I don’t enjoy sharing my personal experience with anxiety because frankly, it’s embarrassing. I know, mental health should be stigma free by now. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, and yet I am.
I feel more comfortable discussing my anxiety when I preface my symptoms with the caveat that I’ve been through some trauma. I like to point out that the majority of my issues are rooted in post traumatic stress resulting from some terrifying medical emergencies with our daughter. It’s like by explaining that my situation was thrust upon me, by no fault of my own, I free myself from any appearance of weakness. I’m merely a victim of circumstance. My mind may go to the worst case scenario now and then, but I’m normal. Nothing wrong with this gal.
Apparently my ego requires a cushion since I clearly feel the need to justify my anxious feelings. Perhaps it would help if I carried my psyche around on a little satin pillow?
I know I should talk about it though because I’m not alone. ESPECIALLY when it comes to parenting a child with a disability. By avoiding the topic of mental health challenges, I’m not helping myself or anybody else.
Here’s what you need to know about me so you have an idea of the level of hot mess we’re dealing with.
I’m fairly strong, but I’ve always had a tendency to worry. I’ve written about that HERE. Nothing major, just your average worries about life and death and the things we can’t control. I also have an active imagination and a flair for the dramatic, which is an “adding fuel to the fire” situation.
A few years ago my anxiety began to negatively affect my daily life. That’s when I wrapped my delicate superego in a soft downy blanket and took it with me to see my doctor. Through some cognitive behavioural therapy techniques, meditation and exercise, and using humour to defuse stressful situations, I was able to reboot my happy, healthy head space.
And for the past few years, I’ve felt good. Of course, there’s been the occasional “Here we go again, I can’t catch my breath, or sleep, or eat” moment, but by breathing through it or acknowledging it and just letting it pass, I’ve been okay.
But this past two months has been a struggle. And the most frustrating part is that there is NOTHING wrong. My daughter is healthy. I have no legitimate worries. Life is good all around. So what the hell, Lisa?
Don’t worry (pun intended) I have an answer at the end of this post.
But first, let me tell you about a recent panic attack. Pull up a chair. This was a doozy.
My daughter Avery was invited to a birthday party. Lovely. For a kid who isn’t always included, this is a happy rainbow unicorn affair. It was a drop off at somebody’s house party. Cool, Avery loves that. And I know and trust the parents. Awesome. And the girls at the party are sweet and kind. Won’t this be fun?
I dropped her off and returned home to do some work. As I sat at my computer I wondered, “Do they have my cell number on hand? I’d better text it to them again, just in case.”
And once I did I was able to settle back into my work.
Then I wondered, “Am I hungry? My stomach feels off. I hope I’m not getting sick. Is it hot in here? I’m feeling warm. But also cold and shiverey.”
I tried to imagine what Avery was doing and hoped she wouldn’t run around with food in her mouth. She knows not to eat the pizza crust right? Because she choked on crusts before.
My stomach was in knots and now I was having a hard time catching my breath. I could breathe, I just couldn’t take in a full satisfying breath of air.
And I noticed my heart was beating funny. Faster than normal and the beats felt odd.
And why was my one arm so cold? It was tingly and almost a little numb.
I was having a heart attack.
I contemplated dialing 9-1-1. Or I thought maybe I should go next door to the neighbours, just so I didn’t pass out and die alone. See what I mean about the flair for the dramatic?
Instead, I did a breathing exercise and had a glass of water. I went out into the backyard for some fresh air. I started to feel better.
I was able to think more clearly. I reminded myself that my daughter is healthy. I’m healthy too. I’m the most fit I’ve been in my adult life and my blood pressure is under control. This wasn’t a heart attack. This was a panic attack. I was able to recognize this now.
I felt relieved. But also super pissed off. Why?? Why after all the work would this happen out of the blue?
In the weeks following I didn’t have any more full-on freak outs like this one, but I continued to feel uneasy. I can’t explain the feeling other than to say, I was out of sorts. Blah, distracted, restless, but exhausted.
My startle reflex was also through the roof. Any sudden loud noise, and I’d jump like a startled cat, claws dug deep into the ceiling.
And my heart beat continued to concern me. It would race for no reason.
That’s when I started diagnosing myself with a number of grim ailments.
My husband listened sympathetically to my parasympathetic laundry list of possible illnesses but he wouldn’t play along. Instead he suggested, cautiously (we’ve been married 17 years so he knows how to deal with “hot mess Lisa”) that it was anxiety, possibly, maybe?
I didn’t see how it could be. I mean, I knew how to deal with it. I was actually quite skilled at clearing away the “dark clouds” with my own breaths.
Like when I was getting my eyelashes done last week, and I felt myself slip into a worry state (I really dislike having my eyes taped shut). I repeated a meditative mantra in my head until I felt calm. Mind you, I was tired and distracted and I couldn’t remember the specific words to the new om meditation chant I had just learned, so I improvised with, “om chaka khan, shamma lamma ding dong.” LOL! True story. Whatever works, right?
And it did work. I was able to calm my mind, relax my breathing, slow my heart rate, and enjoy my quiet eyelash extension pampering.
I admitted (to myself and to my family) that I was experiencing a significant rise in my anxiety, but I couldn’t pinpoint why.
Then the other day I was listening to a radio show where the speaker was talking about how our long dark winter has lead to an increase in SAD symptoms which relates directly to anxiety and depression. She said that an unprecedented number of people are struggling with anxiety because of Seasonal Affective Disorder.
I was like, “Hey! Wait a minute…” because of wifi issues in our home this winter, I’ve moved out my sun soaked office into a dark corner of the kitchen. I’m like a vitamin D deprived mole rat.
So this could be why I’m so jumpy and stressed and anxious?
I tested this theory by taking a long walk on the first sunny day we’d had in months (sunscreen would have been a good idea….). I got a good night’s sleep and got some more sun and fresh air the following afternoon. By the third day I was feeling better. So much better. And my heart beat seems to be back on track.
My startle response is still high. But, that could related to binge watching “Fear The Walking Dead.” I should probably stop that.
If you’re feeling a bit off, anxious or down, obviously check in with your doctor and always seek help if you need it. But also try turning your face to the sun. Get outside. Breath in the spring air. Enjoy nature. And soak up all the vitamin D.
And hopefully you’ll feel better. I know I do.