Here I am at 59. I have had a successful career in marketing and advertising, served on boards, and been a valuable volunteer for ending the stigma of mental illness. People look to me for advice and strength. I even own a firm to provide workshops about the mentally ill and teach communication techniques to law enforcement and other key groups. One Sherriff said to me “We need to stop shooting the mentally ill”. So, who knows, I may have helped save a life or two.
But there are days and parts of days where my anxiety and panic owns me. It owns my physical well-being and my mind. I simply cannot shake it – no matter how many “coping mechanisms” I try. It is a living hell.
The worst times for me are mornings. That is why I have to have a strong purpose to get out of bed and even then it is a battle I don’t always win. The anxiety starts upon awakening. No time to do self-talk… just anxiety or panic zero to sixty in 2 seconds.
It starts with worrying… ruminating over concerns that may or may not be relevant. I bounce from money worries, to loss of sanity, to being a bad mother, to when will this feeling end and then to abject fear of life. The anxiety can quickly become a full blown panic attack. Panic is different from anxiety – I describe it as anxiety on steroids. My heart races, my mind races, irrational thoughts become more intense and with it comes a “no way out” mode. The panic attacks then own me and thoughts of suicide enter my mind. At that moment, I can’t for the life of me, think of a Plan B. I always feel like a failure when this happens. And then that dark cloud of self loathing hangs over me until bedtime.
Thankfully our bodies can only handle so much adrenaline at a time so that panic can’t physically stay much longer than 45 minutes.
Why do I experience anxiety and panic? There is a relatively new view of mental illness or disorder. It is called Trauma Informed Care. Instead of asking “What’s wrong with you?” the question is “What happened to you?” That is the question most of us can answer – it’s open and not judgmental.
What happened to me? There are too many explanations for this length of story. But I can tell you my anxiety started at eight when I lost my grandfather. For four weeks I could not catch my breath or leave home. At age twelve I was molested by my stepfather and lost all trust in my mother. At age twenty one I became an over achiever and workaholic. I also drank to self-medicate which brought on depression. At age thirty one I married the man of my dreams. At age 44 he was killed in a car accident – leaving me with two children ages 4 and 8 with special needs, PTSD and no time to grieve. And at age 45 I experienced my first stay in a psychiatric unit.
My trauma is no more painful than most people we pass by every day but I did not know that for the longest time. In fact my jaw drops when I hear others traumatic experiences. My saving grace has been “outing” my mental illness so we can talk to each other – an amazing step toward mental health.
I may always live with anxiety and panic but I do hope it lessens and that I can take the reins one day. I don’t like to be owned – who does?