I finally decided to get help about my anxiety. Despite how it may seem from my periodic blog posts, I actually think I manage my anxiety pretty well. One day I realized that when I think about my life in the future, I assume I’ll quit my current part-time job with the military. Why? That’s a good question. I mean, I love my job. I love the people I work with, the cool things we get to go out and do, the stories I get to tell, the person I’ve become as a result of my service. The only part that I don’t like is my anxiety. And yet, I want to quit because of the anxiety and panic attacks. And I decided that’s not okay.
I always used to think that as long as my anxiety isn’t running my life then I’m doing fine. I still go to work, I still do my job. I just worry about my job before I get there. I plan a couple of days beforehand to avoid anything that could make me anxious. I eat very cautiously the day I have to go to work out of fear that something will make my stomach upset, which will in turn cause another panic attack. I thought all of this was normal and showed that I’m coping well.
But the truth is I’m not. I want to quit just so that I won’t have to face the situations that make me anxious. If that’s not letting my anxiety run my life then I don’t know what is.
So I called the university health center and asked to talk to someone about anxiety. They told me the first opening was in a month. Side note, this is absolutely ridiculous that people with mental health issues are being asked to wait a month to get help. If others are like me, then they don’t call a month before it needs to be addressed. If I’m actually reaching out, it’s because I need help now.
Lucky for me, there was another counselor I could talk to. So I went, and told him about my anxiety. I told him about my fears and rationalizing behaviors. I told him about the panic attacks, and how I’m scared for a few weeks from now when I will be back in that situation.
My counselor is optimistic. He thinks I’ll be able to make a full recovery and not have to quit my job. We are going to come up with a plan to accustom my body to the symptoms of panic so that they don’t escalate into a full-blown panic attack.
He told me that the situations that cause my panic attacks show a lot of signs of the common triggers for people who are prone to panic. He told me that panic occurs when I am introspective about my body signals, and allow them to turn into disastrous thoughts.
But more than that, he gave me hope. Hope that I would be able to get better. Hope that I wouldn’t have to hide this awful secret from the people I work with. Hope that I can heal, and that my anxiety issues don’t define me. And hope that my nerves will heal and in time I won’t be triggered as easily by my anxiety.
And that hope is enough to keep me going and instead of dreading the next time I’m back in those situations, I’m looking forward to seeing whether I’m truly able to heal inside.
When you think of someone with a mental illness, what image comes to mind? Is it an old person sitting on a porch in their rocking chair, unable to remember their own name? Is it a girl lying in bed while the depression sucks out her energy and makes everyday tasks seem like insurmountable feats? Is it an unpredictable person prone to outbursts who you fear will become violent?
What about the girl sitting next to you in class. She is smart and works really hard. She strikes you as an over-achiever, but will probably end up with a great career one day. She is organized, dependable, and loves to ask questions in search of knowledge. She is friendly, enjoys talking to people and learning more about them, and being a part of the team.
You probably would never know that she worries. She worries a lot. She tries to protect herself from her anxiety by planning days and weeks around an event that makes her anxious. She works out a lot because she hopes it will reduce her anxiety. She has to watch what she eats some days out of fear that her stomach will be upset, which would only exacerbate her anxiety. She lives in fear of the next time she will have a panic attack, and no matter what she does to try and protect herself, she can never seem to control her mind in those bouts of anxiety and just be present.
When I used to think about what mental illness looked like, I never expected to be picturing myself.
I always knew that at some point I would return to this blog. It’s been several months and I haven’t been writing. Three years ago this blog helped me to overcome my issues with anxiety by talking them through and reaching out for support. Well, I’m sad to say this, but my anxiety has returned.
A month ago I had a panic attack. It took me by surprise, but I knew exactly what it was when it started. Back when the anxiety began last time, I was afraid of going in to work because I would have to go out on military parades and they seemed to be a trigger. Well this past summer I went on a leadership course I had been waiting for for a few years. I had a great time, and I made a lot of friends. And yet, even though I felt so strong and proud of myself, at our graduation parade I panicked. There were so many officers… so many medals… so many achievements staring me down as if they knew I didn’t belong. The panic hit me quickly and I had hot flashes and went ghostly pale. A friend of mine was sitting in the audience and he noticed right away as it started. I wasn’t myself. Something was very, very wrong.
It was only about a minute into the parade when I started to black out. I knew I would pass out if I didn’t kneel down, so that’s what I did. I took a knee and my instructors came and led me off, supporting me in case I fainted on the way. After I had regained some colour in my face and the nausea subsided, I expressed how embarrassed I was. They didn’t blame me, they just said that I wasn’t the first and I won’t be the last. But they were sorry that I missed my own graduation.
I felt like a failure. I should have known I would be anxious on parade. I should have planned ahead, meditated and done yoga, slept better, eaten a better breakfast. That maybe if I had worried more I could have protected myself. I held on to those anxious thoughts for over a month, dwelling on my issues and hating that I can’t control my own mine. I blamed myself, but I couldn’t talk about it with anyone. Of course the anxiety I felt at my grad parade grabbed on to that fear, and I told myself that this would happen next time I’m on parade. And, lo and behold, on Saturday I was back at my unit and, once again, I realized this is the situation that makes me panic, and I had another anxiety attack.
I can’t ignore my anxiety anymore. I can’t pretend I’m okay. Deep down I’m terrified that if everyone knew how anxious I am and how much I worry, that they would judge me or not want to be around me. Even worse, admitting that parades make me anxious is admitting that I can’t do my job.
I’m not going to let the story end here. I’ve been in this situation before, and I’ve recovered from my anxiety in the past. Yes, I need to take care of myself and I know that meditating regularly helps immensely. Still, I’m not going to let myself be afraid of going back to work just because I might embarrass myself again. Today I went down to the lake and sat on a rock to think. I realized that I spend so much of my time being strong that it only makes sense that my moments of weakness would be powerful too. That’s okay. In the long run I will recover and I will be able to go out on parade without having a panic attack. Yes, I might pass out again, and yes, people may think there’s something wrong with me. I need to accept that pushing away my fears of judgment and trying to appear perfect on the outside is detrimental for my health and happiness. On Wednesday I am going to go out on parade, and I trust that I’ll be okay. Even if I panic, I’ll be okay. I know deep down that people aren’t judging me when I panic. They are concerned for my well-being, just like I am for others when they aren’t feeling well.
The last thing I want to say is that I can’t go on believing that my worrying is beneficial. The attitude that worrying forces me to do the things that help my anxiety is completely backwards. There is a difference between planning ahead and worrying constantly, it’s just really hard for me to tell the difference. I’ve recovered before, and I’ll recover again. And even though I’m terrified of what this anxious resurgence means, I’m just going to have to ride it out.
Like all things, this too shall pass.
I have an intense fear of free time.
Before you decide I’m completely crazy, hear me out. I’m very used to being on the go. Some people are just happier when they’re busy. I’m one of those types of people. I need things to do, tasks to take on, a list for the day so that I have a plan. I’m not sure why, exactly, but the thought of not being busy quite frankly scares the crap out of me. After working full time since June, the last 4 or 5 days before the Christmas break were riddled with anxiety and all of the effects anxiety has on my body. Yes, holidays are stressful, but this is a lot more than that. I was genuinely afraid of the several days where James would be working and I would be left here in this apartment alone.
I’ve come a long way with my anxiety. I haven’t had a full-blown panic attack in about a year and a half. Things that used to cause panic for weeks before the event occurred now hardly cross my mind. The anxiety is still there, but we seem to have reached an agreement that the anxiety won’t take over as long as I acknowledge it instead of pushing it away and pretending it isn’t there. And yet I’m still afraid to spend too much time alone in my head because my anxiety problems started when I moved into an apartment alone and felt extremely isolated and afraid all the time. Yes, things are different now. And yes, I know that my anxiety isn’t something to be afraid of. But anxiety isn’t always realistic, and you don’t get to decide what you’re going to be anxious about. I guess all I can do now is try to stay in the moment and not worry about the future, which is a struggle for anxious people. And when the mind isn’t busy, it’s easier to be mentally somewhere else…
I’m facing a dilemma.
On the one hand, I’m thinking of doing a master’s degree. The program I want I could do in one year. But I would have to do it in another city a few hours away.
Or, I could do a different program here that would only take 8 months. And it could probably get me a good job too, just not as specialized as I want to be.
But I’ve only been living in this city for just over two years now. I’m just starting to plant roots, to build a life here with my boyfriend who I’m now living with.
So the question becomes… when do you put the thing you want for the long term ahead of your short term needs and the needs of those you care about? With all of the anxiety issues I had after moving the first time, part of me is afraid to move again. And sure, it’s only about 4-5 hours drive away, and we could easily see each other on weekends if we wanted to. But I know us, and I know we’re both busy and lazy, and I know we won’t see each other as much as we say we will. And I really don’t want to feel like I’m being selfish by focusing so much on myself, even though I know he would support me either way.
I’m just worried that if I don’t do it I’ll always regret not putting my career first…