They say the biggest stress factors in life are the loss of a loved one, divorce, loss of a job, increased financial obligations, getting married, moving to a new home, chronic illness or injury, and emotional problems (anxiety, depression, grief, guilt, etc). I’ve experienced all of them. And I’ve reacted to all of them in different ways.
I’ve mentioned the death of my father, and how my panic arose shortly after. In that particular case, I think my reaction to the death came in the form of anxiety. It was overwhelming to lose a parent at such a young age. Up until then, my world was relatively stable. The combination of that, and the scuba diving incident left me feeling like a couldn’t breath. Yet somehow during that year, I managed to plan a wedding, buy a house and get a dog. I find it interesting that I took on even more at a time when I should have been managing my grief. It’s a pattern that continued through the years. Only three years after getting married, I was divorced. Right after my divorce, I changed jobs. From there, I focused on my growing career and began to move up the ladder at work. Oh, and then I got married again, my dog died suddenly, my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and died not long after, and I spent a year in rehab recovering from a head on car collision.
Hindsight is 20/20, and I can see clearly now how I was fueling the anxious fire. I never allowed myself to properly heal. The way I reacted to events in life was to busy myself even more, thinking it would quiet all of the voices in my head. Unfortunately, the way I responded to those hardships, doing my best to push through the heartbreak, the despair, the devastation was doing me more harm than I realized. I was mentally and physically exhausted.
So what has changed? Over the years I’ve done a lot of research on anxiety, and I’ve spent time with a number of therapists and tried various coping techniques. The turning point was when I realized that I was in more control than I thought I was. As an anxious person, everything feels as if it’s spiraling out of control, all of the time. I’ve read many books that say once you stop fighting the anxiety and stop trying to maintain control, that is when the breakthrough happens and anxiety no longer holds it’s power. I don’t know that this is necessarily true. It’s easier said than done to just sit back and invite a panic attack into your life.
Interestingly, I’ve had friends who know about my anxiety issues reach out to me when they have had an anxiety attack themselves. I believe everyone will experience anxiety at different levels at some point in their lives. But these friends (2 of them) had only a short bout of anxiety and then it went away. So why did mine persist and theirs disappeared so quickly? That is the million dollar question that I think I may have answered in the first part of this post. They took the time to heal, and I did not.
I started to write this blog, because I feel I am in the process of healing. I got to this point because I have accepted that being anxious is a part of who I am. I have come to understand that how I respond to situations (taking things too personally), the words that I tell myself (what if the car breaks down, what if the dog gets sick, what if I can’t get help), and how I live my daily life (letting go of the notion that everything has to be perfect all the time) all have an impact on how I feel. It’s hard work to break a pattern that you’ve had for so many years, but it’s really important to identify it and tackle it if it’s doing you harm. I think it’s also essential that you look back on all of the challenges you’ve faced in your life to see that you were able to successfully overcome them, to become the person you are today. Even though I have always felt that I was going to die during the big bouts of panic and anxiety, it’s never killed me, and it’s not going to. It’s the “it’s not going to” that you need to get to in order to let the healing begin.