Previously titled “What I Want People to Know About Anxiety” revised. Trigger warning: I talk very openly about anxiety, symptoms, hospital stays and loss. My Story
For the last 12 years of my life, I have struggled with a severe anxiety disorder brought on by PTSD. When I was 16, a close family member of mine passed away unexpectedly and avoidably from a heart attack after a heart issue was missed in the emergency room. We were very close, he was one of my favorite people in the world and I was devastated. The following days were just how you’d expect them to be. Sad, but filled with family gatherings, a celebration of life, and although I was still heartbroken, I was surrounded by family and friends and I was healing, and I felt okay. Fast forward a month and I would experience what would be the first of many anxiety attacks to come and it. was. terrifying. It came with no warning and was like nothing I’d ever experienced before. One minute I was perfectly fine, having a conversation and the next, I was hit with piercing chest pains, heart palpitations, the spins, sweating, nauseous, and felt this paralyzing fear that I could never be able to put into words. I was hysterical and positive that I was having a heart attack and that I was going to die. I was rushed to the emergency room, wheeled back right away and immediately had every test imaginable done and guess what? They all came back fine. Sound familiar?
The months that followed were filled with the same pains, the same paralyzing fear of dying, time spent in the TBRHSC mental health ward, numerous emergency room visits and family physician visits, many sit-downs with mental health nurses, therapy, outpatient services and many house calls from the local S.O.S team. You name it, I’ve done it. I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and told over and over I was physically okay. But guess what? A few months before, he was told the same thing. I had developed an extreme fear of death and each time I had a pain, felt a sensation that was new or my heart was beating slightly quicker than normal, I was sure I was dying. A short time later PTSD was added to my diagnosis and that for me was the beginning of what will be a life long battle with anxiety. My mental health has ups and downs and every day takes work. I now know that Mental illness is a powerful thing and it can manifest itself in so many different ways, and I still struggle. When I finally learn how to cope with one symptom, it changes and so I’m always experiencing that “what if” moment. While some harder than others, every day is a ‘mental health’ day for me. There’s not a day that goes by where I don’t experience at least one of the anxiety symptoms that I have, and I just have to fight through it. Every day takes work. I have to work to get out of bed, work to ensure I’m getting to work, practice self-talk and self-reassurance, manage my stress levels because that makes it worse, keep the plans that I make and get out of the house, try to be happy and live as ‘normally’ as possible… the list goes on and on. Below I listed some of what I personally experience:
Overworking/not working at all
Feeling unloved/unimportant/unappreciated/like a burden
Chest pain/heart palpitations
Eating all the time/not at all
Feeling disconnected/brain fog
Canceling plans/ignoring phone
… the list goes on If this is you, it’s important to know that you don’t have to fight it alone. The truth is there is no all fixing anxiety cure. It’s something that you need to stay on top of and work at. The very first step is to speak to someone and get properly diagnosed. That may sound frank, but getting a proper diagnosis was the best thing I ever did. Anxiety disorders are real illnesses based on extreme fear and feeling unsafe and treatment and coping strategies can vary depending on your specific type. Now, there are a few things I want people to know about mental illness.
1. It’s okay to seek help: Psychiatrist is just a scary word for someone that has profound knowledge and understanding of my condition that can listen to me, understand how I’m feeling and walk me through my illness and most importantly comfort me. Being proactive, seeing someone, and getting the proper diagnosis is really the best first step you can take. Anxiety is such a vast and large thing and there are so many different types of anxiety and if you don’t know what you specifically have, treatment won’t be as effective or beneficial to you. Not to mention that once you know what you are up against, and you have more of an understanding that what are you dealing with is a medically diagnose-able disorder and that most importantly you are not alone, you will already begin to feel hope.
2. Even if you think you have complete control over your mental illness, you probably don’t. What you don’t realize is that you have become so accustomed to the way that you function daily, you don’t realize that your illness impacts every decision that you make. What this means is from a simple decision such as going for coffee with a friend all the way to taking on more responsibility at your job, your illness is deciding for you what you are going to do in these situations whether you realize it or not. A couple of years ago(2016), when my mental state was the worst it had been in over 10 years, I would never have imagined in a million years that I would start a blog. The thought would be terrifying all I would be able to focus on is what other people would think. Without even realizing it, I was so worried about my thoughts, appearance, opinions, my entire being simply because I was so overwhelmed with anxiety. Only now that I am on medication that is helping and allowing me to live a life filled with much less anxiety than I had been for years, do I realize that the way I was living wasn’t healthy and I didn’t have to live that way for so long! ( I want to add here, that while medication helps it is not a cure, and I still have bad days, and I still fight every day. If medication is a route you are interested in taking, seek out a professional to help find the correct one for you. Unfortunately its trial and error when it comes to finding a medication that works for you and it can be a rough process that takes time. On average, a medication takes 6 weeks to begin to become effective and if that one does not start working, another 6 weeks to come off of it safely and 6 more weeks to begin another. Patience and support are your best friend during this time.*along with the rest of this article, this snip it is coming at you from personal experience.* )
3. It’s not us being rude or anti-social, I promise! When I am having anxiety, I am so wrapped up in my own mind that I hardly see the world around me. All I see are my insecurities. What if they don’t like me? I have a headache, do I have brain cancer? I’m starting to feel dizzy, oh please don’t let me have a panic attack here! I shouldn’t have said that thing last month. People are looking at you, they must think your weird. I promise you if we ever seem distant or off that it’s unintentional and I don’t even realize that I’m doing it.
4. The stigma is only there because we as a society put it there. A mental illness is just as real as a broken arm. You wouldn’t tell someone with a broken arm to “calm down and get over it” would you? I was out with a friend and we somehow ended up on the topic of my mental illness. When the conversation was over and they had left, the gentleman sitting next to me told me said he couldn’t help but overhear my conversation and that he was a retired Mental illness therapist and he was very surprised to hear me speaking about my anxiety disorder so openly. I told him that I didn’t think a mental illness was anything to be ashamed of and that the stigma behind it is crazy to me. In any given year 1 in 5 Canadians experiences a mental health crisis. The stigma needs to end now.
5. A panic attack really can feel like you’re dying. I know to most people a panic attack may not make any sense but to the person experiencing the panic attack, it is very real and extremely terrifying. When I’m have a panic attack, It feels like I am suffocating, I start hyperventilating and gasping for air, my throat feels like it’s closing and no oxygen is getting through. My hands, arms and face tingle and my entire scalp feels like it is burning. I get severe chest pains and heart palpitations and I begin to feel extremely heavy and nauseous as if I’m going to pass out and in my mind, I 100% believe I am dying. Then, after what feels like a long time I get my first deep breath and start to get the feeling back in my hands and face and the moment finally comes where I am able to really believe I am okay. Each panic attack makes you more fearful of the next.
6. Having an Anxiety disorder is not: just stressing out, being a “neat freak”, an excuse to get attention, a choice, a sign of weakness or a character flaw.
7. You are not alone.
If you are living with an anxiety disorder, I’m here and I got you. I frequently speak about it on my Instagram page and shared this story in videos that you can view on my “anxiety” highlight. EDIT: I have now been of my medication since May of 2020. I have been using CBD products ever since and it has allowed me to continue to stay off of my medication and has made a huge difference. I still suffer from anxiety but have found that the CBD helps and has absolutely no side effects. I have been working with MYSUPPLYCO and they have given me a discount code for you girls! STEPHHUNT will save you 20% off of their entire website! I am not a doctor, this is just what has been working for me.