The Many Faces of Anxiety: Heather's Story
Anxiety comes in all shapes and sizes; it impacts the lives of people no matter what their income level and no matter where they come from. Anxiety is the most common mental illness in the United States. Over 19 million adults in the United States have been impacted by an anxiety disorder. Even so, anxiety disorder is misunderstood. In the hopes of spreading awareness during Mental Health Awareness Month, I will be sharing stories of people that have anxiety or treat anxiety throughout the month.
Heather was diagnosed with anxiety 9 years ago. At the time, Heather, like many people, sought medical care for what she thought was a heart attack. It turned out it was an anxiety attack. Looking back, Heather can see symptoms of anxiety in some of her behaviors going back to childhood, even though she was never diagnosed. For example, she says she remembers "freaking out" whenever she would get hurt in any way, so much that her parents would slap her across the face because it was the only way she could calm down.
Not long before Heather ended up in the emergency room, a close friend passed away. Heather realized how easy life could be taken away and it scared her terribly. She feels this may be what triggered her anxiety when she needed medical help.
Over the past nine years, Heather's symptoms have varied. Sometimes she will feel as if her head is numb or it will begin to tingle. Her hands and feet will sweat and she will feel hot all over. At this point, she usually begins the "what-ifs" and her body reacts with even more symptoms. Heather starts to think she is going to die, or at the least, something is really wrong with her.
Stress can be a trigger for Heather's anxiety. She recently completed a 4 year course at a university and the stress of deadlines, papers, exams and presentations routinely added to her anxiety.
Anxiety has a way of interfering in Heather's life. Just recently, Heather had planned a birthday party for her daughter. Unfortunately, anxiety reared up and Heather ended up taking extra medicine and sleeping, leaving her daughter to fend for herself and organize the party. Staying alone is also difficult for Heather. Just recently, she stayed alone all night, which was a big accomplishment. She used a lot of self-talk. Overall, Heather tries to keep up with the activities she has always done, but sometimes, anxiety gets the best of her.
Heather takes two different types of medication, uses self-talk, tries to stay and "fight" rather than opting for "flight," has used therapy and finds the support she received from family and friends to be extremely helpful. Her fiancé is very supportive, talking to her to help avoid anxiety becoming overwhelming. Using internet sites, such as Facebook, has helped Heather understand she is not alone and helps her accept her anxiety.
In the past, Heather used Google to check up on every physical symptom she had, believing something was wrong with her. She doesn't do this anymore. Her Facebook friends have helped her realize the symptoms were actually caused by the anxiety not be physical illness.
Although Heather still experiences anxiety and at times, high anxiety, she has learned to offer support to others. She hopes that what she has learned and gone through can help others who may not yet understand and accept their anxiety.