I can’t quite begin to describe how terrifying it is to suffer from a condition I feel I cannot control. Nor can I begin to express the debilitating experiences I have when I am completely consumed by fear, doubt, and an overwhelming sense of impending doom. None of these feelings are by choice. When I have these uncontrollable episodes, I’m perfectly capable of recognizing the irrationalities of my thoughts, but no amount of pep talks or soothing from a friend or family member can stop the twisted tornado from blowing through me, destroying everything in its path and leaving me ashamed and exhausted. I would do almost anything to be able to rid myself and my life of this awful condition, and I’m sure every single person who has it would agree. It is my million-pound ball and chain. It follows me everywhere I go and is apart of every choice I make. If you haven’t already identified it from experience, the issue I am referring to is that I live with anxiety, rare bouts of depression, and panic disorder.
I can recall a time when I was younger where I believe my anxiety began; at least this is my earliest memory of anxiety and panic attacks. My mom would drive me to kindergarten every single morning. In the car, I would suddenly get this feeling that something bad was going to happen to my mom if she dropped me off. I would start to cry in the car when we got just a few short blocks from the school, knowing I would have to get out and say goodbye to her. It was like I was letting her walk into the open arms of the treacherous world with zero protection. I was scared I would somehow lose her and I couldn’t imagine suffering that pain. I was usually fine in appearance by the time I got to class, probably because I didn’t want the other kids to see me and poke fun. But I remember a boy in my class who cried when his mom dropped him off, too. I felt his pain and knew he was just as scared as I was. And I ignored him. In order to keep myself together, I felt I had to ignore his sadness or it would force me to feel my own and I didn’t want to let any of the kids see me cry. Looking back on it, I think he might not have cried if I had gone over and shared my fear with him, showing him he wasn’t alone. Maybe we could have gotten through the school day together. But of course I was only 5 years old and knew nothing about vulnerability or why I was feeling the way I was. I hope he is doing okay now.
After my mom and dad divorced, my sister and I would spend some evenings at my grandparents house while my mom worked late or went to an outing like a New Years Eve party. Elissa and I were too young to stay home by ourselves, so grandma and grandpa’s was the place to be. I loved staying at their house because I really enjoyed my time spent with my grandparents. They had a whole place in the house with just our toys and we would play games and watch Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy (which was fun for us back then) not to mention they gave us popcorn after dinner and then ice cream around 9pm. Everything was fine when we stayed at their house, but my mom saying goodbye as she left would send me into a spiral of sadness and fear. I was again convinced something bad would happen to her and that, even though I recognized there was nothing I could do, I could not protect her from harm if she wasn’t within my reach. I remember crying and begging her not to go because I truly didn’t know if I would ever see her again. It was a horrible feeling and it happened every time she left my side. My grandma and grandpa would do their best to try and calm me down and assure me she would be okay. Before bed, grandma would tuck us in and kneel beside us to say our prayers. She would say “…and Jesus, please protect mommy and have her come home safely” and we would repeat after her. I can’t recall how Elissa would respond to my mom leaving, or to my outbursts for that matter, probably because I was so distraught. This continued on through my early teens. It was miserable. She came home safely every time, but somehow in my gut I felt a day would come when she wouldn’t.
I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.
As I’ve gotten older, the cycle sadly continues, only now it’s with Joe. Even from the beginning of our relationship, I would nearly have a heart attack if I didn’t receive a text from him that he got home safely from work. He works overnight as I’ve mentioned in previous posts and sometimes would fall asleep immediately when he got home. If I didn’t hear from him, it sent my mind to this dark place where every worst possible scenario played out. To stop the panic from continuing, I would have to drive the 30 minutes to his place to check if his car was in the driveway. Only then could I calm down and regain a sense of consciousness. It was very hard for Joe in the beginning to understand what I was going through. He had no past experience to know what it’s like to have someone in your life who suffers from these types of irrational fears. He has done a great deal over the last 9 years to understand me, help me grow, and feel more at ease in expressing my anxieties as they happen. He deals with it very well and for that I am so lucky.
I recently completed a seminar online offered through my insurance company that was enlightening on these issues. It was called “Worries and What To Do With Them.” Basically, it offered some insight from a clinical psychologist who treats patients with anxiety, stress, depression and panic disorder. He kind of took the thought behind where anxiety stems from to a different place for me. He created a scenario using an example of a person in real life today dealing with typical struggles we all face…what if I don’t make enough money? How will I support myself and my family? What will I do if someone I love gets hurt? How can I protect them? He then created another scenario with a caveman standing outside his cave overlooking the land, with his family inside, and he is worried about typical struggles for a caveman…what if I can’t hunt enough to feed my family? Should we find a cave elsewhere? What if those intruders come in the night again? Will I be able to protect my loved ones? Since the beginning of time, it’s been human nature to worry. It’s an instilled survival instinct. He explained that being a worrier means you care. You care about the outcome of every situation and want nothing more than a positive result. You also probably come from a long lineage of survivalists…a group of people who are cautious enough to not make careless mistakes. But worrying to an excess can take it’s toll. Somewhere far back in my genetic line, a caveman ancestor of mine probably stood outside his cave fearing the worst, and hence here I am. I can’t say for sure that’s why I’m a worrywart, but I’ll roll with it. Better for that to be on his shoulders than mine, I’ve got enough on my plate!…that was a stress joke.
I’m sure many of us suffering with these conditions have lost people we really cared about due to the overwhelming nature of these issues. If anyone reading this is struggling with this now, please know it does get easier. As someone that worries, I know our secondary goal is for a positive outcome. We strive for perfection to a fault. But we must learn to accept our worries and work with them rather than against them. If we acknowledged our worries early on and found it as a call to action rather than debilitating, we would spend less time in the unknown zone where the fear lies. Google some best practices for anxiety and give them a try the next time you feel your anxiety rising. Learn to de-stress even if you don’t feel stressed out. Get some exercise and do things that make you happy. Do your best to release a little bit of that sinking weight by relying on someone with strong shoulders who loves you. For goodness sake, get some sleep! *guilty* Most of all, know when it becomes too much to handle and seek help from a professional. We only get one life and we must be sure to live it to it’s fullest. Fear and stress may be apart of life, but so is joy and pleasure; and between them, I know which I’d prefer more of.
Do you suffer from like symptoms of anxiety, panic, or depression? Please feel free to contact me if you’re ever in need of someone to share your thoughts with. It can feel very lonely, but you are by no means alone.