It's easy to forget that we are all perfect in our own design. Sometimes we muck it up with habits and choices that do not serve us.
We all have secrets.
I have a closet full of them. One of which is living with anxiety.
But you would never know by glancing my way.
We hide behind layers and layers of ourselves out of fear. Fear of rejection, judgment, and not being accepted for who we truly are. So, day by day we filter out this or that. Contort and twist. Until we look into the mirror and no longer recognize the person staring back.
I'll never forget the first time it happened or any other times that followed.
It was a normal morning commute to work. I was in the driver's seat, jamming out to the radio as though no one was watching. I felt good, happy, alive... and then it hit me.
Out of nowhere, I felt this intense nauseous feeling. A rise in body temperature from my feet to my head. My palms and nose began to sweat. All I could hear was my racing heartbeat. It pounded so hard I thought it was going to burst out of my chest. My legs, arms, and hands began to go numb and then tunnel vision set in.
ALL of this took place within a matter of seconds.
Am I going to die? Will my heart simply decide to stop out of exhaustion for beating so ferociously? Could this really be it for me? What is happening to my body? The thoughts swirled like a tornado in my mind, only making the scenario worse.
Desperate to find comfort, I called my husband (then boyfriend). I needed something familiar because all that was going on in my body at that moment was foreign to me. He stayed on the phone, reassuring me as I took in slow deep breaths until I made it into my office building safely.
This was the first-time Anxiety and I had met and the first time I experienced a full-blown panic attack. It, unfortunately, wouldn't be the last time either.
I have had to crawl on the floor in an attempt to not pass out, and have blacked out without notice. It never mattered where, or what I was doing. At the bank, a friend's house, driving, or while sitting comfy at home.
They always began the same but varied in intensity. The symptoms didn't slowly build up with enough time to identify and treat each as they came. No. Instead, they all swarmed my body with a rapid vigor.
I have dealt secretly with my unwanted visitor coming and going as it pleases for the last seven years. Learning that anxiety is all encompassing. Far more than just the physical and physiological aspects. It invades your mind, corrupts your emotions and lingers unapologetically.
During any given moment, I was rehashing and analyzing every conversation and action in that day. Worried whether I offended someone, came across too this or not enough that, contemplated what my next steps were for the day, week, months, and years, experienced tons of self-doubt and uncertainty, was unable to turn off at night and get sleep, had impulsive behavior, muscle tension and headaches.
There was constant talking in my head. Continuous noise. It often felt impossible to turn off. The inner turmoil I felt when in a group - small or large, fidgeting, sweaty palms, and rushing to the bathroom to splash cool water or dampened paper towel to my face, and the deep breaths in attempts to calm and regain control of a seemingly uncontrollable scenario.
My anxiety still invades. It still arrives uninvited. The only difference is that I have had the time to experience, cope, and re-evaluate how I want to live with my anxiety each day.
I came to the realization that without a doubt I never want to succumb to a life where my anxiety has enough control to decide for me. I don't want to make decisions based on the fear of whether I will have an attack. And for me, taking medication isn't my remedy of choice.
I still sometimes have the associated fear of a possible attack but I now know what I am dealing with and how to battle each attack as it comes. I have practiced many ways to help control or ease the onset, calm my nerves during, and ultimately live with my anxiety. Living as partners so to speak, each playing our role.
Some tactics I've used are:
Positive Self-Talk - mantras, positive affirmations-reassuring myself that I will get through to the other side.
Distraction - focusing on a pressure point, flicking a band around my wrist, pinching between my thumb and forefinger or earlobes helps take the focus off the anxiety.
Therapy When Necessary - often triggers can go way beyond the current situation and extend into a traumatic experience in childhood - talking with a therapist or counselor helps identify the root of the problem and provides tools for working towards healing.
Practicing Mindfulness - helps me really evaluate whether I am indeed in danger while becoming more aware of myself and actions.
Meditation - helps me connect with myself and disconnect with everything else, thus creating grounding, peace, and calmness.
Journaling - My go -to way to release any pent-up energy.
Breathing - being conscious of my breath helps slow my heart rate and keep panic at bay.
Water - a cold drink or a splash helps to alleviate the overwhelm I feel when my body temperature spikes.
I have come to appreciate the timing of my anxiety attacks. Often, they are a clue indicating that I need to hit the pause button. I need to stop and take a break or reassess a situation. Almost like an active alarm within my body reminding me to just take each moment as it arrives instead of trying to coordinate every second of my life.
Anxiety is real. Many, have learned to live with it, others, battle with it daily, and for some medication is how they get through each day.
I accept that my anxiety and panic attacks are a small piece of the puzzle that makes up my life. I am aware that they will probably always be a part of me and have come to learn the whys, triggers and how to best handle an attack - for me.
There is no perfect remedy to living life with anxiety. You try new tactics, learn your triggers, figure out how to cope and do what works for you.
But know that it is not something you should be ashamed of. It isn't something that takes away from the true you. Anxiety is just a small piece of the puzzle that makes you perfectly imperfect. Don't identify yourself based solely on the problems you are facing. Instead, choose to live despite your anxiety. There, in that space, you will find more joy and eventually will no longer need to cut, trim, twist or hide. Instead, you will radiate your truth inside, and my friend, it will be stunning!
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