Are you like Anxiety Girl?

I first discovered I have anxiety issues a few years ago when my mother-in-law was dying of cancer.  I remember the night we got the call that that she was being taken to the hospital because she was having difficulty breathing.  When the doctor showed us the X-rays of her lungs, I could see the deterioration caused by the emphysema due to years of smoking.  She didn’t have long, so we gathered the family together to be with her as we waited for the end come.

I worried as my husband did all he could to take care of his mother during her final days even while dealing with his own health issues.  You see he was designated by his siblings to be the one to make decision for her care to prevent conflict. An awesome responsibility.

After a sleepless night at the hospital, the following morning I was at my own mother’s apartment helping her to move into a retirement home after she broke a hip and a wrist.  It was a very emotional time for me.  It was by her own choice she went into a home, but still, I couldn’t help thinking that this may be the last home she would ever have. It just seemed that the people I love and counted on to be there now needed my help with decisions that would impact, not only their lives, but my own  as well.

During these two major shifts in my life, I was also worrying about my daughter who was studying at a university in Scotland.  She was so unhappy.  What was supposed to be an exciting adventure turned into a big disappointment.  The constant rain, the lack of challenge, the limited curriculum, her roommates.  There was nothing to ground her to make it all worthwhile.

As with so many things in life, “This too shall pass.”  And it did.  My mother-in-law died surrounded by those who loved her, my own mother is happily settled in the retirement home, and my daughter came home. Things went back to normal.  At least for a while.

The Fallout:
Six months later I was working on a display at the Black History Society when I felt like I hit a wall. Things were going well as we worked through the morning, but by lunchtime I turned white and lost all my energy.  I thought I just needed to eat, so I went home and prepared something but it sat heavy in my stomach.  So in the middle of the afternoon I got ready for bed; a most unusual occurrence for anyone who knows me.  I slept day and night for a week with maybe two hours of waking time in between.  I thought I might have the flu.  After a week, feeling stronger, I was up and about but I still needed to guard my energy.  Tiredness would overcome me like a cloud passing over the sun.  But still, the flu is like that right?

Some symptoms of anxiety

Nighttime found me listening to the thump, thump, thump, of my heart making it difficult to relax into sleep.  That’s when I started to worry that something was wrong with my heart.  My dad died of a heart attack so it was a natural worry for me.  I tried to get my mind off things by writing.  It was the only time I didn’t feel anxious.  Well, that and exercise.  I was doing a lot of walking at the time, focusing my thoughts on a single mantra, “In this moment, all is well.”

This went on for a month before my husband intervened. “Why don’t you just go to the doctor and find out what’s wrong?”  I knew he was right, but I was afraid of what I’d find out.  But I called  anyway.  When I told them I thought I was having trouble with my heart they got me in right away.  OK, another reason to worry.

Accept that it’s OK to feel anxious

Out of Balance:
Sitting in the doctor’s office waiting for my turn, I tried to focus my attention on a little light reading as I tried to calm myself with some deep breathing exercises. I hated having my blood pressure taking because I knew it wouldn’t be good.  When I finally got in to see the doctor, he was very compassionate.  I told him what I’d been going through and how it was affecting me.  How losing not only my mother-in-law, but my father and father-in-law as well in recent years, my own thoughts had turned towards my own mortality making me realize how tenuous our time is, and how fragile we really are.

He explained how my neurotransmitters were out of balance due to all that had happened and that I would need to take something to help restore that balance.  I’ve been taking it ever since.  It helps with the everyday business of managing my life in the most normal way possible.  But there are still times when I’m pushed beyond my comfort zone and experience feelings of anxiety. There’s no doubt about it, it does sometimes impact on the choices I make.  As a person with anxiety I naturally think the worst. I need to feel safe. But I am learning that there are other ways to feel safe while out of my comfort zone.  I think being able to change my perspective on what feels like a dangerous situation is helpful.

Managing My Anxiety:
Whenever I feel like I’m in over my head, I know that I have two things that I always carry with me wherever I go.  I have my instincts to guide me, and my intellect to help me make decisions when I’m feeling threatened. I also think that being able to break things down into manageable pieces is helpful.  I ask myself what I can do to make me feel comfortable, or safe, in difficult places or situations.  Feeling like I’m in control is very important to me.  But I know that the reality is we can only control things so far.  That’s where my instincts and my intellect come into play.

Looking back I think I’ve always had in issue with anxiety.  That fear that I won’t be able to handle life, or when I ask myself why I’m struggling when it appears that others seem to be able to handle things so much better.  But you know what I found out?  Everyone struggles with something.  It’s normal to be out of control sometimes, to feel anxious, panicky even.  But the main thing is that we can work through these things if we are willing. Each of us has to find a way that works for us.
Anxiety will probably always be a part of my make-up.  What I have to do is accept that sometimes I may feel uncomfortable, my stomach may tighten up, and I may break out into a sweat as my heart rate increases, but this too shall pass.

Check out some movie stars that have anxiety issues and see how they deal with it.

Categories: Memoir

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