Heart racing, dizziness, sweaty palms, nausea, heightened senses, feeling like you’re losing your mind or about to die – unpleasant to say the least, but these are some of the symptoms that most people think of when they think of anxiety. The more “common” ones, if you will. That’s not to say that they don’t feel awful, because they do, but they’ve become more “acceptable” versions of anxiety than some of the other lesser known symptoms.
My first bout of panic attacks in high school felt like the symptoms above (ps. this is not to say I hadn’t experienced anxiety before, because I had, but this was my first bout with panic attacks). I didn’t know what was happening to me at the time. Anxiety wasn’t talked about the way it is today, though we still have a long way to go in breaking the stigma surrounding mental illness. But, luckily for me, after an internet search I found out I was having panic attacks. Knowing what they were and that they could be overcome gave me great peace. It didn’t happen right away. It took everything within me, and many nights on my knees with my bible open crying out to God for help, but eventually I was able to get the best of them, putting on the armor of God Ephesians 6 talks about. It was a full on battle to overcome this dark night of my soul.
I fell in love for the first time shortly after this battle with fear. Young love feels like bliss and I was absolutely consumed by it, healed by it in a way. My feelings and, let’s be real, my teenage hormones overpowered my stress hormones. That’s not to say I never experienced anxiety, but it was somehow easier to manage. I didn’t have to fight so hard anymore, at least for a long time.
If only my story were that simple. Anxiety and I weren’t finished yet. I thought I had mastered it. Although it reared up every now and again, I knew what it was and I didn’t think it had anymore surprises for me. I knew all the old tricks and I wasn’t going to be fooled or held captive by it again.
Fast forward seven years.
About a month before my wedding, in the middle of a Zumba class, I felt a familiar sense of dread rear up inside of me. I was in the midst of planning a grand affair, and suddenly I wasn’t even sure I could go through with it. I could barely eat at my own bridal shower because I was so nauseous. I stopped sleeping through the night. Nervous isn’t a big enough word to describe the anticipatory anxiety I felt leading up the big day. I cried every day and felt completely overwhelmed by my to do list. I felt the calm, confident woman I had been for years slipping away and she was replaced by a fearful, tearful, familiar little girl, one whom I thought I had outgrown.
I thought the anxiety would leave me be after the big day. I was just so stressed about the event itself, I figured I’d feel immense relief when it was all over. Little did I know I was about to face another battle, an all out war, with anxiety that would cripple me for years.
Tears stream down my cheeks as I write this. It was so painful and even though I’m no longer bested by it, it did change me. I don’t think you can go through something like this and not be changed. So, it hurts to write about it. Still. Even though I’m no longer in that place.
I hadn’t planned to go into this when I started writing this post but it felt right and often when I write, I let the thoughts take me where they want to go.
Sharing this part of my story is a preface to the weird symptoms I’m going to talk about, because what was about to happen to me in the months after my wedding would knock me to the ground and leave me completely confused about what was happening to my mind and my body. I knew about panic attacks. I knew about anxiety but I didn’t know all the strange forms it could take. I was unprepared for it.
I wasn’t prepared for the strange, intrusive thoughts. I wasn’t prepared for the fear of loss of control, the worry that I would harm myself or someone I loved. I wasn’t prepared for the disturbing mental images and “stuck” thoughts that would pop into my brain seemingly out of nowhere. I wasn’t prepared for the dread and despair I would feel, out of the blue sometimes, the completely unmanageable emotions. I wasn’t prepared for the gagging, choking sensation in my throat. I wasn’t prepared for the nightmares. I wasn’t prepared for feeling frightened about absolutely everything, including normal everyday things. I wasn’t prepared for the emotional numbness. I wasn’t prepared for the heightened self consciousness, the headaches, the exhaustion, the ringing in my ears, the thoughts on “fast forward”, the vomiting, or the vision tricks and problems.
I wasn’t prepared for any of it. Surely I was losing my mind. Surely there was something more sinister going on. Maybe I was psycho? Maybe my brain was defective? I always knew there was something wrong with me.
There is something wrong with me. That thought. That persistent thought was the hardest to beat.
But guess what? It was all anxiety. All the symptoms. All the fears. My husband and my family told me it was anxiety. I didn’t believe them. I got a therapist. She told me it was anxiety. I kind of believed her, but there was still doubt. My Doctor told me it was anxiety. But my mind, ah, my mind. My mind did not want to believe it was anxiety because how could anxiety make me feel this terrible? I didn’t believe it could.
But it can. Anxiety can manifest itself in almost countless ways. The physical manifestations and the mental manifestations and the emotional manifestations. It can do it all. Stress hormones are so powerful.
People often trivialize anxiety. They will say oh, she just has anxiety. Or, oh, he’s just stressed out. In some ways, that’s comforting because it sounds less scary than other diagnoses. I was convinced I was insane or schizophrenic. I conjured up many more frightening ideas of what could be wrong with me so a diagnosis of anxiety was comforting. Doctors don’t seem to be overly concerned by it, which is a good thing I guess. On the other hand, it doesn’t encompass all the frightening and paralyzing symptoms. People throw out the word “anxiety” a little too casually these days. In my darkest hour, what I was thinking and feeling did not feel like stress. It did not feel like your run of the mill anxiety. It felt unbearably frightening. It was a battle I was wholly unequipped for, despite my previous bouts with anxiety.
One day, after yet another debilitating panic attack filled with all kinds of odd sensations and thoughts, I stumbled across Anxiety Centre. It was truly a Godsend. To this day, I have yet to find another website as helpful or as informative as Anxiety Centre. It felt like someone was writing about my life, my exact experience. Tears of relief streamed down my face. I still had a long road of recovery ahead of me, but it was the first step in healing.
If you’re concerned about your symptoms, check out their symptom list. Anxiety and stress hormones can and do cause weird stuff to happen to our minds and our bodies. Bizarre symptoms. Symptoms and thoughts that make you doubt what you’re going through is really “just anxiety”, but it is.
Anxiety is so hard so I don’t want to trivialize the struggle, but I do want to give you hope if you’re going through the weirdness of the struggle with anxiety. If it feels like your mind and body are betraying you, hold on. Seek help. See a Doctor, get a Therapist, preferably one who really understands anxiety. Anxiety Centre therapists are great, by the way.
And, most of all, I want you to know you’re not alone in this crazy, strange struggle. One of my favorite quotes is from the movie The Breakfast Club, when John Hughes says,
“We’re all pretty bizarre. Some of us are just better at hiding it, that’s all.”