You’re enjoying a beautiful dinner with your wife and your beautiful daughter. Everything seems so perfect. They’re laughing, giggling, and you tell yourself; this is the perfect moment.
Unexpectedly, your heart begins to race, your chest feels like someone is standing on it and the walls close in on you. What is happening? Why do you feel this way?! Terrified, afraid — mortified!
Oh, one more thing…
It’s all happening inside your head. So, what is it?
An Anxiety Attack.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, nearly 40 million Americans (18%) experience an Anxiety Disorder in any given year. That’s two out of ten people! So many people go without treatment or understanding of what is happening to their mind — their body.
Even worse, so many people attempt to ignore it and do absolutely nothing about it at all.
I was one of those people, but I’ll admit its been a bittersweet romance.
Worried, Afraid, Alone — Inside the Anxious Mind
For years I dealt with anxiety and panic attacks; long before I ever said anything to anyone, including my parents, my teachers, my friends or even my girlfriends. I kept it all to myself. I couldn’t bring myself to speak out and admit that I had a disorder.
I had no idea what was happening to me. One moment I was a happy snot-nosed kid, running around content as could be. The next I was overwhelmed with fear and worry. I’ll admit that my childhood was as broken as any childhood could be, but I worried about absolutely EVERYTHING. My shoes look so dumb, this shirt is so wrinkly, everyone is staring, and everyone is laughing. Which was never really happening. I had so many obtrusive fears and intrusive thoughts, but I wouldn’t tell anyone. I couldn’t tell anyone; I was too afraid.
I was 16 when I had my first panic attack. I was sitting on the couch watching “Analyze That” with my mother. Coincidence or what? Anyways, we’re sitting there just enjoying the movie and out of nowhere I began to feel extremely dizzy and my heart began to race.
I looked at my mom and said, “Something is wrong with me.” She came over to me and I told her how I was feeling. She told me to step outside and get some fresh air.
As I’m walking down the alley behind our house it gradually kept getting worse and worse. I rushed back home, in a devastated state and crying. I was so scared because, through all the years of worrying and being afraid, I had never felt something like this.
She brought out the blood pressure machine and checked my blood pressure which read 198/127! In case you don’t know much about physiology, that reading is hazardous.
Immediately my mom grabbed one of her blood pressure pills and gave it to me. Honestly, she shouldn’t have done that; but fight or flight, right? She then called for an ambulance. This was the beginning of a whirlwind.
I was in and out of doctor’s appointments for high blood pressure and all sorts of other things they thought could be wrong with me.
Still, I told no one that really, I was just trapped inside my mind. That I was alone, and I thought no one could help me. I was an athlete, I loved school and because I was too afraid to admit what was happening to me, I almost didn’t make it through high school. I couldn’t sit through a whole class without having a panic attack, I’m talking three to five panic attacks a day. I lost friends, I lost the ability to have fun but most of all, I lost myself. I even ended up suffering from Bulimia, a very dangerous eating disorder.
It derailed my life without remorse or hesitation. I would never wish anxiety on anyone but to understand its overwhelming power, you would have to live it.
It’s almost like having another voice inside your head, someone else conjuring up irrational fears, thoughts and speaking words of hate to tear you down.
“Everyone hates you. You’re worthless. Do you think you did a good job? Wow, you are a piece of crap. Don’t even bother trying, you’ll just embarrass yourself. You’re fat. You’re ugly. Just stay home, stay alone, stay with me.”
The mental pain and exhaustion it can cause eventually will manifest physically. My first anxiety attack being proof of that. I truly believed that this mental disorder was going to be the death of me, but I was never ready to give up.
I dealt with the anxiety untreated — ALONE, for another 9 years. Self-medicating with alcohol, sex, and other unhealthy coping mechanisms. Attempting to change who I was by changing my appearance or the way I dressed. I can’t say it was all bad because my anxiety, though it drove me insane, it gave me just that; drive.
Drive to achieve things I never thought I could, drive to excel above and beyond my own goals; as well as the expectations of others.
I realized that I was fearing all the wrong things. I turned my fear and my anxiety into the motivation that kept me going.
No longer would I allow it to control me, no longer would I allow it to stop me. I took my life back.
The Magnificent 6 and the Domino Effect: The Superhero Approach
1. Don’t reject it, ACCEPT it.
Accepting your anxiety or depression is accepting yourself.
2. Transform your anxiety into the fuel that feeds your mind.
Once accepted you can morph it into anything you want; a lion, an eagle or even a sloth. Make sure it’s something that will drive you to succeed. I use my anxiety as my fuel to keep me going.
3. Take the reins and maneuver in the directions that matter.
You choose when, where and on what to use your anxiety. It’s your superpower! Maneuver your fear and anxiety to the correct places. We are all human and feel fear but don’t be afraid to try, be afraid not to try. You’re more amazing and capable than you think!
Write letters, poems, songs or even quotes directed at anxiety. You tell it everything you want to say; instead of it whispering in the back of your mind.
5. Exercise and eat healthy.
A key to any healthy lifestyle. Make the change and love yourself for it!
6. Talk about it.
I’m a true believer in the healing power of words spoken or written. Therapy before medication. Talk, talk and talk some more!
Psychology Today can help you find a therapist in your area, make the call. There are also other affordable options if you do not have private insurance. Mental Health America offers a wider variety of choices to help you get the help you need.
The Domino Effect
We have all played with dominoes and lined them up just to watch the fall. Once you put these simple six steps into action, it’s a domino effect of healing and success from there forward!
Anxiety Embraced: The War Rages On
You’ve put all the pieces of the puzzle together. It has taken some time, but you put the work in to be a happier and healthier you. The keyword being work.
It does not stop just because you have won this battle today. Each day you will have to wake up and say, “Today I will win.” It will be work, day in and day out. Anxiety will want to bring you back into the depths of fear and worry but you have the tools to keep it at bay.
Some days are easier than others, but the days that are the toughest are the ones you must stand even taller. Like any recovery, it is an everyday choice. The domino effect will work only if you make it work.
Believe in yourself, love yourself and make it happen; be your superhero!