In this part of my Mental Health Series we will be talking about anxiety. For this series I asked real people living with these mental health disorders to share their version to help educate and spread awareness. Please know that no matter what mental health disorder you’re dealing with you’re not alone. Reach out, talk about it! Thank you to everyone who helped me with this series and without further ado let’s get into Understanding Anxiety!
According to the U.S Department of Health and Human Services there are five types of anxiety
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder, GAD, is an anxiety disorder characterized by chronic anxiety, exaggerated worry and tension, even when there is little or nothing to provoke it.
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, OCD, is an anxiety disorder and is characterized by recurrent, unwanted thoughts (obsessions) and/or repetitive behaviors (compulsions).
- Panic disorder is an anxiety disorder and is characterized by unexpected and repeated episodes of intense fear accompanied by physical symptoms that may include chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, or abdominal distress.
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD, is an anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to a terrifying event or ordeal in which grave physical harm occurred or was threatened.
- Social Phobia, or Social Anxiety Disorder, is an anxiety disorder characterized by overwhelming anxiety and excessive self-consciousness in everyday social situations.
Below I will be sharing three separate experiences with anxiety.
Anxiety for me is overthinking things, always thinking the absolute worst, heart palpitations, biting my nails or the inside of my cheek, not talking to people, laughing nervously, insomnia, racing thoughts, crying, hyperventilating. I have always tried to be an open book but sometimes talking about certain things can trigger my anxiety. I don’t like confrontation – that triggers my anxiety. I always fear I’ll be judged and have bad anxiety about any choice I make, especially when it comes to parenting.
My anxiety stems back years ago but I remember it getting really bad after a car accident I had in 2013. I had my daughter with me at the time and totaled my car while driving in the snow. It doesn’t seem like much to some but that day changed my life. I went from loving to drive and jumping at the chance to hop in my car and go to overthinking every little detail that could (and in my head WOULD) go wrong, both in the snow and just in general. It took me a couple years to drive in the snow again. I still don’t like to and will only if I HAVE to. Here recently I have noticed that when I’m driving I imagine people hitting me as they pass me. The whole accident plays out in my head and it took me a bit to realize it wasn’t actually happening. The people coming at me don’t have to be doing anything wrong. I will just begin imagining them crossing over the yellow line and hitting me head on. Driving is a form of therapy for me, though. So I never know how I will react to having to get in the car and go anymore. There’s days where I jump in my car an go and there’s others where I have such bad anxiety about driving that I put having to leave off until I absolutely HAVE to leave.
My anxiety doesn’t just interfere with my driving. I had a couple years where it got better and I was able to calm myself down. Then I got pregnant with our third baby. After the delivery I developed Postpartum Anxiety, also known as PPA. This was a whole different nightmare. I kept pushing it off as baby blues and that new mom feeling. I couldn’t leave her with anyone, even her dad. I had fears of her being ignored, left to scream, not being able to calm down. No one ever gave me a reason to feel or think she’d be treated this way, especially my husband. The first time I left her with her dad I had a panic attack. I couldn’t figure out what was going on but at that point I knew it was more than just my hormones and being super emotional. I wanted to be in control of everything. Change every diaper, feed her every bottle, change her every outfit. I didn’t like when people held her. I didn’t like when other people took care of her. Even her own dad. In my head no one could care for her like I do. No one would do it as good as I do. So I didn’t want anyone else doing it. I also lost out on a lot of sleep because I kept panicking that she’d quit breathing if I fell asleep.
Postpartum anxiety, for me, was/is definitely worse than my generalized anxiety (by worse I mean that I was not able to calm myself down on my own anymore and needed the help of medicine). I am now 10 months postpartum and I’m not sure I can even call my anxiety PPA anymore. There are a lot of things that can trigger my anxiety from having to make a phone call to going into a store. Literally anything can trigger it. In fact, when I made the decision to go public with my blog I had severe anxiety over it. There were people in my family that were going to learn a lot about me and I wasn’t sure I was ready for that.. plus the good ol’ you’ll be judged for this and this and this played over and over in my head. I am so glad that I decided to go public, though. It has been an amazing experience for me.
Another thing that has recently caused a lot of anxiety for me was talking to my doctor about what I had been experiencing. I was afraid of judgement, of CPS, of anything happening that would negatively affect my girls. I worked up the courage and at my 6 week postpartum check up I talked to my doctor about what had been going on and she diagnosed me with Postpartum Anxiety. She started me on meds and they have helped TREMENDOUSLY!
Before I began experiencing postpartum anxiety I was always able to use breathing techniques, thinking of positive memories, focus on a spot on the wall.. to help bring me down. One of those always worked. Until I had a new baby and PPA hit me. I am currently taking Buspirone to help with my anxiety. It took me quite a bit to be okay with NEEDING the meds. I felt like a failure, like I wasn’t good enough for my girls. Which in turn caused even more anxiety. I am very thankful that it is working and even though I still have bad days the good days far outweigh the bad.
Every day is a new adventure with anxiety. I never know if it’ll be a good day or a bad day. I am currently keeping a tracking of my sleep and my anxiety to see if that ties anything together. It’s a constant learning experience for me, even though I’ve been dealing with anxiety for over 6 years.
I get anxiety about completely normal every day tasks that everyone can do. It shuts me down completely sometimes. Driving? Might as well ask me to perform brain surgery. I can’t do it. I know how to drive. But the minute I get behind the wheel, I forget everything. I can’t even remember which is the gas and which is the brake and suddenly I’m crying because in my mind, I can see myself dying a thousand different ways in that car. I don’t even have to be driving. I can’t even ride in a car without this happening.
Anything can trigger my anxiety. And not every anxiety attack is the same. Sometimes, I’ll want something or I’ll want to do something but I’m too afraid to say anything because what if the answer is no? I call these situations my quiet anxiety. I don’t want to talk to anyone, I don’t want to listen, I want to be alone and I NEED to be alone. So I can calm myself down. So I can reason with myself. Which doesn’t always work. It puts me in such a difficult mood. It makes me testy. I’m easily aggravated. It causes me to lash out for no reason. The only thing that helps this is just being alone.
Then there are my big anxiety attacks. Driving is only one thing that causes this. My kids being in another room and I hear a loud sound – my brain immediately sends me a thousand mental images of all the ways they could get hurt. My brain tells me “anything bad that can happen, will happen”. No matter what I do or what anyone tells me, I can’t listen. Because to me it is real. Whatever horrible situation I’ve imagined is real and it is happening. And I can’t breathe. I cry. I get angry at anyone telling me differently. I have to go see what’s going on. Once I see everything is ok, I’m ok. It takes me awhile to calm down but I’m ok.
The worst thing about my anxiety is the mood swings it can cause. If I’m in the midst of an anxiety attack, sometimes it’s oddly comforting when my kids come and ask me for help with something or they ask me to get them something. A task? I can handle that! Especially if it’s for my babies! But that isn’t what always happens. Sometimes I’m so on edge that I absolutely cannot handle questions. Whether it’s “what time is it?” Or “what are you thinking?” It doesn’t matter. Absolutely do not ask me anything when I’m having an anxiety attack. I don’t know why but it sets me off so bad. It makes me angry. And when that anger fades and I’m left with just plain anxiety, my guilt kicks in on top of it and I feel like garbage. It makes me cry even harder.
I don’t really have a lot of coping mechanisms. Sometimes counting my fingers over and over helps. That’s a good one for car rides. Sometimes I have to just have silence. Noise can make my anxiety infinitely worse. Distractions like my phone help the most. Candy Crush or nonsense conversations on social media are big helps. That’s really all I’ve got. I don’t want to be on medication for my anxiety because well that gives me anxiety.
My struggle with anxiety started when I was really young. Everyone would write it off as me being shy or just plain awkward.
It worsened when I was in middle school. I had just moved states, started a new school, hit puberty and well… I was really awkward on top of it all.
It was a richy neighborhood. All of the girls looked like carbon copies and then there was me, the one wearing black everyday instead of pink and bows in my hair. I was also thicker than the others, and they had no problem letting me know it.
I started seeing a therapist, who recommended using a rubber band on my wrist, to pop myself, instead of more harmful coping mechanisms. She would say to tense up my whole body, take deep breaths, just try to force myself through the day.
I started skipping school. I didn’t sleep much.
In my adult life, my social anxiety is more manageable. I’ve found people that understand and support me, no matter how I’m doing that day.
But then came driving anxiety. After a few years of driving, I thought I had overcome it.
Last winter I was getting ready to go visit my grandmother in Chicago. I knew it’d be the last time seeing her, and it was my first road trip with just me driving, so my anxiety was high. It was raining and the road was steep and curvy, forcing my car right off the road and into a tree. Now I can’t even bring myself to drive in the rain. I shake and cry, just at the thought of being in a vehicle in the rain. It’s forced me to lose a job that I loved, skip out on friends, miss appointments, and more.
I’ve started Lexapro to help manage the anxiety, in hopes of eventually overcoming the fear.
I’ve accepted that this will be a lifelong battle. Every time I overcome one obstacle, there will be another. There will be relapses, but I will live.
Thank you so much for reading the second part to my mental health series! Stay tuned next month for part three!