First things first. Anxiety Sucks.
I’ve been studying anxiety disorders, other related disorders and mental health topics for close to 10 years now, so imagine my surprise (and relief) when my family doctor suggested that I get tested for anxiety.
I say surprise because “I should have known”… As someone who has written hundreds of pages in research papers related to topics in the mental health field, I should have known. As the one who reads Psychology Today instead of Vogue and Cosmo – I should have known. I’ve spent years practicing as an intern and research student, working with numerous clients who deal with anxiety and work through their diagnosis, so yeah… I think I should have known. I’m surprised because it took me so long to ask for help when I’ve known all along that I related very closely to what I’ve been studying for so long.
Now, switching gears: I say relief because, in a way, I think I have known. For a long time, I’ve known that I get “worked up” over some of the most irrelevant things. I know that I count my breaths when my lungs feel tight, and I know how to step back when I feel like I’m losing control of myself in a situation. I know that I get really nervous when I’m in a crowd of people and don’t know what to expect. I get super uncomfortable and often feel like everyone is looking at me, judging me, and it takes me a few minutes to put together that no one is looking at me, and even if they are it’s because it’s social. My relief stems from the understanding that I’ve been coping with anxiety for years, even though I refused to admit that’s what I was doing.
Every time I’ve said “I need a minute” and sneak away behind a corner or into the ladies room to calm my breathing – that was coping. Every time I’ve completely lost control of my emotions and burst into tears over something completely meaningless, that was an inability to cope. All those times when I would get a pit in my stomach before walking into a room where I knew people were going to talk to me and ask me questions, and instead of feeling calm about being around people, I just wanted to curl up in a room by myself, that was anxiety.
Personally and professionally, I believe everyone deals with anxiety on some level. Life is stressful, and our lives are full of anxiety-provoking scenarios.
So the question here is “When do you ask for help?”
The answer is different for everyone.
For me, I asked for help a few months ago. It was after I started noticing old patterns creeping back up. I was beginning to have anxiety attacks again, ones that I couldn’t control. I wasn’t just nervous or stressed out. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t communicate. I would sit on the floor in the bathroom for what seemed like an eternity trying to pull myself together as I gasped for breath. The pain in my chest felt unbearable until it didn’t. And after the moments passed, I’d wipe my eyes, apply some concealer, and pretend like nothing happened.
That’s not all… My sleeping was becoming interrupted again. I started having night terrors again. The most horrible dreams. And that, I could deal with because I’d wake up, realize it wasn’t real, and then go about my day. But, then the sleep paralysis started up again, and this was something I couldn’t deal with as easily. It started happening multiple times a week, and I fell back into a fear of falling asleep. So I would either stay up and try to avoid a deep sleep, or I’d take some Advil PM to really knock me out. Either way, I knew that things were getting bad again.
The route of all of these things happening start with stress, change, and frankly, too much on my plate. An inability to handle stress or deal with whatever amount of stress that may be, that leads to anxiety. Too much anxiety leads to everything I just described above. All of this that I’ve described did not just start a few months ago. It’s something I’ve felt and experienced for years, but because I could deal with it, I never got help. I never talked about it, and if I did, I would mainly just talk about how it was weird but that I had it under control.
What asking for help looked like for me:
I scheduled an appointment with my family doctor, one that I almost canceled several times. She’s a woman I’ve known for a few years now. She’s a Christian, a mother, a wife, and a professional. She knows how I feel about natural remedies, and she really took the time to talk things through with me. The appointment didn’t at all go how I had expected. I was so nervous to tell her all of the things that had been happening because I was afraid. I was scared she would think I was crazy, or that I was lying, or that she would think I’m unfit to be a therapist. I shared that with her, and she eliminated all of those fears by telling me just how normal it is for someone to struggle with anxiety. She explained that not getting help was the worst thing I could do.
I’ve already told you how I felt after that appointment: surprised and relieved. What I didn’t feel was – crazy, unfit, or scared. Up to this point, I had been told so many lies about anxiety. I had been told that it wasn’t real. I had been told that it was an excuse for lazy people. That it was for people who were weak or too sensitive. I had let the lies of people (non-professionals, mind you) keep me from getting help for something that is so incredibly normal.
All along I’ve thought I could handle something that I was never supposed to handle. It’s not a matter of not being strong enough or being inadequate in any way. And trust me, that’s an ego thing that I’m still working through. I hate knowing that I needed to get help, and it was because I felt like I would be considered less-than if I asked for it. But that’s not true for me, and it’s not true for you. If you are struggling with anxiety or having a tough time working through life, I urge you to reach out. It’s honestly the best thing you can do for yourself and for your family. Remember, the healthiest you is the best you, and the best you is what you deserve to be. It’s what your kids deserve, what your spouse deserves, and it’s ultimately what you deserve.
– the Wife
Reality vs. Expectation
This is what a person with anxiety looks like.
This is also what they look like.