The Epiphany

Fly

e·piph·a·ny: A sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into the reality or essential meaning of something, usually initiated by some simple, homely, or commonplace occurrence or experience.

The end of 2012 was a very important time for me.  Something was brewing inside of me, but I didn’t yet understand what it was.  I had this strong feeling that 2013 was going to be a big year for me, but I just didn’t know how.  I was seeing my EFT therapis,t Carol, once again to try and get a grip on my anxiety.  I had just started reading an anxiety memoir as a part of my own therapy.  I was interested in seeing how someone else had handled their own experience with this debilitating disorder.  I won’t share the name of the book, but it was awful.

The book I chose actually gave me anxiety.  The author started out by saying, “this is not a book about overcoming anxiety, it is simply about my experience and how I still struggle today.”  Well, no anxious person wants to read about another anxious person’s struggle without being given some answers and guidance.  The book left me feeling dirty (the author’s anxiety was triggered right after his first sexual experience, one in which he goes into great detail on and then refers back to constantly….vomit) and on edge.  I could not make it through the entire book, but there was one thing the author said that literally jumped out of the book, smacked me in the face and changed my life.

I don’t remember what exactly was written to quote the author, but he said in summary, “you can not teach your children anything more than what you know.  You can try, but at the end of the day they will learn more from seeing what you do and what you know, then what you say.”  Upon reading this I was immediately stopped in my tracks.  I could not read a sentence more.  I had to really digest what I just read and process it.  Now I have heard the saying, “actions speak louder than words,” probably a million times just like the rest of us and this was no different, but for some reason reading it here in this anxiety memoir deeply effected me.  At the time I had two daughters (I now have three) and all I could think about was what I was going to teach them by my own examples.  I began the long list in my head of things my two sweet little angels would learn from me.

I avoided malls as if they were disease infested buildings that would kill me.  I felt disoriented and out of control every time I set foot in one.  Food shopping made my heart race and I would always feel as if I was going to pass out.  I wouldn’t dare venture out into a large crowded area without my husband whose arm I would hold onto tightly.  He was the only one who knew how I felt in crowds so I could use him as my crutch to lean on.  I had a long list of things I wanted to do and accomplish that was nothing more than just a list because I was too afraid to fail so I never started.  I was tired ALL THE TIME.  My playtime with my girls consisted of me laying on the floor with a toy while my girls ran around trying to get me to move with them.  My body always hurt and I would say things to my girls like, “mommy can’t hold you because my back hurts or I’m too tired.”  I was giving excuses left and right not to do things.  I would avoid taking them for walks by myself because I would get dizzy and feel faint.  Taking them to one store took me a week of mental preparation and afterwards I would need hours to recover.  I was so nervous in restaurants and would sit quietly trying to calm myself and keep myself from freaking out.

What the hell was I teaching my kids already???

In that very moment reading those words in that ever so awful book I made a decision, one that would deeply impact my life and my happiness.  In that moment I vowed to overcome my anxiety once and for all.  I knew that it was going to be very hard and it was going to make me extremely uncomfortable, but I was going to do it once and for all.  There was no other option other than succeeding.

During my struggle I had always wanted to overcome my anxiety, but just like a drug addict “wants” to be clean, wanting is never enough.  At this moment in my life I no longer wanted to be better, I “needed” to be better.  Nothing was going to stop me, not even my biggest obstacle, myself.  There was no way I was going to let my own anxiety infect my two daughters.  I was going to kick anxiety’s ass once and for all and be an inspiration to my girls.  I was going to lead my children by example.

Each time I had tried to get better I had failed, but there was always a common thought that led to my downfall.  Each time I had doubted myself.  I always had the “what if?” thought.  What if I couldn’t do it, what if I felt like this forever, what if the good feeling didn’t last, what if I got hurt again?  I always gave myself another option in my head, but this time there was no other option.  There were no “what if’s,” there was only recovery.  I didn’t care what it took, but I was going to do it.

Here’s the thing, when you suffer badly from anxiety it becomes easier to continue on feeling the way you do.  It is a great challenge to overcome it.  It is a challenge that too many people give up on, because giving up is easy.  I know this because I did it so many times.

Now I need to point out that I do say I overcame my anxiety, but I really like to look at it as I’m in recovery.  I believe that anxiety will always be something I have to be aware of.  I have to know my triggers and use my tools to keep it at bay.  When I do this I am in control and not my anxiety.  I am at peace and I am happy.

Following my “epiphany” were a chain of events that further pushed me down the path of recovery, events that I will of course share, but reading that one small passage in that awful book lit a fire in me.  This very fire would burn so hot, pushing me to be stronger than I could have ever imagined.  I was on a mission.  I was going to regain control of my life and my happiness.  I would be the mother that my girls could look up to and I would be an inspiration to anyone out there who suffered as well.  This was it.  There was no looking back, there was only looking forward.  Whatever I wanted in my future I had to go out and create.

Now began to process of letting go.  I had a lot of baggage that needed dumping.

Happiness #quote

My Reflection

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As a girl growing up I spent a lot of time in front of the mirror.  Most of my moments were quick; a quick check of the hair and makeup or maybe even a few trips back and forth to make sure my outfit really did look okay.  Sometimes I would find myself lingering a little too long as I squeezed my sides back to see what my waist looked like without my “muffin top.”  Like most girls my reaction to my reflection was always different.  Some days I thought I looked fabulous while the very next day I would walk away from the mirror crying.  Damn mirrors.  I loved the way I looked and I hated it all at the same time, but none the less each day I went back to the mirror to look again.

I have heard more than once that the eyes are the windows to a persons soul and  I could not agree more.  If you really look into a person’s eyes you can learn so much about them.  Whenever I looked into the mirror whether I liked what I saw or not, I at least saw me.  I saw my soul and that ever so important part I loved so much.

During my anxiety I avoided mirrors like the plague, well not entirely.  I used them on a needed basis.  I of course didn’t want to leave the house looking like a crazy person with food in my teeth or a snot in my nose.  I already was feeling crazy enough, I didn’t need to leave the house looking the part.

The lingering in front of the mirror stopped completely.  I couldn’t bear to look myself in the eyes anymore because the person I saw looking back at me I no longer knew.  Every once in a while I would force myself to stop and look into my eyes and each time I had the same outcome.  Through my eyes I saw the mess that my mind had become.  I saw darkness and fear.  I saw guilt and uncertainty.  I saw the pain and sorrow that had settled in my mind with no plans of leaving.  I would struggle to find something familiar in my reflection, something comforting, but each time it was as if I was staring at a stranger in my own home.  My chest would tighten and my arms would begin to tingle.  Each breath suddenly required a massive amount of energy and effort to take.  My mind would start swirling and finally after all of maybe two minutes I would have to look away.  I would try to get a hold of my breathing as I walked away dizzy, nauseous and worst of all defeated.  All of these awful feelings just from looking in the mirror.  What a terrible way to feel.

During my struggle with anxiety I spent a lot of time thinking about myself.  How was I feeling?  How would I make it through the day?  Am I going crazy?  Will I ever get over this?  Should I get help?  Should I go on medicine?  There were many long days spent just thinking about myself, but at the very same time I was losing sight of who I was.  It’s a strange feeling when your own body feels alien to you.  I think strange is too lite of a word.  It feels terrible.  There were days when I wanted to rip my own skin off and run away from me.  How do you get away from the person you can’t stand when that person is you?

I knew that deep down inside, past the wild thoughts there was a girl whom I loved dearly.  I had known her once before and she was great.  On my journey to peace I was determined to rediscover myself and all the qualities I possessed that were beautiful.  Following my “epiphany” at the end of 2012 (see my next post for this), I began making it a point to stand in front of the mirror, relax my breathing, and really look into my eyes and see past the storm of uncontrolled thoughts.  I knew that if I did this long enough I would eventually find myself looking back.

As the days of 2013 passed I began to recognize the person in the mirror.  It did not happen quickly and it was by no means easy.  I was no longer walking away dizzy and nauseous.  I was walking away with a smile on my face.  This would be one of the hardest parts of my journey, but by far the most rewarding.

There is no better feeling than looking in the mirror and loving, not what you see, but who you see.

 

America’s Got Talent

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This week on America’s Got Talent there was a contestant who brought me to tears.  A 20 year old Anna Clendening walked out onto the stage and when she was asked what she did for a living she responded saying she didn’t work due to her current situation.  Her “situation” was that she had been suffering from severe anxiety and depression disorder for years.  It had recently hit her hard where she was actually bed ridden.

I have to admit that when she first said she didn’t work because of her disorder I thought, “that’s a cop out and she’s making excuses.”  Now I am someone who suffered from the same disorder for years and yet in this moment I was quick to judge her.  She then went on to explain and my heart softened and I began to appreciate her situation for what it was.  This girl was standing on a stage in front of thousands of people as she prepared to sing live.  There were no excuses there.  In the height of my anxiety I couldn’t even walk into a room full of friends without feeling like I was going to pass out and here was this girl staring her anxiety in this face and putting herself in such a vulnerable place.

Well needless to say she sang one of my favorite songs and if my husband wasn’t sitting with me I could have sobbed uncontrollably.  It was one of those moments for me where I felt so connected and moved by this person.  You could almost see in her eyes her own journey through anxiety and as she sang Hallelujah you could feel how much she meant those words.  It was the perfect song to represent someone’s struggle with anxiety.

Anxiety is so hard for people to understand, even those who have gone through it.  Never judge a person, instead listen to them and really hear their words.  Be there for them and hold their hand.

This girl is awesome.  Watch her performance and enjoy.

Panic Attacks!

panic attack

The definition of a Panic Attack: A panic attack is a sudden episode of intense fear that triggers severe physical reactions when there is no real danger or apparent cause.

I was a gymnast for about 7 years of my life and I have been coaching for the past 17 years.  I can honestly say that I am obsessed with gymnastics.  It has been my escape when I needed one and always a place where passion was birthed and fueled.

The American cup is an elite gymnastics competition held each year in March.  Some of the best gymnasts in the world compete in this meet and each year I have watched it on t.v.  It’s an awesome meet to see.  In March of 2012 I was able to attend this meet at Madison Square Garden in New York City, along with my coworkers and some gymnasts from the gym I worked at.  I was very excited to see this meet live and it was a day out on my own that I was looking forward to.  I had an almost 2 year old daughter at home along with my four month old daughter.  Mommy needed a day out.  As much as I looked forward to this day I was anxious about it.  A stadium setting seemed like a breeding ground for my anxiety.  There would be a lot of people, a lot of noise along with the travel into the city; all things that triggered my anxiety.

I cautiously entered the stadium hoping for the best.

By the time I settled into my seat my nerves were on edge.  I was on the slowest line ever to get food and that only allowed me more time to think about my anxiety.  There was a woman next to me on another line that was incredibly obnoxious and loud.  The man behind the counter was moving at snail speed and I just wanted to scream.  I sat back and tried to enjoy the meet.

The meet was really exciting, but somewhere in the middle a dark cloud crept in.  As I watched Gabby Douglas on beam my skin began to tingle and the hair on my arms stood on edge.  “Fuck!”  My heart started racing and my breath grew shallow.  A lump settled in my throat as I tried to focus my eyes.  I was dizzy and afraid that I was going to pass out.  The huge stadium suddenly felt the size of a shoe box.  I felt crowded and suffocated.  It was as if I could hear the conversation being had by each person.  I felt like everyone was screaming in my ears.  I panicked as my body tensed, bracing for some type of disaster to take place.  I moved around nervously in my seat hoping that no one would notice that something was wrong with me.  My gymnasts’ were talking excitedly as they realized that Nastia Liukin’s (she won the all-around gold medal at the 2008 Olympics) father was sitting in front of us.  As I was preparing for the collapse of the stadium, I grew fearful that I was having a heart attack.  I wanted to run away.  I would be so embarrassed if I died in front of my gymnasts.

As soon as I felt the embarrassment I was brought back to reality.  I am not having a heart attack and the stadium is not going to collapse, I am having a panic attack.  No shit.

I began to focus on my breathing and slow it down.  I told myself over and over again that I was not dying, it’s was just a panic attack.  I had been having panic attacks for about ten years so I should have known this easily, but yet each time I let my mind take over and convince myself it was something else.

By the time my heart returned to a normal pace I was spent.  My head hurt, my muscles were cramped, I felt nauseous and dizzy.  My body was damp with sweat and I gave in to the fact that I just let myself ruin the meet. I was ready to go home.

I left the meet a little early to catch the train.  I sat with one of my friends on the way home cursing myself inside my head the whole way home.  I was ashamed that after all these years I was still letting my anxiety win.

If you have never had a panic attack I will tell you this, they suck!

Ann Landers loses it……

My mother had always called me Ann Landers growing up.  She told me I was great at giving advice and that I could start my own advice column one day.  This is something that I would often dream about…..Renee LoDuca, the next Ann Landers.  I was the person my friends would always come to for help.  I even had my friends boyfriends calling me up for advice about their relationships.  I felt exhilarated anytime someone came to me with a problem.  I never liked the fact that people had problems, but I did love it when they came to me.  I LOVED to help people.

When I started suffering from anxiety the roles of my life reversed.  I was the one who now needed help and I didn’t know where to go.  At first I went to anyone who would listen, but as my anxiety grew worse I started to hold it inside more.  The way that I was feeling was starting to really scare me and I didn’t know how to tell the people in my life that.  I felt like I was on the verge of schizophrenia.  I couldn’t control my thoughts and it seemed as if voices were running rampant through my mind.  I felt afraid all the time.  Noises scared me, silence scared me, everything scared me.  My eyesight seemed to deteriorate, my breathing became erratic and painful.  My body ached all over and I began having random muscle spasms that would leave me on the floor unable to get up.  I developed a fear of food.  I was afraid of having an allergic reaction to something I ate so suddenly everything I put in my mouth made me feel like my throat was closing and I was going to die.  I later found out that I did have some food allergies (nothing that would kill me), and hearing this put me over the top.  Food became the enemy.  I had to eat to live so every time I ate a panic attack quickly followed.  I felt dizzy and lightheaded, like I was in a cloud all the time, a dark dark cloud.

A panic attack usually started each day and would end the day as well.  If you know what triggers your panic attacks you are better able to prevent them, but during this time EVERYTHING seemed to trigger an attack.  Some of the many things that would trigger my attacks were driving, going into a store, being still and having it quiet around me, being in a crowd, being in a tall building, flying, eating, scary movies, books, being one on one with a person, and the list goes on and on and on.  You get the point, I was a walking anxiety attack.  I remember  counting one day and I had 20 full blown panic attacks.  If you have ever had a panic attack you know how awful they are.  They leaving you feeling like a Mack Truck has just run you over multiple times and then the truck driver spits on you before he pulls away.  You feel really crappy afterwards.  I knew I was having panic attacks, but I didn’t truly understand them and I felt ashamed to talk about how bad I was suffering.

How does the person with all of the answers to everyone else’s problems not have the answers to her own problems???  I couldn’t let everyone know that I was falling apart inside.  I was afraid that if anyone really knew what was going on inside my brain that they would lock me away in a psychiatric hospital.  This was not the person that people were use to, so I put on my smile and walked around trying so hard to not lose it in front of someone; while at the same time just wanting someone to help me.  It was as if the old Renee was inside banging on my head screaming, “someone help me!  I need help and I don’t know what to do!”

straightjacket

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

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.

american flag

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

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 🙂

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

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.

 

 

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

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.

 

 

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

 

 

 

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.

 

 

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

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