Smothered by Anxiety

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anxiety

Anxiety has always been part of my story, but it took me 24 years to realize it.

My Daily Battle

A pounding heart, tear-filled eyes, quick and shallow breathing, and a mind constantly spinning out of control was an everyday occurrence for me. I was the oldest child, a perfectionist, a hard-worker, and a rule-follower. I did everything that was expected of me (or what I thought was expected of me) with mini anxiety attacks smothering me along the way. 

I thought this was normal and also part of my charming personality. I would purposefully make people chuckle by asking several ridiculous questions, dramatically breath in and out to seem as if I was hyperventilating, and get everyone riled up around me. I couldn’t decipher between excitement and fear. It was all lumped together. 

While most teens liked to rebel and test their limits, I was terrified to disappoint my parents, teachers, pastors, and pretty much anyone else. In hindsight, I realized almost every decision I made was out of fear. One fear would spiral into a suffocating string of thoughts on everything that could go wrong in my life and in the world. I would panic, quietly and alone, until I forced myself to breathe and carry on with my daily life. 

One activity that freaked me out the most was driving. I constantly imagined devastating car accidents at every intersection and avoided highways at all cost. I worried if my mirrors were adjusted properly, if my headlights would go out unexpectedly, how I could avoid left turns, etc. It was exhausting. My family and friends were so extremely patient with me when listening to and accommodating all my irrational fears about driving. I was able to power through my driver’s license test, but for years after I refused to get back behind the wheel. 

My Breaking Point(s)

My struggles accelerated after I graduated from college. The pressure to land a job was just too much. While in college, professors promised us that our diplomas were the ticket to countless opportunities. But this wasn’t my reality. My job search began just after the Great Recession and, combined with my husband, we had thousands of dollars of student loan debt looming over us. I submitted hundreds of applications, but rarely heard anything in response, or if I did, it was a rejection email. After accepting a cashier job, I remember sitting in my car sobbing, soaked in sweat and struggling to breathe, drowning in the soul-crushing feeling that I wasn’t going to make it. 

Shortly after, my exhausted mind and body hit their limit. I became very ill. I had gastrointestinal issues and basically stopped eating out of fear that eating would make me sick. I lost so much weight and sleep. I went to several doctors. They tested me for bacterial and viral infections, performed a colonoscopy, and ordered an MRI. Still, the only diagnosis they could give me was stress. They said it was possible that something I ate threw off the balance of bacteria in my stomach, but with each test they found that my body was healthy. According to the doctors, I just needed to stop worrying and live life.

Through all of this, I never once sought help for my mental health. I never even thought to. I knew I cried a lot, but I also knew I was strong enough to push through. So that’s what I did….until I reached a new breaking point. In early 2013, my world came crashing down. My dad was diagnosed with stage IV throat cancer. On top of that, my husband and I, who had just bought our first house, received notice from our employer that our jobs were possibly going to be eliminated due to budget cuts. The weight of this news was devastating. I knew I couldn’t do it anymore. I knew I needed help.

At my annual physical, my doctor asked me a routine question, one that I’d normally skip over without a second thought: “Is there anything else you are concerned about today?” Without thinking, all the worries that had been trapped inside my head poured out. It shocked us both. She gave me a short quiz where I rated my anxiety levels. Afterward she prescribed me with an anti-anxiety medication, encouraged me to go to therapy, and sent me on my way. I was so proud of myself for bringing up this battle to my doctor. Typically I would’ve rehearsed the conversation countless times, and then convinced myself not to say anything. But that day, my mouth took over and for that I am thankful.

I spent weeks looking at the little blue pill that was supposed to help. I was scared of the side-effects and nervous to lose that charming personality I mentioned before. Eventually, I realized the absurdity in the fact that I was too anxious to take anti-anxiety meds. I laughed at myself and chose to change my circumstances. I took the pill. 

My Truest Self

The prescribed medication took affect so gradually that it was hard for me to notice. Not until months later did I realize that I had gone through most of my day without panicking, crying, and shallow breathing. I had been living a string of average days in a row without knowing it. I tried to describe such a normal feeling to my husband, but already he could see the change in me. I knew we were still up against a fearful battle of cancer and possible job loss, but I knew that we could get through it. I no longer was distracted by my inner battle. Life wasn’t just happening to me. Instead, I was an active participant and could focus on getting through these hard times with a clear mind. I felt empowered. Scared, but empowered.

Life wasn’t just happening to me. Instead, I was an active participant and could focus on getting through these hard times with a clear mind. I felt empowered. Scared, but empowered.

We didn’t lose our jobs and my dad is now cancer-free. In the past 6 years that I have been medicated, our lives have been rocked by other terrible lows, but unlike before, I am finally able to identify and cherish the wonderful highs too. When I started taking medication, I was so scared to lose a part of me, but I can say with confidence that being medicated enables me to be my truest self. I am excited by change and opportunities instead of terrified. I am always looking for an adventure instead of an escape. I love connecting with people and knowing that sharing our difficult situations makes us strong instead of suffering quietly and alone. 

Sometimes, while I rock my toddler back to sleep in the middle of the night,  I think about the kind of mom I would be if I never asked for help. What kinds of fears and behaviors would I have passed on to my beautiful baby boy? How many different ways would I have beat myself up about my mothering techniques? Would I have even allowed myself to have children because of all the fear that goes along with it? My hopes are that my son will be able to talk openly about anxiety and depression without fear, that we will equip him with healthy coping and communication skills, and that he will know that no matter what he is feeling he is not alone

I really wish someone would’ve told me that it wasn’t healthy to feel panicked all the time. I really wish someone presented me with options or opportunities to address my fears. I really wish someone told me I wasn’t alone. I really wish I didn’t spend 24 years of my life drowning in anxiety. Medication isn’t the answer for everyone. Therapy, medication, lifestyle changes, and more can all help. Talk to your doctor for a game plan. But for me, a low dose of anti-anxiety medication was life-changing. 

Now, I laugh a lot. I laugh at this crazy life, and am hardly ever fazed by it. I can pick out the joy in the monotony and in the struggle. I am finally myself and I am so thankful to be here.

Please also read Tricia’s personal journey with anxiety here.

 

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Erica was raised in Stillwater, MN and never thought she would leave the Twin Cities area. However, this extroverted librarian was on the hunt for a new challenge. At the end of 2018, she convinced her high school sweetheart, their two-year old son Milo, and their three cats to move to Rochester. She has been having a wonderful time exploring the area and later sharing her treasured finds with loved ones. In her spare time, Erica is constantly binging audiobooks and podcasts, wrangling her toddler, working on sassy embroidery and trying out new recipes (but dreads the clean-up). She has decided her new life’s goal is to convince friends and family, one by one, to move to the charming city of Rochester. Follow Erica on Instagram @ericarossmn

1 COMMENT

  1. Amazing read! Thank you for sharing, it is so important to discuss mental health and how connected it is to our physical health.

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