Anxiety sucks. If you've never had it - it is simply something that you can't understand.
If you do have anxiety, you label it as "yours". "My anxiety". Which I think is correct because no anxiety seems to be the same. It all has a similar feel but different roots.
Some days my anxiety goes along with me and I forget it's even there. Other days, it is this cloudy barrier in front of me at all times, where I have to constantly remind myself to breathe slowly and relax.
I don't remember having anxiety as a kid. I remember a few situations that I avoided - I, for some reason, was terrified of car rides with people other than my parents and grandparents. My fear was that I would get car sick. I can't remember one time as a kid feeling car sick - apparently, it happened and stuck with me. There was also a short period of time I was scared to sleep at other people's houses, but that was mostly because I was afraid of the dark and of missing my Mom too much.
I gave speeches in front of the school, I cheered in front of the town, I acted in all of the plays and in local commercials and videos growing up with zero anxiety.
I remember my first real experience with anxiety was the first speech we had to give in our communications class in college. It was a short speech on a person in our class we were assigned to get to know and write a speech about. I didn't think much of it, the guy I was assigned to was already a friend of mine and I had always been good at talking in front of people....I thought.
My friend went first and I still remember the first lines of his speech about me "Life moves pretty fast, if you don't stop to look around once in awhile you could miss it" he quoted from Ferris Bueller's Day Off....and the rest is a complete blank. I began to straight up panic. Chest tightened, I could hardly breathe, my body was shaking, my head was going into a tunnel vision and I stopped hearing anything. I had no idea what was happening. I don't remember giving my speech on him. I just remember the professor asking me if I was ok afterwards and if I needed some water.
I had no clue what had happened or why. I knew from then on whenever I gave speeches (I was a Communications major - it happened often) that I would really prep on stress/anxiety/nerve relief.
It got better and I dealt with it through college and my first couple years of work - then public speaking became second nature again. I was doing it so often and again realized I was pretty good at it. I still got nervous (still do) but now have a lot of strategies to cope with it.
So ya I know, big story....I got nervous talking in front of people like 90% of the rest of human beings. That was the beginning of my anxiety. My anxiety took a drastic and sharp turn for the extreme worse in 2012.
After two years of traveling constantly, working in an amazing but high stress job, the stress finally took it's toll. I turned on a gene in my body I wish I could turn off and after months of being horrifically sick, in a multitude of ways, I was finally diagnosed with celiac disease. I was so relieved to have a diagnosis but so clueless as to how to navigate daily life, let alone traveling with this newfound information and limitation on food.
I mistook my headaches, weight gain subsequently followed by weight loss, and constant chest tightening/high blood pressure as "part of the job". That was stress and my anxiety baby. My gut was a mess and so was I. Big time.
I flew to Phoenix for a one day trip - a simple presentation at a conference. I'd done this hundreds of times, same pitch, same questions, same answers, same day. I was in a room on a panel of 3 and I was the last to present. With each passing moment I once again felt like I was a Freshman in college waiting my turn to speak as my internal world was amidst mass chaos enveloping in darkness. I thought I was going to pass out, no I was definitely going to puke....wait, I might have explosive diarrhea..... I excused myself while one panelist was speaking to get a drink of water and go to the bathroom, just in case.
My turn came, I stammered through my usual smooth and easy going pitch hoping to god no one would ask a question. Should be mentioned here, there were 3 people on the panel and maybe 5 people in the audience, MAYBE.
I avoided all public speaking after that. I couldn't explain how or why that happened and was too embarrassed to even try.
I was looking forward to a personal trip I had planned for awhile to go see my Grandma in Texas with my Mom. My Mom had broken her leg falling on the ice and was in a boot but it was pretty easy going in the Valley and I was excited to see my best friend.
I didn't think much about it since I was going with my Mom and the trip was for fun but once we were at the airport I realized my anxiety had been waiting for me. Like it had been standing on the curb ready to jump into my carryon. By the time we were past security I was a full blown mess. I honestly cannot remember the details. I remember pacing, going to the bathroom numerous times and telling my Mom I didn't feel well. I also remember her asking if we needed to leave or if she needed to call someone for help. I'm sure she remembers more than I do. What I do know now is I was having a full blown panic attack. What was I panicking about? Well, that I feel sick on the plane. How sick? I don't know. What would happen if I got sick? What if I got sick in front of all those people? What would I do? What would they do? What would happen....if if if if if..... that's the way anxiety works. It doesn't make sense it just piles on. It's such a bitch like that.
I spent the entire flight with my head between my legs breathing. We made it to Houston where we were staying for the night and I was fine. The next day I was fine on the flight to Harlingen. The whole trip I was fine. In fact, stress melted away. My head was clear, my chest was open, my breath was steady and free - I realized I needed help.
I got home and made an appointment with my doctor. I had been scared and embarrassed to do that. That I couldn't handle this on my own made me feel weak. He almost laughed when I told him what had been going on and he said "of course you feel like this, your gut is a mess" and explained to me how important a healthy gut is in regulating hormones which greatly affect anxiety levels. I got on medication.
Within a week, I was singing along in the car and realized, that was something "the old me" would have done...that somehow I was getting closer to being myself. I didn't know it was even possible.
After months of being very unhappy and more stressed than ever, I quit my job. I realized I was doing my health and my spirit a huge disservice by staying any longer.
This was 2013. It is 2017 now people, I'm a full time yoga teacher, I meditate and journal on a regular basis and guess what??? I'm still on medication. I still deal with anxiety.
I'd say 85% of the time now I forget it's even there - and maybe it's not. Maybe it's starting to see that I am no longer holding space for it in my life. About 12% of the time I feel it, I know it's there but I have it under control and can push it way back down by paying attention to what caused the stir up in the first place. Then 2.5% of the time my anxiety is hanging around, making my joints hurt, causing my blood pressure to skyrocket, causing headaches, etc. And then there's that 0.5% of the time that I'm a full blown mess where I can't sleep, I can't seem to function. Good news is 0.5% of the time is shrinking more and more. That 0.5% used to be my 85%.
Most of the time if my anxiety decides to tag along with me I now have much better ways of coping with it...making it my bitch (Take that anxiety!). However I still have days when I feel like anxiety is trying to make me it's bitch. I used to allow it to do that to me all the time. I don't allow that anymore.
I used to work for a psychologist who loved working with people that had issues with anxiety, he said this was because 100% of the time they got better. I get that now. Anxiety can be so debilitating you never leave the confines of your apartment and when you do leave to do something as simple as take a guitar lesson you almost throw up in the parking lot. But you don't throw up, the anxiety starts to dissipate and you learn how to play the guitar. Little victories start to stack up, making you stronger, making your wiser, putting you back in control over your anxiety.
I've always planned on getting off my medication but for the first time in 5 years, I think I'm going to be able to. It won't be tomorrow, it won't be next week. I am still learning how much my gut controls my anxiety. If my gut is off, my anxiety is present in my life somehow. I'm learning everyday. When I feel good physically, I don't have anxiety. It's not present in my life at all - it's not waiting for me, it's not stalking me, it doesn't even exist.
So that's what I'm shooting for. A full on anxiety extinction. I know it's possible. I'm on my way.
Diet, mindfulness, yoga, meditation, nature time, creativity time - that's my recipe for extinction. We all have our own recipe, unique to us, just like our anxiety. The key is finding a recipe that is yummy and full of so much goodness that it overflows into your heart, your soul and the world around you. The recipe never contains things that harm you. If you struggle with anxiety, know that you deserve that goodness and that it IS out there - your recipe.
It takes time and stages and struggles and research and trial and error and may be ever evolving but that's because we are humans. We are evolving - thank goodness for that.
So today to my anxiety, I make the call and say I'm done. I am no longer holding space for you in my life. Thank you for the lessons learned and the great things that have come as a result of your unwelcomed presence. When you try to come back around I'm going to remind you I have no room for you and continue on my way. Don't go bother anyone else because together we can turn your negative, angsty energy into useful, productive, focused joy and intent.
Maybe some day anxiety....we can even be friends? But we'll have to change your label to something more charming like.....magic, joy or jarfly. I think that seems fair.