I was born with anxiety. A fact that was not obvious to me until just recently. As a child, I compared myself to others and constantly searched for ways to please people without having to interact with them. I convinced myself that no one liked me, I was stupid and ugly. As I grew older I found ways to weave myself into society by observing what others did and mimicking it. This is how I survived high school and even walked away with friends I’m still close to today. The difference is they accept me for who I really am, not the made-up version I created in order to be accepted.
When I hit nineteen I had my first panic attack. They became more intense and frequent every day until I could barely function. I dropped out of college, claiming I wasn’t sure what major to choose. Everyone either bought it or didn’t want to stir the emotions that were bursting out of me. I didn’t get help, I suffered for years afraid of group situations, including classrooms. Though I’m not a religious person, I prayed a new chapter of my life would appear, and I would put this pain behind me. I prayed for magic.
With time the crushing anxiety had dissipated. It was when I started to force myself to take steps to the future. I took online classes and worked my way back into a real classroom when I was ready. For years I would have occasional panic attacks when something was stressful, such as an interview, tests, exams, and anytime I became the center of attention. But I graduated.
I thought it was normal, uncomfortable but normal. I never sought help.
I met my husband in my late twenties, he’s an enabler, and I love him for it. When we first met he didn’t know I had anxiety, I hid it from him well. It wasn’t until we tried to get pregnant and couldn’t that my nerves became hard to keep at bay. Years of fighting infertility left me empty and unable to cope with life. I withdrew from friends and family, my husband stood by me.
When we got pregnant I was thrilled and attempted to rejoin the normal world. I failed. Thoughts on worst-case scenarios took over my life. What if something happened to me while I’m pregnant? It could hurt the baby. I stayed close to my husband during the pregnancy, and soon after my son was born I found I couldn’t leave the house without my husband by my side.
He let me keep this up. I don’t blame him, I’m thankful. He loves me and he wanted me to be okay. At this point, I confided everything in him. He kept my secrets, a burden I still feel bad about. So unfair of me. I shared how public places triggered panic attacks, long lines left me feeling trapped, going to the baseball game felt like a death wish. I couldn’t do any of it. Fast forward, we had two more children and the anxiety got worse.
I couldn’t take my children to the library without my husband or a friend accompanying us. The park was usually okay unless it was crowded and then we’d never get out of the car. I hated myself. I hated the example I was setting for my beautiful children. So full of spunk and life, they didn’t deserve to have a broken mother like me.
I got help because of them.
Therapy, acupuncture, online forums and communities were great starts. Silence was not the answer, I spoke up. Researching online became a vice and a gift. There are so many things that claim to help. I did find success in supplements with Magnesium and CBD oil drops when I knew I would be in a stressful situation. However, the biggest change for me was self-awareness.
My neighbor didn’t invite me to her party. It’s because she hates me, I’m stupid, I’m not worthy of meeting her friends. My friend told me we would get dinner but then she canceled for no good reason. It’s because I’m not special enough, she chose something else over me.
The negativity I allowed my brain to reap was sickening. I had to stop the cycle. The smallest steps of exposing myself to triggers, and retraining my brain has helped. These self-harming thoughts could wander in, I’d hear them, and then let them go. This helped rather than trying to block them altogether.
Anger took over when anxiety left. I became frustrated, lashing out at others, hiding from things that sparked rage. This is what replaced anxiety. It was just as ugly. How was I failing! I was angry that this was my life. This is what I’m here to do with my one chance? Suffer? Fuck that!
I continued with therapy. I continued with the RIGHT therapist because I had two prior that was not a good fit. I’m not as angry anymore. Yes, I still moments of anxiety and anger. But I can go into a grocery store with all of my kids and pick up a few things without melting down. This sounds so small to some, but to me, it’s a huge win. HUGE.
My life is returning to me because I fight for it. I fight for myself, for my kids, my friends, my family, and even that asshole that cut me off in the parking lot.
I have anxiety, but anxiety doesn’t have me.
Blog brought to you by Melisa Peterson Lewis of Fingers to Sky. A blogger about life, gardening, reading, and writing.