We write a lot here on Anxiety Connection about the latest studies, research, and academic knowledge of anxiety related disorders. Yet all these bullet point how-to lists and statistics don’t really convey the day to day struggles of someone who suffers from anxiety. In this post I am going to delve into the personal realm of anxiety to share what this experience is like for me and how I have coped with my anxiety all of these years. I hope that in return, you too, will share your story. You never know how something you write today may help someone in the days, weeks, and even years to come. The personal narrative is a very powerful thing.
My first memories of feeling anxious
There was a lot in my childhood to cause me to feel fear and anxiety. I lived with my mother, who has paranoid schizophrenia in the inner city. My father died when I was four and this was probably my first memory of feeling fearful. My mother explained to me that my father was “sleeping” but that he would never wake up again. It was an explanation which provoked my first phobia. I would be plagued with sleeping problems for many of my childhood years because I feared that if I too, went to sleep, I might never wake up. I remember night time being an especially scary time as I tried in vain to remain awake. When I did fall asleep I would force myself to wake up every couple of hours.
I would also learn to fear heights and especially open stairs in my childhood. My mother and I lived in an apartment building with fire escape stairs. We had to climb these stairs to get to our home. One day I tripped and fell head first down these stairs. Amazingly I was just a bit bruised and scratched but ever since that day I have been afraid of high places and stairs that remind me of that incident.
What are your first memories of feeling fearful or anxious?
Physical symptoms of my anxiety then and now
My body reacts pretty much the same way as an adult as it did in childhood in response to feeling anxious. Sweating, trembling, and feeling short of breath are physical manifestations of my anxiety. My stomach is usually the first body part to feel the impact of an anxiety attack. As a child I suffered from stomach aches and nausea and as an adult I developed Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). Although there is no research which isolates stress and anxiety as the cause for IBS it doesn’t help any. As I have written about previously, stress usually doesn’t cause chronic medical illness but it can make whatever you do have much worse.
What physical symptoms do you experience when you are feeling anxious or stressed?
Triggers for anxiety or panic
It used to be easier to pinpoint the source or trigger for my anxiety. I have phobias which include heights, plane travel, driving, and public speaking. But over the years I have noticed that thoughts alone can provoke me to have an anxiety attack. On some occasions I will get a thought in my head that may go like this: “If I go to the wave pool it may be crowded. It may be so crowded that if everyone left the pool suddenly I would be trampled and I would drown.” Or I remember making plans for a fourth of July party and we would grill out on our deck. I kept thinking that if too many people were on the deck that it would collapse and send us all to our demise. The thoughts were irrational but once I thought them it was a challenge to not only un-think them but to get rid of the fear I felt about the “what ifs.”
When I got diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis back in 2007 I noticed that certain types of sensory stimulation would elicit anxiety and even a panic attack for me. Things like flashing lights and repetitive noises can seem to disrupt my wiring and cause my muscles to jerk and spasm. So in effect, when I know that such stimuli is present such as when someone has their car blinkers on I have been conditioned to feel anxious. It is important to be aware of your triggers but it can feel overwhelming when you don’t know when an anxiety trigger may appear.
What are some of your anxiety triggers?
How I cope with having an anxiety disorder
I find that getting a good night sleep is essential so that I don’t feel so wired during the day. Regular exercise makes it possible for me to wind down better at night. I also take a melatonin supplement to help me get to sleep. Rhodiola Rosea is another supplement I use for mood and anxiety as well as SAM-e. I take Xanax sparingly for when I am experiencing a full blown panic attack or for when I am on an airplane (one of my phobias). When I say “sparingly” I mean that twenty pills at .5 mg can last me 4-5 months. Xanax is one of those drugs which can be habit forming and it can lose its effectiveness over time so I am very cautious in taking this medication.
Therapy has helped me immensely in facing many of my fears. I do travel on planes now. I am still frightened but I am doing it. I have given talks and was even on television despite my fear of public speaking. I did finally get my driver’s license at the ripe age of 39. So I am proud of myself that it has taken many years but I am finally doing things I never thought I would be able to do. I am not going to ever say that it is easy. It isn’t. But I was sick of letting my anxiety and fears rule me and prevent me from doing things I wanted to do in life.
How do you cope with your anxiety, phobias, or panic attacks?
I wrote this post to let other people know that when I write about this topic it is coming from my firsthand experience as a patient. It is very hard for people who don’t suffer from an anxiety disorder to understand what we go through just on an everyday basis. Anxiety is exhausting. It can make you feel sick. It interferes with work, relationships, and daily functioning. I wish there was some sort of miracle cure for this but the honest truth is that it can sometimes take years to get a handle on anxiety and minimize it to a point where you are able to do the things you want to do. It is not easy. But I do think that treatment whether it is taking medication, supplements, undergoing therapy, or a combination of all of the above can really help. Support is also essential. It helps so much to have people around you who understand how much you are trying to overcome what everyone else thinks is irrational. Please know that you are not alone.
I would encourage you to reach out here and share your experiences with people who get where you are coming from. If you have any wisdom to share about how to live with an anxiety disorder please share your story here. We want to know how you are coping and thriving in spite of anxiety.
Published On: May 09, 2011