9/11

September 11, 2001

Like most people I can remember the day of September 11, 2001 as if it were yesterday.  I was attending one of my classes at Marist College during my sophomore year.  I don’t remember what class it was or what my professor’s name was, I just remember that I hated the class and I thought my teacher was way too excited about a topic so unbearable.  It was a three hour class and she always gave us a break half way through.  After the break she came running back into our class.  With a look of panic on her face she said, “I think you all should go back to your rooms, a plane just crashed into one of the twin towers and I don’t know what’s going on.  It looks like it may have been a terrorist attack.”  Now I am 19 years old so my first reaction was that I was happy to be getting out of this God awful class early and then my second thought was, “I hope not too many people were hurt.”

I spent the rest of the day like everyone else.  I watched the news and listened to all the noise around the dorms.  Some of the kids at my school had parents who worked in the towers and they were desperately trying to get in touch with them.  I thought about my sister who was living in the city at the time and wondered where she was.  I had no concerns about her being in harms way and later that day heard from my parents telling me that she was okay.  I felt sad by what happened, but it didn’t really affect me.  I felt so far removed from it, like I was watching a movie.  I was sad for the tremendous loss, but I didn’t know anyone who died so I simply moved this tragedy to a part of my brain where I didn’t think about it.   I bought an American flag like everyone else and stuck it out the window of my car and talked about how proud I was to be an American.  I went on with my life while so many people in our country were suffering.

It was a Sunday night and Nicole and I were driving back to school after a weekend visit home.  Since 9/11 Nicole’s mother was extremely worried about her daughter being safe, as I am sure so many other parents were.  Nicole had to call her mom as soon as we got over the Throgs Neck Bridge to let her know we were safe.  We would laugh and joke about her mother being neurotic.  On this particular night we crossed the bridge and Nicole called her mother and had the quick conversation that came to be routine at this point in our trip, “Hi mom, we crossed the bridge…..yes we are good….yes I’ll be safe….I love you too, bye.”  The sun was setting as we continued north and we began talking about 9/11.

Nicole was looking at the sky and commented on how still and quiet the night had suddenly seemed to her since the tragic events of 9/11.  I agreed not really sure if I did feel the same way while Nicole continued looking out the window and said, “It just feels so strange since 9/11, like we’re not safe anymore.”  Her last comment would come to haunt me for years.  It was an eerie foreshadowing of the exact feeling I would have every night following Nicole’s death.  I never felt safe again and I would hear Nicole saying this over and over in my head.

When my panic attacks began following Nicole’s death it was as if the reality of what took place on 9/11 came into focus and I realized for the first time what happened.  For the first time I felt the loss of what happened and I didn’t just feel it as an outsider, I felt it as if it had happened to me.  I was so overwhelmed with grief and yet I felt ridiculous for feeling this way.  I didn’t know any of these people and yet here I was crying like a baby.  I would watch all the specials on t.v. forcing myself to really pay attention.  It was as if I was punishing myself, demanding my mind to acknowledge what happened and really feel the loss of the thousands of lives that were taken.

Let me explain where I’m trying to go here a little better.  I have already shared my first panic attack (the one in the Airport Diner on May 18, 2002).  Here is what really took place looking back.  I was sitting in the diner when a plane flew overhead, the plane triggered something in my brain that connected me to 9/11.  I felt unsafe and panicked that something bad was about to happen.  For the first time in my life I felt vulnerable and I came to fully understand that I could die at any time.  I realized the finality of death (for now) and that Nicole was really gone and I would never see her again.  I realized that all of those people who died on 9/11 would never come back.  All of these realizations hit me like a ton of bricks and they made me sad, really, really sad.

It wasn’t until 2013 that I put the 9/11 piece into my anxious puzzle.  I had never talked about that day and how I felt until then.  I never told anyone about my fear of planes and how I would lie in bed at night listening to them fly over my house, holding my breath, with my body tense, waiting.  I would wait for the sound of a crash.  I knew it would happen and I would just wait.  I would wait while I was outside playing with my kids.  I would wait for the sound anytime I heard a plane taking off or flying over head.  I would wait as I watched the little planes sailing through the sky on a perfect summer day.  I thought I was just crazy.  I was embarrassed to talk about how 9/11 made me feel.  Who was I to be so sad?

I have found that anxiety is like an onion.  You can’t just peel away one layer and be free.  You have to peel away all of the layers.  I needed to acknowledge how 9/11 affected me in order to move on with my recovery.  The day I finally opened up to Carol about this was a day I will never forget.  Sitting on her couch I was sure that I was going to be taken away in an ambulance.  I have never cried so hard in my life, but that is for another day and another story.

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Make sure to read my other posts.  See the top left tab to open the menu bar.  Enjoy the journey 🙂

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A Very Happy Birthday to Me

Every year on my birthday I like to reflect back on the past year of my life and see what I have learned and how I have grown.  I started a tradition years ago with my family that each year whoever’s birthday it was would share the most important thing that they learned in the past year.  At first not everyone in my family was a fan of this new tradition, but as the years have passed it has come to grow on us and I think everyone actually looks forward to it.  Sometimes the answers given are really deep and meaningful and sometimes the answers are more simple.

As my birthday approaches I am super excited to reflect back on this past year.  I recently took a memoir writing class and the following piece was an assignment I wrote that I think will best explain this past year.  It’s long, but I hope you enjoy:

Saying a Final Goodbye to My Anxiety

The sound of my children stirring over my baby monitor slowly enters my dreams, bringing me out of a deep sleep. I roll over and peek at my two beautiful daughters who are now calling for me. Excitement fills me. I realize that today is New Year’s Eve. I have never been so excited for a new year to begin as I am entering into 2013. 2012 has been a rough one and yet I am proud of what I have overcome in this year and what I have to look forward to in the future. After battling my anxiety and depression for almost 11 years following the death of my dear friend Nicole in 2001, I am finally able to see with a bit of clarity through this fog that has for so long filled my brain. It has been a long and exhausting road.

This was a year of hard triumphs for me. After putting myself in many uncomfortable situations as part of the recovery process, Long Island, where I live, was hit with Super Storm Sandy. On a personal level this storm tested my strength in more ways than one. My parent’s house on the water was devastated and my husband and I happily welcomed them, along with my 90 year old grandma into our home. This would be a time I will forever feel grateful to have had with my family, but none the less a difficult time. For about a week we were without electricity and I was caring for my 2 ½ year old, 1 year old and my grandmother, as my husband and parents went back to work. My days were very busy. At the end of November my grandmother passed, following a massive heart attack, leaving our family with aching hearts. December would start our month of sickness. The flu and stomach virus plagued my home and it would be a month before everyone was starting to feel better.

As I watch 2012 slip away I have never been as ready as I am now for a new beginning. For the first time in over a decade I am feeling optimistic about the future. I have this empowering feeling of “I can do this.” I am finally ready to let go and start fresh. I am ready to let go of my worrying. I am ready to let go of my fear. I am ready to say goodbye to my anxious self. This is going to be my year and I refuse to let anything stand in my way.

The New Year has been welcomed with open arms and much enthusiasm on my end. To be honest, I feel a little ridiculous with how good I feel. Despite my positive spirit I have a very familiar feeling that I can’t quite pinpoint lingering in the back of my mind. As the days pass on I try to ignore this feeling and stay focused on my weekly therapy sessions with Carol. I have been seeing Carol, who is a therapist trained in the Emotional Freeing Technique (EFT). I started going to her in 2008 in an attempt to deal with my anxiety, but it isn’t until this past year that I really feel as if I have allowed myself to begin the healing process. With my mind truly open I have been able to learn so much.

For years my mind has been filled with “what if” thoughts. What if something bad happens to me? What if something bad happens to someone I love? What if I never get over this anxiety? What if it’s not really anxiety and instead some mystery illness that the doctor’s have overlooked? What if I have a heart attack and leave my children without a mother? These thoughts consumed me to the point where I couldn’t focus on anything else but how I felt. In my recent sessions with Carol I have been able to really grab control of these thoughts, slowing them down and at times even stopping them altogether. It has felt really good to be able to control my mind, instead of my mind controlling me.

It is a Sunday night, late in January, and I am preparing for bed. I just finished cleaning up after having my sisters, along with their husbands and children over for dinner. We had a wonderful night. Everyone is healthy and the atmosphere between my family is not as grief stricken as it had been just a month before. The girls have already been tucked into their beds, dreaming their innocent dreams. I am looking forward to a good night’s sleep, and in the morning, I will be visiting Carol. As I walk back into the den where my husband is sitting a wave of nausea suddenly overcomes me and I feel panicked to get myself into bed. I abruptly say good night to my husband and parents.

I rush into my bedroom, noticing that I am sweating as a tingling sensation creeps down my left arm. I hastily climb into bed and try to calm my mind. “Is this just my mind playing tricks on me or am I having a heart attack?” I am desperately trying to focus my thoughts and clear my mind the way Carol taught me. “To hell with what she taught me. What if I really am having a heart attack and I die because this will be the one time I don’t do anything about it?” I grab my phone and begin to open up Google. As the search engine is opening up I think about how no one suffering from anxiety should be allowed to use Google; but right now I don’t care. My thoughts are extremely irrational as I search the web for signs of a heart attack. I scroll down the list and realize that I have every single one of the signs. Every single one! My body starts shaking and I can’t stop. My mind is spinning and the only clear thought I can make out is, “I need to get help.”

I run out into the kitchen where my husband is talking with my parents. I immediately interrupt them and tell them what I am feeling. My husband is aware that my #1 fear is of having a heart attack so I don’t dare speak those words to him. Instead I list all of my symptoms as I shake uncontrollably. My parents look seriously concerned and that makes my mind race even faster. My husband calls 911 and an ambulance is sent. On the ride over to the hospital, with my husband following quickly behind in his car, all I can think about is my children waking up the next morning and having to be told that their mother is dead. The thought of how they will deal with this for the rest of their lives sickens me and only makes my symptoms worse. For the rest of their lives they are going to struggle with the loss of their mommy.

We arrive at the hospital, and after a series of tests and a couple of hours later, I am given a clean bill of health and sent on my way. Nothing is wrong with me. I was not having a heart attack. I am not sick. I am healthy as ever. During our ride back home a feeling of dread overcomes me as I come to understand what just happened. My mind was back in control. That familiar feeling that has been following me around was the feeling of uncertainty, and it has been waiting for an opportunity to sabotage my recovery. Tears trickle down my face and I realize that I am not really sure if I can conquer my anxiety once and for all.

Carol confirms my own thoughts in our session together the next morning. She explains to me how there is a part of my mind, the ego part, that is always looking to pull me down. The ego part of our mind is where our negative thoughts come from. It’s where our self doubt festers and grows. It is the voice in our heads that can create a fear so strong in us, it becomes debilitating. I have long been aware of my ego mind and the havoc that it can wreak, but this time I thought I had it under control.

Over the next hour Carol reassured me that I am going in the right direction and it will take practice and time to truly control my ego mind. She reminds me of my strength by using an analogy so beautiful it will forever be imprinted in my brain. She tells me that I am like a flower in the wind. The wind may bend me, but it will never break me. These words resonate in me for a moment before traveling down to my very core and settling into my soul. These words begin a fresh movement forward in my recovery. They were the inspiration I needed, the last bit of fuel to add to my fire. I can do this. I will overcome my anxiety.

A few days after my session with Carol I am sitting outside, lost in my own thoughts and for the first time that is not a bad thing. The sky is crystal blue, with a few scattered clouds. The breeze is light and cool and I watch as it gently blows the leaves through the trees. I am aware of the quietness of the day and the true beauty of all that surrounds me. It amazes me to think of how this quiet, mindful feeling has for so long terrified me. The quiet meant I could hear my own thoughts and those thoughts were only filled with anxiety and despair. They were ones I did not want to hear, but here on this new day I am welcoming my own thoughts. They are beautiful. My body and mind are at peace and it feels wonderful.

One of the biggest obstacles in my recovery has been myself. I was afraid to let go of my anxiety. I was afraid to let go of this feeling that I had become so accustomed to. This may sound strange to someone who doesn’t understand anxiety, but feeling good felt so foreign to me that anytime I started to feel joy or happiness it was always followed by panic and fear. I wasn’t use to the emotions and they made me feel as if something terrible was going to happen.

I have often compared myself to an innocent prisoner who has been released from jail after years of serving time. I would imagine that the years spent behind bars would be years spent longing to be free. The prisoner would imagine life on the outside, but for the time being all they know is life incarcerated. On the day of the prisoner’s release I could imagine that they would not only feel joy, but fear. They were now entering a world that they had so long been separated from. How would they handle the new found freedom? Would something else bad happen to them, bringing them back to that awful place?

For so long I have been a prisoner of my own mind. I have dreamt of freedom, but those dreams were always just that, dreams. For years I have been afraid to let go and embrace a new world and a new way of thinking. For almost a decade my fear of freedom overrode my desire to be free, but here I am a new person. This is 2013 and it is the year that I finally say goodbye to my anxious self.

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It has been a great year 🙂

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Nicole…..

Throughout your life you will see many people come and go.  Some people will simply come in and out leaving not even a trace that they ever existed.  Others will leave impressions on us and we will never be the same again.  Some friendships take time to build and grow while others just happen instantly.  I love meeting a person that I have an instant connection with.  I can tell right away that the person is genuine.  There is no act being put on, they are just being who they are.

I met Nicole my freshmen year of college and upon meeting her my first thought was, “I have to be friends with this girl.”  She had a wildly outgoing personality, a contagious laugh and a smile that was about a mile wide.  I found traits in Nicole that I wished I had more in myself and I admired her a lot.  Nicole was only in my life for a year and a half, but the connection we had made it feel as if I had known her forever.    We joked often that we were “soul mate” friends.  I have had other friendships like the one with Nicole, but during this time I felt like I was running through life with my twin.  She got me and I got her and all the while we were having an awesome time together.  We were living the college life.

Nicole and I did everything together.  She lived on campus in a dorm while I lived in an apartment with a friend of mine down the block.  Nicole often slept over our apartment.  We did everything together.  We partied together, went to the gym together, ate together and even worked together.  We both were from Long Island so each time I would go home she would come with me since I had a car and she didn’t.  Our car rides home would become some of my favorite moments together.  It would be our time together that we were silly singing and dancing to the songs on the radio.  We would also talk deeply about life.  This is what I loved best.  Everyone who knows me well would understand that I am a very deep thinker.  I analyze things more than the average person.  Not everyone likes this way of thinking and there are few people that I feel comfortable opening up this way to.  With Nicole I could just be myself.  It was nice.

On November 11, 2001 Nicole was killed in a drunk driving accident.  It was the first night that we didn’t go out together.  Nicole was at a party with a group of friends and ended up leaving to go to another party with a guy we both worked with.  Not long into their drive he lost control of his car and crashed into a telephone pole.  He had been drunk.  A few hours later my soul mate friend passed away at the nearby hospital.  Life would never be the same…….

The following days and months were filled with so much change.  I attended Nicole’s wake and funeral.  I dropped out of school and moved home.  I tried to move on with my life while at the same time making sense of Nicole’s death.

During this time I began to really think about God.  Was Nicole with God in heaven?  Is there a heaven?  Is there a God?  What did God think about Nicole?  What is life really all about?  What is the meaning, what is the point?  I had so many questions that I had never thought about up until now and the questions were overwhelming.  Before this moment I was just a 19 year old college student who was living life to the fullest.  I had a subconscious belief that I was immortal.  I never thought about death as a possibility anytime soon.  We died when we were older, right?  But that’s not the case because my 19 year “young” friend just died and if she died then that means that I can die and so can anyone else I love.

Life suddenly seemed so fragile to me.  I began obsessing over Nicole’s last day here living.  I needed to know and understand what she was thinking about in the moments before her life ended.  Was she scared?  Did she know what was happening?  Was she in pain?  I couldn’t bear the thought of the answers to any of these questions.  They made me sick, but they are questions that I would ask myself everyday for the next 6 1/2 years.  For some reason I needed to think about this.  My thoughts became so consumed with death.  It was all I could think about.  I would think about it as soon as I got up in the morning and I would still be thinking about it when I lay down each night to go to sleep.  I also thought about God.  I thought about God a lot.  Who was this God and did he really exist because right now I need him to exist because my friend can’t just be gone.  She has to be somewhere watching over me….. right?

I began to feel guilty about my own life.  Why is Nicole gone and I am still here?  Why do I deserve to be happy when Nicole is dead?  I don’t deserve to live?  I was not a good friend.  If I was a good friend I would have protected her and she would still be alive.  I began looking at my life in a way I never had before and what I saw was awful.  I saw a lot of irresponsibility and mistakes.  I blamed myself for Nicole’s death and I often wished it had been me instead of her.

One of the best fuels for anxiety is guilt and right now I had a lot of guilt.

 

 

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Anxiety on a beautiful summer day

Anxiety is a thief.  It will rob you blind and the worst part is that you won’t know you’ve been robbed until you are staring at this empty hole inside your soul wondering what the hell happened.  Anxiety moves quickly and hits you when you are least expecting it.

It is a beautiful summer day.  The sky is crystal blue with not a cloud to be seen.  The birds are chirping and the wind feels so good on your face as it casually passes by.  Even the trees seem relaxed as their leaves dance around in the sun.  It’s a good day….that is for most people.

I wake up on this gorgeous summer day and I know it’s gorgeous because that’s just stating a fact.  Immediately following this realization a pit settles in my stomach.  I shouldn’t say it settles in my stomach like it’s new; this pit has been lodged in my stomach for so long now.  I feel afraid and I don’t know why.  I should feel happy on this beautiful day, but beautiful days scare me.  They are a reminder of how awful I am feeling on the inside.  A dark and gloomy day matches my mood so much better.

It’s Friday and my day is filled with the normal things a 21 year old care free girl does.  I lay out, working on my perfect tan, go shopping and I even get my nails done.  It is a day that should leave me feeling rested and rejuvenated as I prepare to go out with my friends, but my anxiety always has other plans.

As I lay in the sun I am trying to calm the rhythm of my breathing.  I have had such trouble breathing.  I feel as if I have to fight for each breath.  I feel like I have a knife stabbing me in the chest.  I feel like I can’t get a full breath in and then I can’t fully exhale.  All of these feelings cause me to panic and instead of relaxing in the sun I am gasping for air.  I find that I am holding my breath and then quickly taking a deep long breath in, and it hurts.  It hurts every time.  I decide that laying here is too much work and I get up to go inside.  It is lunchtime and I am already drained.

I decide to go shopping because I really want a new outfit to wear out tonight, but just the thought of going into the mall makes me panic.  I debate with myself back and forth for over an hour on whether or not to go the mall.  The store I love is in the mall, but that means I’ll have to go into the mall.  The mall is one of my biggest triggers for my panic attacks.  Every time I have set foot into a mall within the past year it has been torture.  I have had constant panic attacks throughout each experience, but right now I really want to go to my favorite store.  I can’t do it, I want to, but I just can’t.  After this ridiculous fight with myself I end up going to Mandee’s and buying a new shirt.  This has become my go to store because it’s easy.  It’s a typical storefront building so it’s small which means I am in and out.  That gives me less time to worry about dying.  I am always worrying about dying.

I end up at the nail salon much later than I had planned.  As I sit in the chair I am desperately trying to relax, but again I become fixated on my breathing.  It just hurts so bad and I want to scream.  No I want to cry.  I want to scream and cry.  I am terrified that I am going to pass out.  I can’t catch my breath and I fear that I might be having a heart attack.  Frantically I look at the clock and then back to the lady doing my nails and she just smiles at me.  She’s just sitting there with such a calm smile on her face painting my nails my color of choice “wicked,” looking as if she has not a care in the world and here I am freaking out.  I might run. I feel like I should just get up and go.  But I really want her to finish my nails.  I WANT TO HAVE PRETTY NAILS!  I am getting so upset.  This is ridiculous.  This day has been exhausting.  What if I’m having a heart attack?  Then that little voice pops into my head, “you’re not having a heart attack, it’s just anxiety and you are crazy.”  Now I really want to cry.  For the next twenty minutes I bash myself quietly inside my head as the calm lady smiles and finishes my nails.

You are crazy.  You are losing your mind.  Why can’t you just relax?  You do this to yourself.  You deserve to feel like shit.  You are a bad person.  I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror as these awful thoughts take over my mind and I am smiling.  I am sitting in the chair with this stupid smile on my face.  Crazy people smile all the time I think to myself.

I leave the nail salon and drive home.  I have a great tan, a cute outfit and awesome nails.  That night I bail on my friends and end up staying home.  Stupid fucking anxiety.

 

 

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Sometimes the brightest smiles hide the most pain

My first panic attack was May 18, 2002.  I was at a diner having lunch with my friend when an airplane flew overhead.  I have to specify that I was at the “Airport Diner,” so a plane flying by should have in no way alarmed me, but it didn’t just alarm me, it terrified me.  The sound of the plane caused every hair on my body to stand on edge.  My insides began to shake and the only clear thought I had was “Oh my God something terrible is going to happen and I need to get the hell out of here.”  This very thought would soon take over my brain and consume my mind for the next ten years.  It was all I ever thought about and felt.  I had this feeling of impending doom everywhere I went and I always had the urge to run and hide.

At the end of 2012 was when I first started really opening up to my family about my anxiety.  My family and some of my friends had known that I had struggled, but to what degree, they had no idea.  I remember talking with one of my sister’s and being in awe of her shocked reaction when I shared my fear of going into a mall with her.  I told her how I hadn’t been able to go into a mall since 2002 without having a panic attack.  Her reaction made me think, “Wow I was really good at hiding my anxiety.”  Her reaction was not unique to the ones I started to get as I opened up to more of my family.  Everyone seemed surprised by what I was sharing.  How could I have suffered so badly for so long and no one knew?  A smile could mask just about anything and I like to smile.

I would like to say that I am a happy person overall.  I love to laugh.  If I am ever having a bad day I just have to call my sister Christine and my mood will instantly lighten.  She has always known how to make me laugh.  I love being silly and having fun.  I hated the way anxiety made me feel and I simply refused to let it get the best of me and because of that I smiled even harder.  Well let me tell you something, putting on a happy face when you feel like you are dying inside is the most exhausting thing ever.  I always thought that if I smiled and acted happy then eventually my brain would catch on and I would just “poof” be happy.  If you have suffered you know that this is the furthest from the truth.

Now don’t get me wrong I was happy during my ten year struggle and I did have fun moments, but they were never moments of pure joy, they were moments always filled with “what if’s.”  What if something bad is going to happen?  What if I die?  What if someone I love dies again?  What if I am really sick?  What if I’m losing my mind?  I will give a great example.  My wedding day was not the best day of my life as it should have been (maybe not the best day, but it would be a runner up to having my children).  Okay, it was a great day and one that I will cherish forever, but for me it was a day filled with awful anxiety.  If you were inside my head the day I got married you would have heard, “I am so excited.  What if I pass out?  What if I can’t breathe?  I can’t believe I’m getting married.  I love John so much.  Holy shit I can’t catch my breath.  Maybe I’m having a heart attack.  I need to get the hell out of here.  I hate this.  I can’t even enjoy my own wedding.  I wish I could relax and have fun like everyone else.  What the hell is wrong with me?  I’m dizzy.  I think I’m going to pass out.  I can’t wait to be able to lie down.”  And that is just a small example because the thoughts got crazier.  That is definitely not the way a bride should be thinking on the happiest day of her life.  That day the craziness inside my head was not what everyone saw.  Everyone saw a bride with a huge smile on the happiest day of her life.

I think it’s hard for people to hear that the person who they think has it all together, may not actually be all together.

 

 

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Acceptance

One day you just have to let the butterflies fly away…….

Just like anything else in life you, can not overcome anxiety until you have accepted the condition.  I spent most of my time struggling trying to convince myself that I didn’t have anxiety.  Anxiety was the “crazy” person’s problem.  I was convinced I had some serious medical problem.  I was sure that I had cancer or some awful heart condition that would lead to a heart attack.  The worst was that most of the time I was convinced I really had some mystery illness that the doctor’s kept missing and that one day I would just drop dead.  Well here’s the thing, anxiety creates many different physical symptoms that are easy to confuse:

Here are just a few physical symptoms:

  • Muscle pain
  • Chest pain
  • Tingling in arms and legs
  • Trouble breathing
  • Headaches
  • Dizzy

Just these few symptoms here would be easy to confuse with a heart attack (my worry of choice).

I also found this great site which goes into such detail about the symptoms of anxiety.  This is the first site I found to go into such depth of detail.

http://www.anxietycentre.com/anxiety-symptoms.shtml

Now I encourage anyone who is concerned about their health to go to the doctor and have a check up, but here is a word of advice, if your doctor gives you a clean bill of health (like mine did time after time) then understand and know you ARE healthy and move on to the next step.  Accept that you are suffering from anxiety.  I can’t say it any other way than anxiety SUCKS, but if you fight it instead of embracing it, it will consume your life.

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Anxiety is all in your head…..says the person who doesn’t understand

My name is Renee and I am 31 years old.  I have three beautiful daughters, an amazing husband and so much to be grateful for.  I am grateful for my health, my children, my husband, my family, my home and our jobs.  I am also grateful for having suffered from anxiety for over a decade.  Now I am sure that my last statement will shock and even confuse most people, but I am honestly grateful for everything I have gone through.  I believe that I was put on a specific journey; one where I would struggle, learn to fight, learn to accept and in the end conquer anxiety, making me a stronger person that I ever dreamed possible.   I believe that there is a reason for everything in life and throughout my struggle I always felt that in the end I was going to win and share my story.  So here I am 🙂

One of the hardest things I found in my struggle was that no one really understood what I was going through.  Anxiety was a topic that most people seemed extremely uncomfortable talking about for a couple of reasons.  One reason I found was that people viewed anxiety as a problem that was all in the sufferers head, one that they should just be able to snap out of.  Oh if it were that easy.  Now my wonderful hubby of almost eight years has been by my side through all of this and even he doesn’t truly understand.  Sometime last year when I was really in the thick of my recovery he said to me, “It just seems like you overthink everything?”  Well to be blunt my response was, “Um, no shit!  That’s my problem.”  I know I overthink things, I know that I make things worse in my mind than they really are, I know I worry for reasons that are absurd; my problem is not understanding this, my problem is controlling my mind to stop all this “crazy” thinking.  I had no idea how to regain control of my brain.  Now here is not just one of the most important things that I have learned during my journey, it is THE MOST important thing that I have learned.  Just like you can exercise and train your body to become stronger and more fit, you can train your brain to think the way you want it to.  How simple that sounds, but in the end it is just that, simple.  The thing that makes recovering from anxiety so difficult is the person suffering.  We are the biggest obstacles to overcome.  I will get to that later on though because I could write all day about that.

The second reason I found people to be so uncomfortable talking anxiety was that most people view mental disorders like anxiety and depression as a “crazy person’s” disorder; the type of person that needs to be locked away.  I found the mindset to be that “normal” people didn’t suffer from things like anxiety.  The more I have opened up about my experience the more people I found who have suffered as well.  This is a very common problem, one I still don’t see people really talking about.  Well, I am going to talk about it.  I wish someone had told me twelve years ago that what I was going through was in fact normal.  Maybe I wouldn’t have spent a decade beating myself up, convincing myself that I was indeed crazy.  Maybe I wouldn’t have suffered so badly for so long, but then again I do believe I was put on this path for a reason.  I wouldn’t be here sharing a very valuable lesson learned.

 

 

Make sure to read my other posts.  See the top left tab to open the menu bar.  Enjoy the journey 🙂

The Beginning

So here I go. I am putting my thoughts onto paper for the first time in years. It has been so long since I have done this or even wanted to do this. Writing was once such an important part of my life. My love for writing started when I was very young. It was the first thing that I can remember being good at. Before I was a gymnast or a cheerleader I was just a little girl with a wild imagination.

My passion for writing really bloomed when I was in the fifth grade. My teacher’s name was Mrs. Savino and when I think back to that year in my life I can vividly recall many of her exciting writing assignments. I can still feel the excitement that would well up inside of me each week when our new assignment was handed out. Each assignment was different, but one criterion remained the same each week, if we could dream it then we were encouraged to write about it.

In middle school my love for writing grew and I began to write poetry. I wrote all of my poems in a simple spiral notebook and I carried this book everywhere I went. At night I would tuck my book of poems safely under my mattress while I slept and dreamt up my newest creations. I cherished this book so much because to me it held the secrets of my soul. In high school I continued writing my poems and enrolled in a creative writing class in the hopes that I would be challenged. This class quickly became the reason I was excited to get up and go to school each day. My teacher’s enthusiasm and passion for writing was almost tangible and poured over onto her students.

Throughout each phase of my life I always wrote in a journal. It was my diary when I was a little girl writing about my latest crush or my frustration of the week with one of my sisters. It became my journal in about the seventh grade when I felt that I was too mature to have a diary. Looking back I should have called it a diary until I was at least 22 if maturity dictated the change in name. I looked forward to the end of each day where I could write out all of my own thoughts and process the day behind me while dreaming about the days ahead of me.

To say I loved writing would be an understatement. Writing to me was an escape when I needed one, but it was also a place where I found life. I would write about school and my friends, my boyfriend or boyfriends’ (who has just one?). I would write about my insecurities along with my hopes and dreams. I would write about my fears and accomplishments as well as my struggles. Many times, through my own words, I would find solutions to life’s obstacles. Writing to me was so freeing because I found so much life and love in my words. I found strength and inspiration, I found me.

My sophomore year of college my life was changed forever. My best friend was killed in a car accident; she was just 19 years old. Through the devastation of my loss I managed to muster up some hope and strength to go on. About six months later while trying to put myself and my life back together I was blindsided by anxiety. Okay, so it was six months and exactly 7 days later. I remember the day because it was the day of my cousin’s beautiful wedding and also the day of my first panic attack. When I say I was hit by anxiety, I am not talking about the occasional feelings of nervousness or fear. I am talking about the real deal, full blown anxiety disorder. The kind of anxiety that travels down into the core of your very being. Looking back I see how defenseless I was, I never even saw it coming. I had no idea this type of condition even existed. Within hours my world came tumbling down and I lost my footing. The world I knew would no longer be my reality.

My hope was gone and my strength weakened. My writing stopped. Inside my head no longer held dreams and inspiration. Instead, inside the darkness of my mind now lived fear and despair. To write would be to admit the craziness that was taking over my mind. Desperate to grasp onto something familiar I tried to put my thoughts to paper, but very quickly this just became too hard. I could not bear to face my own thoughts.

It has been over twelve years since Nicole died. It has been almost twelve years since my first panic attack and I have done a lot of work in trying to heal and now is the time to put my thoughts back onto paper. It was just recently that I have come to realize that I have never lost hope. Hope was always there quietly pushing me and willing me to never give up. Well I never gave up and now it is time for me to do something with this journey I have taken through anxiety. I need to share my story.

 

 

Make sure to read my other posts.  See the top left tab to open the menu bar.  Enjoy the journey 🙂

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