Can we talk?
I’ve struggled with anxiety for much of my life, probably a lot like the rest of you. Only, I didn’t realize what it was at the time. It’s time to talk about anxiety.
Oh, there were names for what I was feeling. Irritability and a quick temper were among the names I used for my anxiety. I struggled to let people get close to me because I was worried about what they thought about me. My co-workers used to talk about my “bubble” of personal space and at one point it was quite large.
When I finally realized and accepted that the behaviors I was experiencing were, in fact, anxiety my life had overwhelmed me.
The Last Straw
November, about 10 years ago, was a stressful month after a stressful fall.
The year before my daughter joined the peace corp stationed in Ethiopia and we were planning a visit. My father-in-law had open heart surgery a couple of months before our planned trip (he was coming with us) and I was trying to study for my national boards.
Each of these things would be stressful by itself but because these things all were happening at the same time, I was overwhelmed.
If you are asking why things happened this way when I could have planned it better? Me too.
I just know that we’d been planning this trip to Ethiopia the moment we put her on the plane. We purchased the tickets 6 or 7 months before and spent all of my spare time planning the nearly two-week trip. I never realized how hard it was to plan a trip 8000 miles away in a third world country not to mention the required vaccines. Trying to get a yellow fever vaccine in the small town I live near was stressful.
My father-in-law had been having heart issues for a while and the months leading up to November were spent in doctors offices and the hospital after open heart surgery. His recovery was slow and we didn’t know if he would be able to come with us. He looked so forward to this trip and that was a question up to about 10 days before the trip.
The national board test was my last step to become licensed in my field and I’d put it off long enough. Graduation was just under two years prior and I was on a deadline. I’d felt the weight of my procrastination for so long that I could barely process anything as long as I had that on my to-do list.
I don’t remember what sent me to the doctor but I went. My doctor knows its bad when I go because I seldom go unless I am dying so she knew I was desperate. I left that day with a trial run of a prescription to see how it works.
And it did.
What I knew about anxiety came from my work and from my education but that didn’t include experience. And because the medication helped, I thought it was enough. For a while it was but several years later, I learned it wasn’t. I needed to talk about anxiety.
Where Anxiety Comes From
Anxiety is one of those things that is a necessary function of life. The area, the amygdala of the brain (very basically) in charge of these responses is charged with keeping us alive. This is important because when getting eaten by wild animals was a real possibility, the amygdala provided that instant flight, fight or freeze response keeping us alive. This is a good thing.
However, for the most part, we no longer live in a world where getting eaten is a real possibility. But we still have this system with its job of keeping us alive. It becomes easy for your brain to see things as a threat, even when it’s not.
Because the brain struggles to discern the difference between a real and a perceived threat so it is possible for this system to stay in overdrive. That means simple things like studying for a test for your future (future threat) coupled with planning a long trip to a foreign land can create an overload on this system. And when you add the health concerns of a family member, forget about it. Overwhelm happens and with it, the ability to function.
What to do with the overwhelm.
Dealing with anxiety is seldom a straight path. Mine certainly wasn’t. It did take a few more years before I figured out how to navigate my anxiety.
Treatment for anxiety includes:
1. Anti-depressants – they also work for anxiety
2. Self-care – includes avoiding alcohol, reduce caffeine, physical exercise, stress management, quitting smoking, relaxation techniques, and a healthy diet. And, it includes spending time for yourself, journaling, meditation. It could even include balancing your checkbook. It is whatever it takes to manage your anxiety.
3. Counseling – take the time to find a therapist that works for you, it may not be the first or even the fifth one, but it is worth it to find someone who works well with you.
The journey I have been on for the past 10 years has had its ups and downs.
I started with anti-depressants to help me to manage my symptoms. One thing that I’ve learned is that I can’t go off of them. Believe me, I’ve tried and after about 3 days I am snapping at everyone and road rage like you can’t believe.
There is so much stigma attached to “needing” to take meds to manage your mental health and is so unnecessary. Think of it this way, if your heart or your kidney had issues, you would not hesitate to take medication. Is the brain (which is an organ too) any different? Isn’t it time to talk about anxiety and other mental health issues?
Therapy came next and I’ve worked with a therapist for many years, on and off, to help me understand the underlying issues causing my triggers. It’s been a journey in itself.
I’ve also worked at taking better care of myself. One thing that happens when I am in overwhelm is that I cannot journal. Yes, this is counterproductive but it happens.
In response to this issue, I have begun to focus on what I need at any given moment.
Before I hear the argument of “that’s selfish” I just want to remind everyone that you cannot pour from an empty pitcher. If you continue to care for others without caring for yourself, at some point you will find yourself empty and no longer able to take care of anyone, including yourself.
Self-care must come first.
I’ve also taken up yoga (not enough) and touch therapy – massages. And, even changed my job to help manage my anxiety.
I need to talk about anxiety because I still struggle with issues, though much less than before and that is okay. It is a journey after all.
The one thing I would like you to take from this post is that you have control over your anxiety. Perhaps not in the way you would like, but you do have a choice in how you deal with anxiety. And, I would encourage you to not give up until you’ve found what works for you. And don’t forget to talk about anxiety.
Until next time, Angela
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