The Journey to Becoming and Accepting Who I Am - Living With Panic Attack Anxiety Disorder
This is not a blog post I ever expected to write, especially not with the number of people who read my blog. This post is very personal and will offer a look into who I am. This post is not only part of my own therapeutic process, but to offer an exposed view my life with panic attack anxiety disorder, how it has made me who I am today, and how it affects my professional/social relationships. I invite you to continue reading my experience if you would like as I have nothing to hide about my strengths and my difficulties.
As a child, I was an emotional soul. Looking back on reports from the family physician, recalling stories of my early education with the accommodations made for me in the classroom despite being undiagnosed, and a referral to a social worker, not followed through with, all point in that direction. I overreacted to situations, did not stand up for myself, was bullied, felt guilty about nothing, and much more. All the while, I just thought that I was broken.
The first time I remember nearly fainting was in high school, working at my first job. All I can remember was being on the floor sitting against the wall and having my father drive me home. After that it was at a dance with my high school boyfriend where I remember laying in the back of my car staring at the ceiling as a friend's mother drove it home. But if I really think about it, I remember having the same feelings as a child. I would sit in my bed and feel like the room was spinning. I would try to sleep and feel like I was rocking back and forth. I never thought anything of these moments until the dizzy spells came more frequently.
[Image source: http://www.anxietysymptomsdr.com/physical-symptoms-of-anxiety/]
A ride in an emergency vehicle was one that I never wanted to have. It was at my first year in college at a Homecoming dance. I remember falling, not having control over my body or speech, being carried to a chair, and shaking and twitching while first responders asked me questions that I could not articulate. It was as if I was watching events occur in a bubble around me, with my hearing muted, and not being able to move or speak in full sentences. After some testing, I was told that results were inconclusive - possibly a blood sugar problem. I visited a dietician on an unfounded diagnosis of non-diabetic hypoglycemia from my family physician who refused to do further testing.
[Image source: http://mrsromphf.com/tag/anxiety/]
After cutting out the majority of sugars from my diet and eating more protein, I continued to have dizzy spells. I even went to the hospital two more times with inconclusive results. I was frustrated and gave up. Bad idea. I dealt with more symptoms as time passed - headaches, difficulty forming sentences, difficulty articulating words, confusion, and more. I felt like there was nothing I could do until I graduated college. I had to just get through and pass my classes. Bad idea again. My classmates looked at me funny as if something were wrong with me or as if they were concerned about my health, I couldn't articulate thoughts or questions to show my intelligence in the classroom, and I even nearly fainted immediately before a session with a child who has autism and had to have a friend pick me up. During my second internship, my physician had me check my blood daily due to my never-ending questioning of the non-diabetic hypoglycemia "diagnosis". Once again, results showed that my blood sugar was stable. Meanwhile, I was suffering through dizziness on an ever-constant basis, feelings of inadequacy, trying to eat sugar or protein to regulate my blood sugar with no difference in symptoms, and having difficulty connecting with or caring about connecting with the colleagues at my internship out of fear of being judged. My boyfriend right before my second internship had accused me of faking symptoms and my physician told me to just "eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich" when I had my symptoms because he had given up - so I decided to axe both of them and take care of things.
[Image source: http://www.toothpastefordinner.com/index.php?date=120507]
At a father-daughter banquet, a friend of the family had opened up to me about having seizures. Some of the symptoms were similar, and she told me about how her physician changed her life - to the point in which she is going into a field related to neurology. I figured I would give him a try. Immediately, my physician began using differential diagnosis and going through a checklist of possibilities that could be causing my symptoms. At the same time, I met my fiance and the whole time I went through these tests, he, as well as my family and friends, was there for me. He stayed with me through overnight testing until I fell asleep, sat with me through my symptoms without judgment, and was there all throughout looking for a diagnosis. After multiple seizure tests, hospital time, heart testing, and more, my doctor told me that it was most likely anxiety or blood pressure. Throughout the process, I was learning more and more about my family's medical history as well as my own, so I decided to try medication for anxiety. Immediately I noticed a difference. I could think clearly, express my thoughts and feelings, had less headaches, and did not faint any longer. It was life changing. But the life changing did not stop there.
[Image source: http://relieveanxietynow.com/common-signs-of-anxiety/]
As time went by and my thoughts were more clear, I started noticing some of my anxious thoughts and behaviors. I also started noticing things that triggered my anxiety. I realized that medication cannot fix the underlying problems alone. I started to have difficulty breathing, my heart would race, I would become emotional and sometimes irrational, I would pace about the room, and often perseverate on what was making me anxious. All of these things caused me to become behind in work and reviews on my blog, disorganized altogether, and even more anxious to the point where I would withdraw. Once things began effecting my work again, I knew it was time to seek out a therapist to learn strategies to be in control of my anxiety. As speech-language pathologists, we provide our students with strategies and I knew a lot of calming/relaxing strategies, but you rarely follow your own advice. Luckily, my physician followed through again, referring me to the ideal therapist to help me learn how to combat my anxiety.
[Image source: http://www.HighAnXieties.org]
I never wanted a diagnosis. I thought that it would tell me something was wrong with me; that I was broken. In December of 2012, I was diagnosed with panic attack anxiety disorder and I found out I was wrong - a diagnosis was what set me free from being so critical of myself. None of the feelings I had, my actions, my dizziness and confusion, my difficulty speaking, were my fault. My brain is different than that of others. It was time to begin the re-wiring.
Now I am proud to say that it has been over a month since I have had a full-blown anxiety attack where I have been on the ground/confused/dizzy. In addition, since it is the summer, I took a three week break to re-organize my thoughts, home, schedule, the way I eat, and life in general. I have never felt better about myself as a person or about my personal health in my life. My relationships with friends have greatly improved (they were great to begin with but now they're even better), I have connected with new friends and professional relationships through blogging, and been able to be in control of who I am. I accept myself as an individual, am able to share my thoughts more without feeling judged, and can enjoy life more and more each day!
[Image source: http://relieveanxietynow.com/causes-of-anxiety/]
Panic attack anxiety disorder is something that I don't think will fully go away. Maybe I won't panic as much or feel as anxious day-to-day, or maybe I will be able to be in more control over my anxious moments to regain calmness. Who knows what the future will hold? I am not perfect and this is a part of me - and that is okay.
I was asked by a few different people as well as my physician - "Was all of the testing worth it?" "Did we go at things from the right angle?" "If you had to go through this over again, would you have gone through all of that testing?" The answer to all of these questions is "Yes". Here's the thing, when I first started having these symptoms and being self-aware of them, I did not think that anxiety could cause a person to faint, fall down, cause mental confusion, or cause difficulty expressing oneself. My best friend told me all along I had difficulties with anxiety/worry, but I still did not have enough understanding to think THAT was what was causing my symptoms. In addition, I did not know anyone at the time who had panic attack anxiety disorder because mental health disorders can often be taboo in today's society. After going through all of this, I have talked to many of my friends/family and they have opened up to me about their different diagnoses/difficulties. Anxiety disorders are nothing to be ashamed of or hide from. It took a long time for me to be okay with that myself, but I have come a long way to have more acceptance.
[Image source: http://www.nataliedee.com/050908/now-im-a-superhero.jpg]
So here's what you need to know if you wonder if I have dropped off the planet for a little bit blogging-wise, if I haven't answered your e-mail in a little bit, or I haven't completed an app or product review in a timely manner:
- I am not ignoring you. I either did not get your e-mail or am too anxious to respond to any e-mail at the moment. The amount of e-mails I get on a regular basis sometimes causes me anxiety as well (as well as the pile of dishes, pile of papers, etc.).
- I am not trying to not check my e-mail on purpose. Something in my life related or un-related to blogging is causing me to be anxious and not check my e-mail/stay away from social media.
- I am not putting off reviewing applications/products on purpose. I may have taken on too many projects or have had something happen in my life that is preventing me from being timely. If you would like a review within a certain timeline, I will try to ask what the deadline is in the future.
- If I did not redeem an app code to review within a timely manner, I apologize. In the past I did not know that there was a 30 day deadline. This especially goes for the 80+ giveaway I did a year ago prior to diagnosis (95% did get out in a timely manner). Now that I know, there have been a few times that I did not know that a code had been sent due to absence from checking e-mail. I apologize once again and will cover the cost if necessary. If there is something I haven't reviewed yet, I should have it on a list, but feel free to contact me just in case.
- I am not avoiding social media for any reason in particular. It is usually due to anxiety and that social media can sometimes increase my anxiety due to the information overload it provides. Sometimes I need a break from the overload.
Here's what you can do if you have a child with anxiety like me or a friend with anxiety (Disclaimer - these are tips from me not as a therapist as I have not studied anxiety disorders, just what I have noticed over my life that worked for me; general tips):
- Be understanding - Do not tell them that they are faking being anxious, are over-reacting for no reason, need to stop crying, are irrational, etc. Instead, try to listen and understand what is making the person anxious. Be there for the person and tell them that anxiety does not define who they are.
- Give the person time to breathe/calm down - Different people will have different needs in regards to calming down from an anxiety attack. In addition, to be honest, there have been times in which I have needed different things to calm down. Some ideas are to allow the person to step away from what is making him or her anxious, let the person breathe, get the person a glass of water, make sure the person is comfortable (sometimes I like to lay down, get deep pressure from a hug/pillow/blanket, sit by a fan/window to get cool air), etc. Do not rush the person. If the anxiety has been caused by a disagreement, consider allowing yourself and the other person time to calm down and think prior to resuming the argument.
- Support the person's decision to seek/not seek help - Some people with anxiety take medication (and different ones at that). Some people attend therapy. Some people get different hobbies. Some people go for walks/do calming activities. Some people read. If a person truly needs help through therapy, I'm not saying that you shouldn't recommend it. I'm just saying that everyone deals with anxiety in different ways and experiences anxiety in different ways. There are different anxiety diagnoses as well. Mine took over my life. However, I took it upon myself to seek assistance when it was the right time for me in the way that worked for me. I am not going to allow anyone to tell me what type of medication to take or therapy to attend just because something did or didn't work for them. Each person reacts to medication differently or may have different experiences/forms of anxiety that need different approaches. If the person is looking for assistance with his or her anxiety, refer him or her to an organization or physician who can refer him or her to the right person to provide professional help. If you are a person suffering from anxiety and looking for assistance, do not accept cop-outs from a physician. Find a person who can truly help and who is willing to put in the time and has your best interest in mind.
- Do not rush - Do not rush through events, tell your child to hurry up when speaking, be in a hurry to get different places, etc. Tell your child that what he or she has to say is important and listen to him or her. Tell your child the schedule of events for the day. Prepare your child by talking to them before you're going to go on an errand/trip instead of rushing out. Something that works for me is when I am sent an e-mail to set up a meeting to discuss a difficult situation instead of springing it on me so I have time to think about what to say.
- Early intervention - If you have a child with possible anxiety difficulties whether they end up being caused by anxiety or a different disorder, do not wait. I'm not saying to give your child every test known to man (as this causes anxiety as well), but it's better to find out early on that to have anxiety affect a child's life. Not only will early intervention assist in anxiety reduction, but it will increase self-esteem/perception, allow the child to perform better in the classroom without feeling anxious, have less difficulty socially, feel safe, and stay mentally organized and healthy throughout his or her life.
- Be supportive - Tell your child that he or she is not defined by his or her anxiety. Tell your child that you love him or her. Tell your child that he or she is safe and everything will be alright. Be there when he or she is anxious and when he or she is calm.
- Accept and share your own anxieties - Share with your child what makes you feel anxious. Tell your child that everyone gets anxious sometimes. Talk about the difference between small and big problems and how they can make a person feel.
It's all out now. I don't mind that you know. I am not ashamed anymore. This is a part of who I am and it will affect my relationships with other people, and that is okay.
Now it's time for a little bit of dedication: Thank you to my parents and brother for being so supportive of me, listening, loving, and being there for me throughout my life. Thank you to my fiance for loving me no matter what, accepting me for who I am, helping me calm down when I am anxious, not judging me, and sticking with me from the beginnings of my road to diagnosis to the end. Thank you to my friends for all of the times you have driven me to the hospital or home from work when I couldn't drive myself, taken care of me when I was nearly fainted, gotten me water and food or a chair to sit in when I was dizzy, and for accepting me for who I am throughout the years. Thank you to my fellow SLP bloggers who have provided support, guidance, acceptance, and kind words as I shared bits and pieces of my difficulties. Thank you to the SLP companies/developers whom have been patient with me as I have taken more time than the average person to review your apps/products. Thank you to the friend who gave me the name of my current doctor - I would not be where I am without your referral. Thank you to my physician for not giving up on me, for your referrals, for explaining my test results to the letter, and continuing to make sure that I am comfortable with the healthcare I am receiving. Finally, thank you to my therapist for helping me on this path to acceptance of my anxiety disorder and providing me with strategies to help me regain control over my life while reminding me that I am "awesome". I could not do this without any of you.
The author of Consonantly Speaking does not have control over or agree with the views expressed in the content of the links associated with the images in this post.