I’ve mentioned before that I’ve dealt with anxiety issues for a good part of my life. I’ve always been an anxious person. While it’s not been a debilitating issue in my life it has caused me a good bit of discomfort from time to time. Looking back over my life I believe I have an anxiety-prone personality. My mom always told me I get it honestly. There are several people on my mom’s side of the family who have dealt with anxiety disorders too. As a child I remember my mom talking about her brothers and sisters who had to take “nerve medicine” to cope. She also talked about my grandfather, a pastor, who had “a nervous breakdown” during a stressful period in his life. Mom also tends to get nervous, but not nearly to the point of some of my relatives. My dad has always been the stabilizing person in her life because he’s very even keeled and doesn’t get upset easily.
The first time I realized that something wasn’t right about me was in the 4th grade when for some reason I had an irresistible compulsion to pull my eyelashes out. We now know that disorder has a name, trichotillomania . I think this compulsion only lasted a year or so, but as I’m now learning it was most likely a manifestation of stress in my life at the time. I was ashamed of it, because people noticed my lack of eyelashes as I’ve always had very long, beautiful eyelashes. I think utter embarrassment over my appearance is why I stopped giving into the compulsion, but even to this day when I’m nervous I tend to be a picker or a hair puller, but not to the point that it becomes mutilation like it did when I was in 4th grade.
My teenage years were also quite “interesting”. While I never gave my parents many serious problems I was definitely a drama queen at home…not so much at school or socially, but those closest to me have always felt the brunt of my anxiety. I was prone to emotional outbursts and temper tantrums during that time. I still have them now from time to time. That always resulted in guilt and shame which led to more anxiety. As I mentioned before in a previous post I even considered suicide over a boy…I look back and now know that I was totally catastrophizing my situation…hinging my whole world and self worth on whether or not a guy loved me. It seems silly now, but it was very serious then.
I’ve only been on “nerve medicine” once in my life, and it was not a good experience. I’m not poo-pooing anxiety medications on the whole, because I know people who have greatly benefited from them, but I shy away from drugs when at all possible. My experience as a chiropractic assistant while in college had a great effect on me and has led me to go the natural route when at all possible.
What led me to a brief encounter with anxiety medications was a particularly stressful period in my life that came after dealing with the first several years of our infertility journey. Without going into great detail it seemed that everything in my life was going all wrong.
My husband was going to a mens’ conference that was being held in Charlotte, and he asked me to accompany him. On Saturday morning I dropped him off at the conference and decided to explore Charlotte a little. I ended up on the freeway, and immediately became overwhelmed by the experience. I’ve never really had anxiety issues while driving, but on that day I had my first full blown panic attack. I felt I couldn’t breathe and had a weird sense that I was going to die on that freeway. I had to stop in the emergency lane and pull myself together. This REALLY scared me! Once I returned home I decided to visit my family doctor. He listened to my plight and pulled out his prescription pad and proceeded to write me a prescription for a popular anti-anxiety medicine. I reluctantly accepted it and even more reluctantly had it filled. I took it for a couple of weeks and noticed no difference in my anxiety symptoms but an almost debilitating case of dizziness that would come on 10 to 15 minutes after taking it. The dizziness brought on more anxiety, and needless to say, I weaned myself off that medication as quickly as I could.
I could give you many other examples of my dealings with anxiety, but this post would turn into a book. Again, for the most part, I function well. Unless you’re really close to me you’d never guess I had a problem with anxiety at all. I’m a good actress! Maybe I missed my calling.
My anxiety tends to be mostly situational. I do, however, catastrophize my situations which is not healthy either. If we’re having money problems…in my mind we’re going bankrupt. If hubby’s late coming home and I can’t reach him on his cell…he’s been in a wreck. If my cat sneezes then my mind automatically starts ruminating about deadly cat diseases that he might be afflicted with.
Over the last few years I’ve picked up several books on dealing with anxiety, and while I tend to lean towards Christian books I recently found one by Lucinda Bassett called from Panic to Power (see link in the right-hand column of my blog page). This revealed to me that my anxiety was not stemming from some lack of faith but from my negative thinking patterns. Now, I’ve just begun using the techniques in this book, and I’m already seeing a difference. Am I cured? No. Are my circumstances a lot better? No. I still have bad days, but if I can nip those negative/catastrophic thoughts in the bud by redirecting them in positive activity and/or replacing them with more positive thoughts I find that I don’t spiral into an anxiety attack and/or depression quite so easily.
Again, I still have a long ways to go, but I’m slowly realizing that the worst case scenario rarely happens. But if and when it does I’ll get through it, because #1…I have God on my side, and #2…I’m gaining the cognitive skills needed to cope with difficult times.
I believe all of this combined is millions of times more effective than medication.