Just like anyone who’s ever lived, I’ve had my share of struggles. Most of mine, maybe all of mine, have fear at the root of them. It’s always been the thorn in my side and there have been periods of my life where fear and anxiety have lain dormant and other times where they’ve come to the surface and made life pretty miserable. It’s been an underlying theme my whole life, this current of anxiety that occasionally intensifies, but my most difficult, drawn-out struggle with it happened in my mid-twenties. Of all the times I’ve struggled, and there have been some bad ones, this was the worst. I think of it as the time I “fell apart”.
It was 2011. I was about to head down the aisle to marry my best friend, but, about a month beforehand, all I felt was fear and dread about my upcoming wedding, to the point where it almost paralyzed me. Sleepless nights, no appetite, constant worst-case scenarios playing through my mind. I have always struggled with anxiety surrounding performances of any kind, but this was a whole new level of fear and no matter what I did, I couldn’t shake it. I didn’t even understand where it was coming from.
The day arrived and I was a wreck until we were standing in front of the Pastor saying our vows. Suddenly I felt all that anticipatory anxiety lift. It felt amazing, so freeing to not be afraid. I thought I was done with it. I felt such relief. The next day we were getting ready to head to Greece on our honeymoon and I felt this strange sense of angst creeping back in. I shook it off. I had been looking forward to this for so long. After we arrived, I had an awful panic attack. We chalked it up to all the stress leading up to the wedding and I hoped it was a one-off, but it wasn’t. Little did I know, I was about to enter the most anxious time period of my life to date. The wedding was really just the catalyst for the underlying anxiety I had never dealt with head on.
I fell apart. Maybe not visibly to everyone, but those who knew me best saw me struggling to stay afloat. Panic attacks, stomach issues, phobias, intrusive thoughts, hopelessness, insomnia and a number of other unpleasant symptoms made life increasingly difficult. I could barely make it out the door to work. I would get anxious for casual family get-togethers, for work meetings, for Doctor’s appointments. I always needed to know where the bathroom was in case I needed a quick getaway or in case my stomach acted up. My throat would tighten and I would get nauseous which led me to become afraid of vomiting in public. Sometimes, I had a hard time holding conversations. I couldn’t concentrate and I would feel all panicky and strange. My eyes would play tricks on me and I would think I was losing my eyesight or my mind. Literally everything seemed frightening.
The anxiety truly felt out of control, and there was no quick-fix solution either. I had never experienced anything quite like it before and it took years for me to get back to a place where my nervous system wasn’t in overdrive.
Healing was a long process and it wasn’t linear.
I got help. I prayed. I started therapy with an experienced anxiety disorder coach. I started meditating. I clung to God and my faith. I made sure to get good sleep whenever possible. I cut out caffeine completely. I tried not to hit my panic button and to passively accept my symptoms and where I was at in the recovery process.
That first year was terrible – probably the worst of my life. The second wasn’t much better. Then, things began to improve. I started to heal, very slowly. But recovery, for me, felt very much like 2 steps forward, 1 step back. For a while, it stalled completely. It was manageable but it wasn’t gone. I thought I just had to live with it, which was doable. I mean, I was doing it. I was living my life. It wasn’t necessarily a daily battle anymore. I felt joy and happiness again. Anxiety wasn’t all consuming anymore. But…it was still there enough to be bothersome. I still didn’t feel normal. It was still negatively affecting my quality of life. I didn’t necessarily let it hinder me, but still, sometimes doing normal, every day things remained challenging.
That’s kind of how it stayed for a long time. Manageable. I would feel good some days, not good other days. Sometimes I’d have to battle it, sometimes I felt normal. If it got really bad, I had Ativan I could take on an as needed basis. I took it a fair amount, if I’m being honest.
I still missed, what I often referred to while speaking to my therapist as, “my old self”. I was grateful to not be where I was when I fell apart initially. I had made progress but it wasn’t where I wanted to be. I felt like I was settling.
Fast forward to 2020. The year of the pandemic. Not a good year for a lot of people, for the world. Covid was not a good thing for anyone, but turns out the world shutting down for a little while was a good thing for my anxiety.
I started working remotely, which was wonderful. It alleviated a lot of work stress for me. My mind and body truly had a chance to rest, not just from working in an office 50 hours/week, but from obligatory social engagements as well. It was really nice to not have to go anywhere for a while.
Around the same time, I also started an SSRI medication. I was very hesitant to try a daily medication and my body did not take well to at first. It was a long time before I noticed a difference in my mental health.
I won’t say I’m anxiety-free, because that’s just not a realistic thing to say, but I will say, I’m at a place I’m super grateful to be at. It’s been a long 10+ year journey to find what worked for me as far as recovery goes. Lots of forward and backward. Lots of perseverance.
When I think back to the time I fell apart and I look at where I’m at now, I’m filled with gratitude. I know what it’s like to be paralyzed by fear and anxiety. I know what it’s like to have a mind and body that’s so overstimulated it becomes symptomatic and erratic. I know what it’s like to struggle with phobias, with doing everyday, ordinary things.
I suppose the point of this post is to let those of you struggling with debilitating anxiety know that there is light at the end of the tunnel…even if it’s been years since you’ve felt “normal”. Know that there is always hope for continued healing, no matter where you are at in the process. Also, know that recovery looks different for everyone. Maybe it involves some medication for a little while. Maybe it just means you need to talk to someone or slow down a little bit. Maybe you need to make time for rest. Maybe it will take a few years and some ups and downs or maybe you’ll feel better next month. Whatever it looks like, recovery is possible, even if it feels like you’ll never get better.
Even when you fall apart, you can be put back together.