I think everyone has had some sort of anxiety from time to time, but for most of us, these experiences are short lived and only happen under extreme circumstances. For some (like Shaun yesterday), anxiety can be relentless and severe and negatively impact one's life. In today's Life is Sweet post, Anne-Marie shares her experience with anxiety disorder after growing up in a household that was already familiar with mental health concerns
What's happening to me? That’s the question that I asked myself as my anxiety slowly set in and then took over my life. It started with moments of my heart racing and it would happen sporadically, so I didn’t think much of it. But it started to increase.
Interestingly at that time, I had a few friends that had just started to see psychotherapists so I asked them for a referral. I didn’t do anything with that referral for a while though. I didn’t want to take that step to start seeing a professional about problems that I didn’t think I had, yet. Plus, it might be admitting that I had a problem that might run in my family.
Let me back up a bit. Why I think mental illness and anxiety runs in my family is because my mom had a few breakdowns or ‘nervous breakdowns’ as they were called back in the 60s/80s. She was hospitalized when she was 21 years old. She had a very tough home life when she was growing up. I won’t get into that, as we would be here all day or month. Let me just say, that I was lucky enough that mom realized that she was never going to treat her children the way that her mother treated her. So she gave us more love than any children could imagine. It was fantastic. But my mom always had this need to please her mother and hoped to receive for the love that she deserved. Those demons bothered her for her entire life.
When I was just in grade 5 and again in grade 6, my mother had to be hospitalized for what was thought to be another ‘breakdown’. It was definitely part breakdown, but also a misdiagnosis of early onset extreme menopause. Not until her second bout did a doctor final realize this and start to treat it. After that we had our mother back. She still had those demons of her up bringing and dreams of love from her mother, but she dealt with those as she could.
This mental illness was definitely in my mind when the anxiety attacks began for me along with bouts of depression. Was I going to have to go through what my mother did?
My story has another element to it. In January of 2000, when I was just 27 years old, my father passed away after a 3 year fight with leukemia. He was my best friend and had been for most of my life. We spent so much time together. We even shared an apartment when I returned from university. So I was there for every moment of his illness. It was a year after he passed that my symptoms began.
One of the reasons I felt that these began was because I was able to talk to my dad about most things, but when he passed, those things that I might have spoken to him about just built up. My analogy for this is, I always had a glass half full of problems/issues, but it was by talking to my dad that I could keep that glass from over flowing. So when he was gone each little issue or concern started to fill that glass until it over flowed and that’s when the anxiety began.
With all that on my mind and completely over thinking every moment of my life, the anxiety attacks grew and grew in intensity and frequency. This finally drove me to making an appointment with a psychotherapist, definitely a good first move. But results did not come fast enough for me, as things were getting much worse.
I would start my day off with such anxiety in my gut that the only way to relieve it was to dry heave. That would release the tension and give me some relief to get my day started. I wasn’t going to let this take over my life. I couldn’t not work, so I had to find a way through it no matter how many times I to ‘deal’ with it in a day.
I was afraid of medication, as I could remember what my mom was like when she was on it. And that was not for me. Plus, when I was in this state I did far too much research on the medications (which I don’t normally do on other meds) and the side effects scared me. Or at least the ‘me’ in the mind space I was in at the time. So I tried many other ‘cures’ along with my weekly sessions with my psychotherapist, who was and still is awesome. I tried drops that I could put on my tongue. They kind of worked for a moment or two. Then I decided I would try seeing a naturopath and see what they could do without the crazy drugs. I’m sure that what they had suggested might have worked, but they were telling me I might see results for 6 months or so. Wow, I would have to live with these crippling attacks until then. Didn’t think I could do it.
These attacks made me feel like I was going to die. Right there and then. No matter where I was - at the hairdresser, in the drug store, at work, in a food court, anywhere. But I didn’t want anyone to know so I figured out how to put on a façade so no one could tell. Which made for very hard work. My only true down time was with my therapist or at home.
I must say that one good thing came out of my mom’s breakdowns and that was she truly understood what I was going through. I can remember being at the hairdresser one day and I just couldn’t take it anymore. I told them I wasn’t feeling well and just left. I called my mom as I left and she was already at my apartment by the time I got home. And she knew that I all needed was to feel safe and not to be questioned. Just to be loved, like only she could do. I wish that she could have had that during her time of need when she was young. But I was lucky enough to have her and her understanding. It made it all that much easier.
The attacks were just too much at that point, so I had to take the big step and go on medication. Why didn’t I do that sooner as it changed my entire life. Paxil was the best thing that happened to me at the time. It helped to level me out which gave me the opportunity to truly understand why this was happening. I could really work with my therapist, which I’m still doing today, to get to the real root of the problem. Which I will say is not my father dying, but much older and deeper issues.
I do know that I needed to go through all of that before I went on the medication, as I learned so much about myself and what I can truly deal with. Also, I understand and know how to deal with the anxiety attacks that might and do happen every once in a while now. I know that they won’t kill me. It is just a moment in time, but also a reminder that I need to take care of me.
I can say that I started meds in December of 2001 and was able to come off of them by the Spring of 2003. And I’ve never needed them again. However, the psychotherapy I will always need. Maybe not as often as I once did, but I know that’s the place I go to work towards truly finding the root of my issues. I look forward to finding out what they are and dealing with them one day. But it is a process I know I have to go through and might have to forever.
This may sound odd, but I’m glad that I went through this when I did, as it taught me so much about myself and started me on the path to better understanding of who I am.
About Anne-Marie Marais
I run my own media business, LongLegs Productions. I work with clients on social media strategy and management and video production. Plus, I’m always working on coming up with the next great TV show, webseries or screenplay through my writing. One of my strongest passions is travel and I do as much of that as I can. I have my own travel blog I would love for you to check out. Feel free to follow me on Twitter at either: @atmarais and/or @LongLegsTravels