Life With Anxiety

Photo by Viktor Hanacek. From http://www.picjumbo.com

I have been living with anxiety for a long time. I was recently thinking about my childhood and realized that I have been dealing with anxiety for longer than I had previously thought.

In elementary school my family moved to a different town and my parents divorced. I didn’t fit in at school. I started puberty early and had a hard time dealing with how my body was changing, especially because no one else I knew was going through the same thing at the same time. I never knew why, but at that time I started to overeat, often hiding bags of candy and eating it in secret.

Looking back now I realize that I began using food to self-medicate and make myself feel better, something that I still do today. This only made things worse as I entered junior high, as I was already more developed than most of the other girls and I quickly became heavier than them too.

In 8th grade my whole class was supposed to take a bus to the high school and spend the entire day watching Career Day presentations. I was dreading Career Day so much and was so anxious that I developed red, itchy hives all over my face and body the day before. I begged my mom to stay home but she wouldn’t allow me to. It was mortifying to walk around the school with blotchy red bumps all over.

The same patterns followed through high school. I wanted to participate in the school plays, to be on the debate team, to do well in speech class, but I was mortified and would panic. I would either be unable to speak or babble on and on, embarrassing myself. I ended up avoiding all situations where I would have to do anything before an audience, including giving a speech as senior class president at commencement.

While in college my anxiety only worsened. I would have panic attacks in class, sit in the seat closest to the door, and sometimes only feel better if I fled. I had to take Xanax to stand up in front of my classmates in my Public Speaking course. I failed two semesters. I was able to succeed and excel with online courses, luckily.

After my first semester in college I started a six year relationship. About six months into the relationship I realized that I wasn’t happy and didn’t want to be involved with that person, but knew I couldn’t afford to live on my own and was too proud to ask for help. So, I stayed and was unhappy. I would get panic attacks and try to do anything I could think of to sabotage the relationship and get him to break up with me, but it didn’t work. He was emotionally abusive, something that no one else saw. Anytime I would tell him I was unhappy and that I wanted a change he would tell me that it was my fault I was unhappy, I had let myself get fat, no one else would want me, that I needed him because I didn’t make enough money, etc. He wrecked my car and refused to give me anything to help fix it or get a replacement.

Finally I got an opportunity to buy a house in my hometown that my father had bought to fix up and sell. I was making the loan payments, I had all of the utilities in my name, and when I finally had enough, I told him to leave. I knew it was now or never and I had just turned twenty-five; I didn’t want to waste any more of my life. He tried to play upon my symathy and said that if I broke up with him he would kill himself. Little did he know that that is exactly what my biological father said to my mother to get her to marry him and I wasn’t going to fall down that particular rabbit hole. I called his mother and left her a voicemail about the situation, made him schedule an appointment with the campus mental health center, and said, “Bye, Felicia!” How empowering that was! How my soul finally felt free! It took another month to kick him out completely but I moved on right away. He played the sympathy card, telling family and friends how mean I was, how I should give him half of everything I owned since we had been together for over five years (his mother kept telling him we had a common law marriage) even though I had absolutely nothing of any value.

Almost immediately my anxiety issues disappeared. I performed better and was better in on-campus classes in college, I had fewer panic attacks, and I lost weight almost without trying.

Life happens, time continues moving forward, things change. After being married, my job became more stressful and I began to have more noticeable anxiety again, but nothing like I had experienced in the past. Everything was manageable with relaxation, exercise, and other coping strategies, but it has been worse since having children.

The last year has been a work up to a large project implementation which took place on February first, so there has been an incredible amount of stress at work. Now that the big build up to that is over and we are in “recovery mode” there is still more than a fair share of stress, but less overall.

Now I don’t get my regular gym time like I used to, nor my long walks that I enjoyed before having kids. I find myself often self-medicating with food because it is easy to fall back into old habits. Sleep is a valuable commodity and there never seems to be enough to go around… just when the first child started sleeping through the night the second came along. My muscles are often tense and sore. I’ve had a recurring headache for about three weeks now. A nap, a massage, a glass of wine, and a hot shower sound amazing.

My physician started me on Zoloft after my delivery to help manage my anxiety and it has helped. I have started to use Xanax again in the past few months because I would start to feel the all too familiar fight or flight sensation that precedes my panic attacks. It has been incredibly helpful in keeping me from getting stuck into a full blown panic attack.

I hate how I am and who I am with anxiety. I find that I easily get anxious in situations where space is limited, like being in the car with my husband and kids or in a crowded aisle at the grocery store. I have less patience. I am quick to get irritated and annoyed. Clutter and disorder are both big triggers. I always try to pick up after the kids, always try to keep the house neat. I can’t stand to be in places that are filled to the brim with stuff.

Last night my husband worked late. I was trying to cook tacos, unload and load the dishwasher, entertain the baby, and keep the two-year-old from smothering the baby (“I just want to give him kisses, Mom. He likes my kisses,”) all at the same time. The baby started crying, Abby kept trying to “help” me unload the dishwasher and tripped and fell, which prompted her to have a fit because she wanted milk in a special cup which was dirty. I could feel my breaths start to quicken and shorten. My chest started to feel tight. I felt a meltdown of my own coming on and I almost snapped at Abby to go play in her room and leave her brother alone. I had to turn off the burner where I was cooking taco meat, pour her a bowl of cereal and sit down to nurse the baby. Dinner wasn’t ready when my husband came home. I didn’t get the kids’ baths done. But everyone ate. Everyone calmed down. The kids went to bed and I sat on the couch to decompress.

I want so badly for this to not be the new “normal” and I am working to make sure it is not. This too shall pass, but it sure sucks sometimes.

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