You may have found it odd that I referred to anxiety as my "buddy" and "pal" however, that's just how it is. See, I've accepted my genetic predisposition, as well as the early life stressors that set that predisposition into motion. And when I take it all into account, anxiety's presence in my life doesn't shock me in the least. I mean, how else would I expect to be?
Rochester Hills, Michigan
At age 73 I had a mental and physical breakdown that consisted of, initially, an extreme onset of high blood pressure that woke me up in the middle of the night and a trip to the ER… I had no idea of what Ayurveda was, although I’d studied and practiced Yoga for at least 15 years. I’ve been working with the practitioner and have followed an Ayurvedic regimen for a year and a half now.
I was ready for some kind of alternative or holistic approach and when this came along I followed it, and it affected a complete change of lifestyle that has helped me physically and mentally although I’m not cured. However, there is no cure for old age. I will turn 75 in 2014, and this is possibly the best I may ever feel given the changes that have occurred in me physically and mentally but I’m hopeful about getting even better although progress is slow... I don’t have panic attacks anymore, and I have mild “flows” of anxiety at times that come and go. I no longer take medication of any kind except eye drops for glaucoma. My blood pressure, although higher than “normal,” I suspect the health care industry regarding what’s normal, and have little trust in conventional health care because it’s intensely profit driven. I sleep okay but characteristic of old age elements of insomnia. I’m able to do yard work I couldn’t do at all years ago, and I’ve lost about 25 pounds which helps with everything.
I have only a rudimentary understanding of Ayurveda, although I continue to learn more, an ancient Hindu practice that combines a cultural, religious orientation with an age old, divinely inspired medical regimen and philosophy. I was diagnosed by my practitioner and treated with herbs; a form of massage and bodywork called Breema, therapeutic yoga, and have changed my diet and life style completely. I only eat foods that support my constitution as understood by Ayurveda, maintain a strict routine of going to bed early and early rising, and spend about two hours a day doing yoga, pranayama, Chi Gong, meditating, and walking. I’m also intently aware of stressors and addictive elements of all kinds and avoid whatever I can that is stressful and/or has the potential for addiction.
The intent of Ayurveda is to put the body and mind back in balance after disease and to maintain this balance toward health and longevity. The idea is to activate and distribute prana, the life force, Chi, in Chinese medicine to maintain health in the mind and body.
In the midst of all of this I found love on the Internet and am in a committed domestic partnership with a loving and supportive woman.
Southern Pines, North Carolina
I didn't sleep for more than three hours per night for months. I was so afraid that something terrible would happen when I slept. I was always afraid that something terrible would happen to the people I loved. That was the crux of my anxiety, something that started with a tiny thought that became a full-blown obsession, a repetition that forced its way into my consciousness every minute of every day. "What if something is wrong? What if you lose them?"
There's a lot of stigma against anxiety. It tends to be dismissed as just a transient feeling, a disorder that isn't real, something that you can get over if you try hard enough. None of that is true. If it were an imaginary illness, I would not have lost sleep, I would not have hurt myself, I would not have scared everyone I knew and driven away others who couldn't deal with it.
Yes, those feelings I had that drove me into the ground were caused by faulty wiring in my brain, by terrible patterns of thought, but they were very real.
Mahopac, New York
A Kenmore Two-Door Elite refrigerator is my arch nemesis. Not just any old Kenmore. Our Kenmore. The one that lives in the kitchen shared by my husband, our two kids, and me. That bright white behemoth scares the metaphorical pants off me... More often than is reasonable, Kenmore defeats me—I lose the courage to open him up and take inventory of his inscrutable interior. This makes no sense, as I am armed with several higher degrees and opposable thumbs. But you never know what spore colonies may lurk inside him, and as it happens, I am also morbidly frightened of mold. I know this is illogical. I know that if I don't eat it, mold can't hurt me. But still, it scares the crap out of me.
When we are reduced to eating crackers and dry cereal for dinner because I cannot look into Kenmore's dark belly, [my husband] performs an angry fridge intervention, throwing out deceased vegetables and solidified dairy products and liquefied/petrified foodstuffs of indeterminate provenance, all the while giving me his two cents about wasted food.
Inaudible biological blows had borne down tracks of endless harpoons that had punctured my tangible skin, pierced my Roma eyes and carved this once wild-waking and organic psyche into corridors and angles. The better angels had been slumbering whilst violent geometry goose stepped what little soul of man was left into corners of perdition. Nature, riven from its awe remained upended: alone within a matrix of obdurate distrust and disconnect from daylight and discussion.
Vacations are the worst. You would think that they would be times of relaxation; but with unstructured routines and circumstances prime for being alone, vacations are situations where I bask not in sunshine, but in my own unsettled thoughts. Vacations bring on a plethora of anxieties that cram every moment of the 10-12 hour wakeful day of every supposedly "vacation" day with worries, fears, hand tremblings, heart palpitations, and head aches.
It is as if my over-energetic and creative brain is searching out for the next reason to be anxious or nervous. And yet, I sometimes don't even have the energy or drive to get out of the house or change my daily routine and do something that will help alleviate the burden of this condition. My family has had enough of me; they are tired of the panicked calls and anxious dramas. If I hint my worries to friends, they either deny my feelings or keep me at a safe distance. It is a burden to them, as it is to me.
Cold, hard facts are helpful. I search the Internet to find answers. Answers about the flu (I am sure I will catch it and die), cancer (I am sure that spot is cancer), heart attack (I am sure that pain in my side is a warning), Dengue Fever (I am sure the bug bite on my grandson is from a mosquito carrying the disease), unhealthy food, water, environment. The list goes on and on. I read constantly about healthy habits and how to avoid unhealthy ones, to avoid those situations that may trigger another panic attack concerning my health or the health of my family.
I go to counseling; this doc says that it is a situation where I have identified anxiety as me, I have allowed it to become my personality. Fine, but I still tremble and fret.
I refuse meds; totally unhealthy. The strong phobia after effect is more enduring than the current panic.
I hope that a religion will resonate with me so I search the faiths to find a truth that will allow me to let go of the anxieties. But then I need to summon my meager stores of energy to get dressed formally and travel outward to the faith center to socialize alone in a new and foreign situation; and it is so easy for me to create an excuse to remain where I am safe in my own home.
Thank goodness for my passion for teaching students with dyslexia. I can relate to the daily struggles that these children endure to engage in the “simple” acts of reading and/or writing. I can leave my home, and with complete engagement, sit down and dig in to the laborious, challenging, sometimes frustratingly slow, work of educating a student as to how to read and write. And I am thrilled with each and every small step of progress that they make. And it is bittersweet when the time comes when they say thank you and they leave me, with skills, abilities and confidence, to fly on their own.
Gosh I wish I had someone to do that with and for me, to help me overcome my anxiety.
I have to say, my life has gotten a bit better since I started taking pills and talking to a therapist. I take Zoloft, an SSRI. I don't know if it does anything for me, and I don't think psychiatry actually knows why it would do anything. But in any case, it's nice to have that sense of control, however illusory, and I take Zoloft every night as part of my bedtime routine.
Anxiety (as well as its physical manifestations) are also routine; what Billie Joe Armstrong described in a 90s pop-punk song as a constant worry about nothing and everything all at once. Its effects are so embedded in my life that on one level it defines me and on another has become entirely mundane. On a daily basis, I feel tension, like an aching desire to move or stretch, all over my body, but especially in my jaw. Consequently, I take a lot of walks and frequently chew gum.
For more than a month I struggled to take a full breath, and always fell short of feeling satisfied. Thinking it was something to do with my usually dormant asthma, I scheduled an appointment with student health. But when they tested my peak flow, my number was above what was considered normal for not only women, but for men my age as well. After some probing from the RN, she told me it was anxiety, gave me a script for lorazepam and sent me on my way. Armed with the knowledge that I was only going "crazy" and not suffering from respiratory failure, I slowly calmed down and began to breathe again.
Fast forward to my last quarter in college: too scared to post required comments and ideas on my education class' online forum or talk to the professor about it, I end up failing the class. My first "F" ever. I spend the last months of my school career trying not to curl up into a ball and barricade myself in my apartment.
After graduation, it steadily gets worse. My student loans are looming and the thought of even submitting applications for jobs makes me feel panicked. I ignore the phone calls, emails, envelopes and I lie to my father about how often I'm looking at job listings (never) and how many applications I've submitted (none). One night I wake up at 4:30 AM and launch straight into a panic attack after a dream in which I read a student loan payment due notice.
I basically only leave the house during the day to go the library, because I don't have to talk to anyone there. I can't even tell my best friend that I'm breaking down; the only people not related to me that I talk to are friends from a close-knit online community that I am a part of; they don't know either. Every morning I wake up and cannot function because I have to distract myself from the weight of the anxiety sitting in my chest. I watch six 24-episode seasons of Supernatural in less than two weeks. This is not the only series that I consume in this way. I can't even read anymore; it doesn't provide enough distraction. Every day I tell myself that I will call the people who manage my student loans the next day, and never do. I default on my $30,000 loans even though I could have gotten an extension because I was unable to find a job. I just couldn't make the call.
A year and a half out of college, days before the 2012 election of a man who now makes me anxious, the thought that runs through my head on a loop all day, every day, is that I don't want to be here anymore. I want to die. What I really want is for someone else to kill me, but I start planning my own death because I know that's not likely to happen. I know I can't last much longer. I fear making a doctor's appointment as much as my student loans, but I somehow do it.
I cry and shake in the waiting room. I cry while the nurse tries to take my blood pressure. I cry waiting for the doctor to come in to the exam room. I cry while she asks me questions. I am still crying when I head downstairs to pick up my new sertraline (Zoloft) prescription from the pharmacy. A month later I cry through my intake session with the psychiatric department, and then through my first sessions with my new therapist and psychiatrist.
A year later, and I am stable. I maxed out on my dosage of sertraline, so my psychiatrist added another, venlafaxine, better known as Effexor. My dosage on that is still going up as I still struggle occasionally, but the side effects have gotten to be too much and I am planning on going off of it. I am finally able to apply for jobs and go to interviews, but even now anxiety and depression keep me from doing as much as I can. Probably because of my long-term unemployment, an abysmal credit rating, and lack of experience, nobody has wanted to take a chance on me so far. My dad, who has supported me since I graduated, is losing patience. At family get-togethers I still feel like crying every time an older relative asks me what I'm doing. It isn't over yet.
Los Angeles, California
The best thing that ever happened to me was to be surrounded by friends with mental illness. Depression, anxiety, manic depression; you name it, I had a friend in college with it. And because my friends shared their struggles with me, I suddenly had a name and a condition for what I had.
I had a name for the crippling stomach issues and feeling frayed and exhausted: it was anxiety eating away at my vitality. I was comforted to know it wasn't just me going crazy when I felt that I could cry so readily, and for what seems to be the simplest things.
You see, the most dangerous thing about anxiety is believing that you're the only one who can't "pull yourself together" or that you'll be shamed for having this issue. It makes you more alone, and that secret saps your strength almost as much as your illness does. And if you don't recognize it as an illness, and attempt to trudge through, it's a rough journey that might not ever end.
So to this day, I make a point of talking about my anxiety to my friends, both old and new. The amazing thing is, so many of my friends open up and share about their experiences, too, and they say it's a relief that they have someone who knows them. All of them.
When both my elderly parents were transported by ambulance from their home on the same day, never to return, my severe anxiety in the form of hypochondria began. My hands would ache terribly or they would become numb. I went to three doctors in one week convinced I had a brain tumor and every night I would study a medical encyclopedia and send my husband to my family doctor with a list of ailments I was sure I had. He would hide the encyclopedia from me, but I'd demand that he give it back, which he always did. Finally, the doctor called and told me to get hold of myself. I was at the height of severe anxiety.
When I was growing up, my dad was an alcoholic and my mom was bipolar; she later developed Alzheimer's disease. Although I had five brothers, I was the child that they looked to to make them happy and, in a way, rescue them from our parents' illnesses. I had always been able to "save" my parents in the past, but I could not prevent them from dying, so I became overwhelmed with fear, a great sense of failure, and anxiety.
My parents passed away long ago but every day is a struggle to a degree. I can go days without a hypochondria attack and then out of nowhere I am gripped with the fear that something is wrong. It can be anything from a lump somewhere on my body to being convinced that my teeth are moving around in my head.
When an attack comes on, I talk myself through it or I tell my husband and he uses his gift of great common sense to calm my fears. He often tells me that I am the kindest and most caring person he has ever known. Each time he tells me, I am surprised.
I have spent most of my life not enjoying praise but, instead, being full of worry and self-doubt but on the other hand I am intensely aware of the feelings and fears of others and to me this is a blessing that comes of my anxiety.
I am now in counseling and take medication on a daily basis and am better but have more work to do. I do not believe I will ever be free of anxiety. What I believe is more important is that I accept myself and realize that I deserve to be happy.
I like to think that I'm anxious because I'm sensitive and highly attuned to thoughts, feelings, and issues concerning me and others. It makes me a caring and conscientious person, and despite years of feeling like I'm flawed and somehow not as good, I realize now that everything I do is simply amazing and worth celebrating because it hasn't come easily. Every victory for me has been hard-won.
Thank you for being a part of this discussion. I hope it keeps going.