just get over your anxiety feels like they are dismissing how hard it is to overcome what you are feeling. It is something you WISH you could “just get over”. I don’t know how many times I said to others that if I could JUST get over it, I would. If I could JUST stop worrying I would. If I could JUST turn the thoughts plaguing me off, I would. I just didn’t know how to get over it. I didn’t know how to stop worrying. I didn’t know how to manage the constant stream of thoughts that kept me scared and anxious all the time. In the beginning I didn’t even know where to start. Anxiety is something you must work hard towards every minute of everyday in order to be free of it, and it was certainly not just something you "just got over."
The month following my first anxiety attack was hard. Every time that I drove the path to Chris’s house I passed by the place, on the interstate, that I had my first anxiety attack. Over that month, I noticed that every time I got in the car to make that trip, I would worry if it would happen again. What if my legs started going numb and my heart started racing again? What if this time I actually lost my vision or passed out on my drive? What if I couldn’t get over because traffic was too dense? What if something happened to me and I died in a car crash?
I had done this drive so many times before it was hard to count, yet, now that my anxiety was taking root in my life, it was terrifying. The thoughts were scary and made even a simple drive to see the love of my life terrifying. What could I do, though, except to do it anyway? I learned to do a lot of things in fear when I didn’t think I could do them. Everyone’s anxiety manifests in different ways and I was fixing to find out that my anxiety for the next year was going to affect driving the most. In fact, this is still the one area my anxiety can occasionally still present itself (thankfully not short trips, but I really have to really psyche myself up to make longer trips by myself).
Back then, I spent a lot of my time driving. I had to drive to and from work, I had to drive for work, and I had to drive to see Chris. Driving became scary to me, not just because of the dangers on the road, but because this was when I was alone. When I was alone and in my car was when my first attack happened. This was when my mind was allowed to have full control without the distraction of others to keep my thoughts away from worry. I used to love having my alone time; I actually relished in it. When did I become so scared to be by myself? When did I doubt my ability to do something? Why wasn’t I just able to get over this? Gosh it was as frustrating as it was scary.
Aside from the fear I was facing simply being by myself, it didn’t help that Chris’s job in Law Enforcement often gave me details that fueled my anxiety with driving. It wasn’t his fault. Just like everyone does with their significant others, he would ask me how my day was and I would tell him; and then I would do the same with him. Everyday I asked him how his day was, and everyday he would say it was good. Chris would sometimes tell me about wrecks that had happened, deaths, or dangers out in the world that I didn’t already know. I found myself getting overwhelmed with negative things, scary possibilities I had not considered, and new dangers. I wanted to be there for him and listen to him like he listened to me, but it was filling my mind with images and details that fueled my fears, particularly of driving.
I did not tell him this until months later when I had a full on break down at which point he stopped telling me details of his work for my own good, which he still does to this day. It’s not that I don’t support his job, but I can’t hear or deal with some of the things he encounters. I am not him and he is not me, we were each uniquely made to handle certain things; and I was definitely not made to handle what he encounters in his job.
I slowly started to dread work as well. Since I was a Sales and Marketing Director I had a lot of meetings each day. I used to love getting to drive downtown and meet at the offices of my clients. It had been exciting to me. However, I started dreading driving to my clients. I didn’t want to be alone in my car, and I was constantly scared driving would bring on a panic attack. I was also dealing with new fears. How did I not see all the danger on the roads before? Instead of trying to deal with my fears head on, I instead started to find ways to avoid them. I started making my meetings and appointments at my company office and tried to minimize driving as much as was possible.
I was committed to not let this affect my job, so when I did have to drive, I found that if I could just talk to someone on the phone I could get through the drive easier. I had a sequence of people I tried calling first: mom, dad, sister, Chris, and then if none of them answered, I would call a college girlfriend that I hadn’t talked to in a while. I was clever in keeping my true intentions from them all as to why I was calling so much more often. I told them I was just checking in, I was missing them, I just wanted to see how their day was, and that I had read a text from them earlier and decided to call them back instead.
Talking to them was a way for me to try to keep my mind distracted and get me to my destination. Instead of confiding in them, I didn’t want them to know what was happening to me. They were six hours away from me, which meant that I could keep up the front that I was just as put together as I always had been. I didn’t want my family to know that I was changing, because I didn’t like who I was becoming. It was a daily battle every day to get from one place to the next place. It was starting to be a scary place out there…
Now on top of my already stressful job, my moms’ sickness, and planning my wedding from six hours away, I was looking for a new job for when Chris and I got married. Since Chris was assigned a County to work, I knew that the transition would be easier for me to just get a job out his way and move where he already lived. I still had five months until the wedding and I figured it would take every bit of that time to find a new job and get settled in.
I was wrong. One month after applying and interviewing with a company, I was offered a job and I was asked to start in three weeks. I mentally tried to go through my checklist of what would need to be done. I had to put in my two weeks notice, move out of my apartment and move in with Chris (no judgement), go to training in Texas (I was having a hard time driving at this point people….the idea of having to fly out there made me stiff with fear), and I had to find a way to start a new job with confidence.
Yes, I was thankful and knew I was blessed to have found a new job, especially as quickly as I did. No, I was not ready for anymore change at that moment. I remember trying to talk myself through this new change that was coming my way. I told myself that I had flown many times and love to travel. I remember thinking that for goodness sake Ginger, you have studied abroad by yourself many times and traveled all over the United States and the world get it together. What made me so scared this time? Why was I so worried about something that used to fuel my excitement?
I put a smile on my face and tried to think of the excitement and positive things that were going to come out of this. In the back of my mind, I kept thinking I would have loved to have more time at my old job and condo, I really loved the job I had and enjoyed the area I lived in. I worried that this new job might not be a good. That’s always the gamble though, right? I told myself to put my big girl pants on and get over the fears I was paralyzed by, it would be fine.
Unknowns and what-if’s plagued at my mind for the next week to the point that I wasn’t sleeping much. My daily runs were not helping me keep stress at bay, and I now began to stress over getting everything done. I was still terrified to drive anywhere and started to actively decline when people asked me to meet them somewhere. Driving to Chris now took a lot out of me. I would get into the slow lane of the interstate, drive 50 Mph in a 70 Mph zone, and by the time I made it to his house my mind was exhausted after having run through every fearful scenario that could have happened on my hour drive. I would literally be shaking by the time I got there.
I would lay awake at night going over everything from the most minuscule things I needed to do to the most important big picture things that needed to be done. I was obsessing over things that had not yet happened and playing out scenarios in my head at least three different ways. I wasted my days and nights going over things that most of the time never came to fruition. I was also dealing with extreme anger with myself. I did not want to be the person that was so scared and anxious, but there did not seem to be a thing I could do to NOT be that person.
The world was now a scary place to me. I never will forget the feeling of disappointment and shame that came with admitting that I was scared everywhere I went, especially when I used to be fearless. I was now seeing everything as a danger, not just when I was driving. I was having panic attack after panic attack. I started having them at my condo and at Chris’s house when he was working and I was there alone. I was terrified someone would break in. I would go through what I would do if that actually happened, and get so worked up that I was a mess. Granted Chris did not live in a safe area, but still the extent of my fears and worries were irrational. I was living, yes, but not really living a life that was fulfilling and happy. I felt that I was in a constant state of trying to survive. Every minute was a battle for me… would my mind win or would I?
I decided then that I refused to live that way. I refused to live like that for myself and I refused to rob Chris of the woman that he asked to marry him. I was not going to rob myself of the life that I planned for myself that was full of love, happiness, adventure, and travel. I was not going to rob my mom and family of me when they needed me to be there for them. I was going to have to get some sort of help. I had to do this for me, for my future husband, and for the future I envisioned for myself. I was beginning to feel broken and scared but I was DETERMINED to see beauty and hope in the world again. I couldn't rely on Chris to be the only thing to pull me through as he was as helpless as I had been with my friends who suffered from anxiety. Chris was always there for me, but didn't know what to do to actually help. I didn't know how to get better on my own, so I knew I needed someones' medical help. Anxiety was NOT going to rule my life forever. It was devastating to me to admit that I needed to seek help and it was also humiliating and humbling.
Stay tuned for next weeks blog….I will be diving right in to doctors, therapies, medicine, and the overwhelming fear that maybe nothing was going to work.
Until then my readers,
Five things you can do to manage your anxiety before it hits you by knowing your triggers and preparing ahead of time.
Throughout my journey I have learned that a key to managing my anxiety is knowing what things and events trigger my anxiety. Knowing what will bring about my anxiety helps me to face it directly and feel somewhat in control. Why would I want to control my anxiety and what good would it do? I remember talking to my doctor about the very same thing. He explained it this way, " If you are faced one-on-one with an aggressive dog that has a history of biting people, what do you do? Do you run away and fear that it is chasing you and will catch up? Do you fear that it is going to bite you in the side, back, leg, arm, etc. while you're running away, or do you face it directly and control if and when it bites and minimize the damage?" When my doctor put it this way it was an easy answer. I would rather have some control and face it straight on than live scared and wondering when it may strike me and how bad it would be. This is true for anxiety. How do I prepare myself once I know that something has a high chance of making me anxious so that my anxiety is manageable?
I cut back on my caffeine Friday so that I was not stimulated any more than I had to be to make it through my day. This is a HUGE thing that works well for me. Watch your caffeine people…this has sometimes been the difference of low grade anxiety or high grade anxiety for me. Rarely have I had a regular cup of coffee now in almost 2 years. I drink only decaf most of the time. No, it may not do much for me in ways of kick starting my day but it allows me to still enjoy the practice of starting my day off in the morning the way I always had. Decaf coffee allows me to enjoy the peaceful moment that a cup of coffee brings me in the afternoon. Think about it this way, caffeine can make you feel jittery and anxious even without the added worry and stress that someone already has when suffering from daily anxiety. Adding any caffeine to your body will only make it worse and can sometimes lead you to having a full on anxiety attack. For those that will be making the switch from regular to decaf coffee... Folders Decaf Coffee is my favorite.
I made sure that I went on a walk and did stretching to calm my body down as much as I could. Most of the time I would recommend a more vigorous exercise to manage and reduce anxiety like going for a run, doing yoga, or hitting up the gym for at least 30 minutes. However, I am still healing from complications from my cesarean delivery of my baby girl almost a year ago (more about that at a later time). In addition to walking and stretching, I started to do my deep breathing technique to calm myself prior to posting my blog. I took one breath in through my nose (usually 5 seconds) and then out through my mouth very slowly (usually 10 seconds). I did this several times throughout the day. Since anxiety is physical as much as it mental, doing breathing therapy is a way to make your body relax even if your mind can't.
I worked hard on getting myself excited about this blog and what it could do for myself and others. I could not allow myself to relish in self-doubt, what if’s, and fear. This was going to be a positive addition to my life. I psyched myself up. Again, your mind is powerful! Yes, I was scared about the reception I was going to get, but no it did not mean that this would not be GREAT for both myself and my readers.
I worried that I wouldn't have anyone read my blog. Would it even matter if I didn’t have a lot of readers? I told myself that the answer to that was no. Even if all my blog did was reach just one person, that in and of itself was enough reason to post my blog. I talked to a few people whose opinions I value and I told them about my blog idea. They LOVED it and I allowed their love and excitement to boost my own. Turning to those who love me and will honestly support me is another thing I do to help myself through my anxiety. All I had to do was allow their confidence and love to flow through me.... this is a BIG one people... reach out to others and allow them to help you through your worries and fears. Allowing others to help you, anxious or not, is just as important as helping others. I have found that if I lack something in myself that I can turn to others and allow them to help me find the strength I need for myself.
By the end of Friday, I was no longer having to WORK to be excited…. I was genuinely excited. My anxious flutters were now excited flutters. Even with my newfound excitement and preparedness, immediately after I posted my first blog, I worried about my decision. I was plagued with doubt and worry. I found myself going through the same questions I had gone through a million times before making my decision to go through with my blog. Was it worth sharing my stories and experiences with all you readers when I knew that I could easily be judged as equally as I could be supported? What if people that know me saw me as less than they did before? What if people that have never met me look down on me when we do cross paths in the future?
How did I find peace in the midst of such thoughts?
As I have done countless times with my anxiety, I found myself praying. On my drive home, I prayed to have peace with my decision to share such a personal journey. It was already done and I needed to be okay with the decision I had already thought long and hard about. While praying I knew that this was WORTH it and it was IMPORTANT.
Prayer gave me peace on Friday. Praying to have peace and telling God my worries is the single most important thing that I do from my top five list of ways to head off anxiety through preparation. I simply take my fears, worries, and stresses to God and ask him to tell me if I am doing what he wants me to do. I pray for him to give me peace. If I get an overwhelming sense of peace when I go to him then I take that to mean that yes, I am doing what he wants me to do. On Friday’s drive I got my answer. God wanted to use me and he approved of what I was doing. I know not everyone is religious, but finding closeness in God has been a huge factor in bringing me to the other side of my anxiety.
Through prayer on Friday afternoon, I found myself confident and sure of my decision again. I was reminded that I am not here writing my story for the people who are going to read this and think less of me. I am here for the people that will read this and know that they are not alone. I am here for others who are impacted by anxiety, whether it be themselves or someone in their lives. I am here for people to know their thoughts have been the thoughts of others, and that they can and will get through this. I am here to share what has helped me. I am here for people to be validated that they are going to be okay....they are not crazy. I am here because I have the strength to write openly about something not commonly talked about. I am here to do something good with the most challenging, scary, and fearful aspect in my life.
However, I have not always turned to God throughout this journey. In fact, in the beginning I didn’t want to lean on him at all. I didn’t think I needed him to help me through this phase of my life. How horrible is that to admit? In my mind, God had never thrown something at me that I couldn’t handle. God had made me self reliant, so then why would he then make me dependent? Inwardly I was so angry. I was angry that he had allowed me to turn into someone I hardly recognized. Where was the woman I used to be? How could he have let my mind and body betray me? What about the future that I had planned out so carefully for myself?
When my anxiety first started to manifest I was no longer the free spirited, driven, confident, fearless woman that I knew. How could a God that loved me so much allow me to fall into being anxious, fearful, and worried all the time? It had to be his fault; HE had failed ME. I was mad because God had allowed me to turn into someone I really didn't like. God had allowed me to become WEAK, which was a characteristic that at the time I despised in others. I am ashamed to admit that now. I didn’t know it at the time, but now that I look back God used this challenging time to make me an improved version of myself. In the years I struggled to keep my head above water, I learned a lot. I was stronger than I thought I could be and I certainly wasn't weak. I learned to overcome my fears. I understood others better and I was a more compassionate person because of what I had gone through. God taught me to overcome anxiety and he used my experiences to show me how strong I was.
It was not always as easy as praying, breathing, exercising, and talking myself through my anxiety. I did not always know that turning my anxiety into positivity and excitement would help me stay focused on the good instead of the bad. I did not always know that thankfulness over even the smallest things would add the right perspective to help me counter my anxiety. I did not always know that facing and not running from my fears would be better in the long run. These were a few of the things I learned as I desperately searched out ways to help me through the worst of my anxiety.
Do you have tips and tricks to head anxiety off before it even starts? Is so, I would love to hear them. Feel free to leave a comment here or on my Anxious but Fabulous Blog Facebook page www.facebook.com/anxiousbutfabulous/.
Stay tuned for next weeks’ blog on what to do you do when anxiety, fear, and worry leave you nothing but scared of the world around you. Next weeks' blog will be a difficult one for me to write, but I look forward to continuing to help others and connect with all you out there.
Until then all you awesome readers, thank you for reading and for your support!
What is it like finding out you are living with anxiety? My first anxiety attack happened out of nowhere.
Let me preface this post by saying that it has taken a lot for me to overcome my fears and manage my anxiety to the point that I am at now. I have been humbled, I have been brought down to my lowest point, I have been scared…..I have also been strong, resilient, and proud of myself and who I am now that I have seen myself through the worst of my anxiety.
It has taken me until these past few years to be able to now look back and feel thankful for the hardest time in my life and know I am better for having gone through it. It has also taken me these last few years to be thankful that I had the chance to learn so much about myself and overcome something that was truly the most challenging thing I have faced thus far in my life.
I remember the first time I realized that there was something wrong with me and I couldn’t control what was happening to my body. It was 2014 and I was driving one morning the hour long trip from my then fiancée, but now my husbands’ house. I did this a lot since getting to see him mid-week was great, when I could manage it, since we lived an hour away from each other. I would often stay the night during the week to have every extra moment I could with him even if it meant leaving at the crack of dawn to get home for work the next morning.
It was 5:15 AM in the morning and I was making my typical drive up I-95 from Rocky Mount, North Carolina to Cary, North Carolina. I remember thinking about our wedding coming up in 5 months and everything there was to do. I was going through a mental check list of things to be done and things that had already been done. I remember going through my checklist for my work day (at the time I was a Marketing and Sales Director of a Hotel company in Cary- a high stress but high reward job).
I remember thinking about how crappy (man is that an understatement) it was being 6 hours away from my parents, specifically my mom, who had just been diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer. I had a lot on my mind and on my plate, but at the time I had never not been able to handle everything life threw at me gracefully; so I just kept going through my thoughts not paying any mind to them. I was a tad overconfident and proud of the fact that I could always handle anything thrown my way, and in fact this was something I treasured about my personality, that I could handle what others’ struggled with.
I was halfway through the drive when my heart started racing, my ears started ringing, my legs went numb, and I felt like I could pass out. Terrified I called Chris, my then fiancée and now husband, and told him that I didn’t know what was wrong with me. I told him I felt like I could be having a heart attack. Not just a figure of speech people…I legitimately thought I was having an actual heart attack. I was shaking and terrified and didn’t know what was happening, let alone what to do. I told him I needed him to help me someway. I was alone and afraid. I had never had problems before with anxiety, or more accurately, I had never noticed that my intense, passionate, high strung, high achieving, worrisome, analytical, fearless, perfectionist personality had a tendency for anxiety all my life. I had never noticed it as anxiety before since it had never dramatically effected my life until this moment.
Chris is my polar opposite. He is calm, stable, and peaceful for every part of me that is over-excited, passionate, and intense. Chris told me that I was probably just having a caffeine high and it had more than likely just effected me differently since I was more sleep deprived. Chris said that it was also early, and I hadn’t eaten anything. Although I had only had a half cup of coffee that morning, I was eager to accept his excuse and tried to calm myself down. I remember thinking that had to be what was going on, right?
I sat in my car for 15 minutes on the side of the road under an exit sign and listened to my heart pound in my ears. I googled my symptoms, which only made me think there was something horrible wrong with me. I then called my mom and dad, waking both of them up, and explained what had happened. I quickly offered Chris’s excuse about it being low food intake and caffeine, and my dad told me that was more than likely right and for me to just head on home and that I would be okay.
I got into the slow lane and trudged my way the last 30 minutes to my condo. I couldn’t shake the feeling that something wasn’t right and that I had somehow lost control of my body. At the time, I didn’t think it could possibly be anxiety (the thought never crossed my mind). I thought maybe my sugar had dropped and/or I was having a physical health problem…never that there was a weakness of my mind. That didn’t happen to 23 year old successful, independent women, who had their crap together.
I got home a little bit after six and committed myself to go take a shower, eat breakfast, and head to work in my normal routine. I was fine…FINE…I just kept telling myself that. Although my job was high pressure and high stress, I really loved what I did and I was fortunate to have a wonderful boss. I walked into work to speak with my boss, who I had a great relationship with (she was my boss but also like my adoptive mother). Immediately she told me I looked pale and asked what was wrong. I told her I wasn’t sure if there was something wrong with me, but like I did with my parents, I explained what had happened that morning. My boss looked at me and told me that I probably was just stressed and needed some down time, and with everything going on it was natural to need a breather.
I went about my day but decided I would at least try her advice to relax, so I called the local massage parlor and got an appointment for that night. I was convinced by the end of the work day that the morning events weren’t nearly as bad as I remembered and once again I convinced myself it was a combination of stress and an imbalance of caffeine, sleep, and food. I went that night for my massage and tried to let myself relax under the ladies hands.
I kept telling myself to relax and unwind because I needed this, but instead of relaxing I got tenser so much so that that I couldn’t relax. I remember asking myself, “What is wrong with me that I can’t relax getting a massage? Why can’t I just relax like everyone else?” By the time I left the massage parlor, I told myself that everyone got wound tight sometimes, I was no different, and that it would pass with time. I didn’t piece together then but when I left my palms were sweaty, my heart was pounding faster than usual, and I was worried about the next day and what would happen. I didn’t know then, but this was the anxiety that I had been living with for most of my life. At the time, I was oblivious.
Little did I know I was fixing to hit my lowest of lows in the months to come, question what I knew about myself, have to trust and relay on others A LOT more than I wanted to, and wonder if I was ever going to be okay again. Of course now, 4 years later, I have learned to grow strong through my anxiety, learned myself through and through (even though I didn’t love some of what I saw), and I became not just “okay” but back to being my fabulous old self but improved.
In the coming posts, I plan to walk through my journey from this first panic attack mentioned above that I had while driving, to the months and years that followed which were tremendously challenging.
These post are difficult for me to write. It is hard to be so open and raw about my life with all you reading. However, I remember praying and saying that if God would see me through this and help me just be to be okay again (which he did and then some) that I would share what I went through. Many times throughout this journey I wondered if I was crazy and if anyone else was going through what I was going through. The answer is most certainly a big old YES but in the moment it doesn’t feel that way. In the moment I felt alone, scared, misunderstood, and less than I actually was. No one talks about this subject openly with others, which is shame because it can do so much good to just talk and feel understood. I feel as though this is my calling. To share and chronicle how scary and hard my journey was when I discovered that was indeed living with anxiety.
Stay tuned for next weeks post.
Hey all you awesome people reading my blog. I'm Ginger and this blog chronicles how I live my life fabulously with anxiety.