Anxiety on the Rocks (Shaken, Not Stirred)

Anyone who deals with anxiety can tell you how awful it is. They can describe, in detail, the creeping sensation that eventually floods your consciousness and begins to manifest as physical symptoms like temperature changes, racing heart, increased respiration, perspiration, and more (ah, the wonders of the central nervous system.) What they can NOT always tell you, is why they are feeling anxious. Sounds crazy, right? It is. It feels crazy...and feeling crazy never helped calm anyone down.

In fact, many people who experience anxiety, can't even name it as such. They know they feel unwell, but can't always identify the emotion/sensation plaguing them. I, for instance, have lived with anxiety my entire life...but it disguised itself and flew just beneath the radar of my rational thought. It took a lifetime, 34 years, for someone to tell me that I had anxiety, and that I could start to combat it. Of course, looking back with the kind of acuity only brought on by hindsight, I can now easily pinpoint times in my life that I struggled with anxiety. 

In high school, I went through six or seven months of not being able to eat without feeling nauseated to the point of vomiting. I lost a ton of weight without any real explanation. In college, I experienced heart palpitations which came and went without leaving any medical trace. As a new mother, I would get periods of absolute restlessness that seemed irrational but I chalked up to hormones. These are only a few examples, but represent times of extreme stress in my life. The 9/11 terror attacks and a family death probably precipitated the teenage weight-loss. The heart palpitations in college? They appeared around the time I got married and decided to switch my major from pharmacy to health sciences. And, well, being a new mother needs no explanation. My babies never slept, so I would get restless as the sun set knowing that my poor, exhausted, body would get no respite while the rest of the world slept.

It has taken a lot of reflection on my part to have gotten to this point, however, where I can connect the proverbial dots and everything makes sense. When I first sought out help last year, I remember telling providers that I had never had anxiety before and I didn't understand why I was "suddenly broken." As it turns out, I had been breaking for a long time and one day the fault lines coalesced and I just shattered.  I was trying to push through another peak stress window when I got physically ill...and didn't get better. Days led to weeks and weeks led to months. My untreated and mounting anxiety over my physical health (and everything in between) exploded into panic. Panic, my friends, can not go untreated. It insists on being addressed, as it is all-consuming and utterly destructive. By the time I got to the panic stage, my entire family was bailing out the water from my sinking vessel, and it is because of them that I am here to share my hard-earned wisdom. 

As I become more vocal about my own experience, people have opened up to me in ways that I did not expect. Vulnerability, it seems, is key in making genuine connections (I could go on about vulnerability for days, so I'll save that for another day.) Essentially, people talk to me a lot about their journeys with and through anxiety. So much feedback has centered around just how long it can take to figure out that A) anxiety is the beast they are grappling with and B) why the beast is stalking them day and night. It is a process that is no way linear, nor predictable.

I personally needed the help of a therapist to decipher the ingredients of my anxiety cocktail. For me, there's some past trauma, guilt, perfectionism, all-or-nothing thinking, and more than a splash of good old-fashioned fear all swirling around to create an awful concoction that can make my knees wobble or knock me to the floor. It's a cocktail I've been drinking for a long time, but have just now learned the name of. For many, admitting that anxiety (or depression or any mental health issue) is a problem, is hard. Naming that beast is claiming it. Taking ownership of our mental health, or lack thereof, feels like taking a leap over some bottomless chasm that threatens to swallow us up. But the first step is always the hardest to take and I do believe that there are power in names; that the of naming a spell is the first step in mastering it. 


  1. The mental health system is flawed in many ways and it can be very difficult to navigate, even for a person not struggling with taming their mental health. The resources for help are out there though. Seeking help is one of this critical first steps for a multitude of reasons. For those struggling, reaching out to those that can help, even if it is a close friend or family member, is one of the first actions you should take to define your struggle, give it a name, and begin facing your fears. From there, another step can be taken forward in the right direction. Each step may not help, but it's one step closer in the right direction when you consider the knowledge you gain from it. Stay brave and don't hide.


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