I’m giving myself a solid C on my efforts this month. It’s that blasted sugar that calls my name like the luring sirens in the Odyssey. Sometimes I win, sometimes it wins. The great news is that I feel significantly less anxious with just minimal effort, a little less caffeine, a little less processed foods, a little less sugar. The buzzing of anxiety that I was feeling last month is dissipating.
Many of you know that I was challenged with anxiety attacks that began my sophomore in college. Thinking back to this time, I realize that I created a perfect storm for anxiety: not sleeping (I thought whoever came up with “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” was brilliant!) + alcohol (hello, #8 party school!) +terrible diet (why waste calories on nutritional food when I’d rather just eat dessert!) + probable genetic/temperament propensity for anxiety. It was a really tough time. My first anxiety attack was at a meeting for my sorority. I felt like I was having a seizure or a heart attack. I was so scared and had a friend take me to the emergency room. They ran all sorts of tests, but of course I was completely healthy. When it happened again in class, I made an appointment at the KU Health Center. This time I got the diagnosis right away- generalized anxiety disorder. It was such a relief to get a diagnosis and know what was going on but also so overwhelming to have a “mental disorder.”
I’ve never really been one to take ibuprofen with a headache but I’m so grateful that I got on medication right away. I started with Paxil and Xanax but neither were a good fit for me. (Later, I took Buspar, until I got a handle on how to be more balanced.) My low point was when I didn’t leave home for almost two weeks- not for class, not an errand, nothing. I was paralyzed by fear. I remember feeling so alone, like I was going to be “crazy” forever. Would I live with my parents? The normal life I envisioned for myself was disappearing and I felt hopeless and miserable.
I made an appointment at the KU Health Center for a counseling session. The person assigned to me made me feel so uncomfortable and anxious during the session (“Do your parents put pressure on you? Not really. I’m the one putting pressure on myself. Are you a Christian? Do you feel pressured by Jesus? Um, no. Can you help me deal with these panic attacks please?“). I made an appointment with another therapist. I learned about biofeedback and started taking baby steps out of the dark hole of despair that I thought I’d be in for the rest of my life. If I felt fearful of a situation, I pushed myself to the edge of my comfort level, embracing a bit of fear every day and dealing with it with the tools that I had learned- breathe, breathe, breathe.
Do you remember Mike Myers’ SNL character Linda Richmond of Coffee Talk fame? In real life, Linda Richmond was Mike Myers mother-in-law and she wrote a book about her life, which included suffering from panic attacks that kept her homebound (with two children! yikes!) for eleven years. I remember this book giving me hope at a time that I was desperate for it. I kept searching for answers, learning how to be a more balanced person and as you all know, I’m still on that quest. I’m still not so good with heights or airplanes but overall, anxiety hasn’t affected my daily functioning for over a decade.
Overcoming my anxiety is right up there with childbirth on my list of proudest achievements. I’m more grateful for the life that I have and more compassionate for those fighting their own battles.
I’ll give you a topic: The Pwogwessive Ewa was neither pwogwessive nor an ewa. Discuss.