I forgot what it felt like to feel normal

I had learned to live with my anxiety. It wasn’t the monster it once was, but it was there, never letting me relax completely. I was coping with it, functioning, at least from the outside. I thought maybe this was as good as it was going to get, which wasn’t so bad. Sure, it sucked but it had improved and I could live with it. I learned to be grateful for the good moments. I learned to persevere and push through and do hard things.

Still, the struggle was real. There were tears, lots of them. It was a daily battle…some days worse than others. Sometimes, I’d have a good couple of days or even a good couple of weeks, and I’d think, “wow, I’m doing really well”, but then it would come back and it would be a fight again. Doing certain “normal” things required me to fight, to talk turkey to myself, to take Ativan occasionally. Then whether or not to take the Ativan became a battle in and of itself. I would beat myself up for not being stronger, for needing the calm from the Ativan to get through a normal, every day occurrence.

I wasn’t living with crippling anxiety every waking moment of the day, like I had been in the beginning, but it was still interfering with my life more than I cared to admit.

I lived this way for a long time. Years, if I’m being honest. So long, in fact, I think I forgot what feeling “normal” felt like. There were things I just assumed were part of my personality, things I thought I’d never be able to face without feeling stressed or anxious.

Now that I am no longer in, what I like to call, that “stalled recovery phase” I can see how much it was truly affecting my every day life. There were a number of changes I made, one of them was going on Zoloft, which I’ve talked about in other posts and will continue to talk about in future posts, but for now I thought I’d share some of the anxiety symptoms and fears that no longer hold power over my life at this point in time – i.e. the “normal” things I had just assumed I’d always feel anxious about.

  1. Meeting with my boss – I used to get petrified and lose sleep over it. I had to take Ativan and, even then, I’d be nervous and shaking and having to give myself a pep talk in the bathroom beforehand.
  2. I used to have panic attacks mid-conversation. I always needed a way to escape.
  3. Formal celebrations of any kind used to stress me out beyond belief.
  4. Anticipatory anxiety in general was such an everyday part of my life that I learned to just accept it, but it still was extremely uncomfortable.
  5. I would sometimes get anxious for social events and interactions including but not limited to: one on one lunches with friends, Doctor’s appointments, family dinners, small group and office meetings, weddings and parties.
  6. I was constantly afraid I’d be sick somewhere in public
  7. Trips. Travel was something I always loved pre-anxiety, but it became such a source of anticipatory anxiety for me. Fear of flying, fear of getting sick in line in security, fear of having a never-ending panic attack in a foreign country. I still traveled quite a bit, but it wasn’t without intense anxiety.
  8. Drinking coffee. I eliminated it completely from my diet because I was so wired, I didn’t need anything else adding to my jitteriness.
  9. I no longer feel the need to bring Ativan with me “just in case”.
  10. I avoided car pooling as often as possible. I needed to have my car with me in case I needed a quick getaway.
  11. I always needed to know where the nearest exit or bathroom was.
  12. I would get nauseous and my gag reflex would kick in, which was caused by the anxiety and also added to the anxiety. Vicious cycle there.
  13. I was terrified of being pregnant and having children.

14. I always liked to sit on the end if we were sitting in a row somewhere. If I wound up in the middle, I’d have to fight rising panic the entirety of the event.

15. Needing to be ready with an excuse at every moment in case anxiety got bad.

16. Needing to know every detail about an event – i.e. parking, attendees, agenda, etc.

17. Dreading the work week ahead on Sundays.

There are probably more I’m forgetting, but those are the big ones that come to mind. When I look at this list, it’s hard to believe I was functioning but we can do hard things in spite of anxiety. I still traveled, met with my boss, attended social gatherings, sat in the middle of a row when my anxiety/panic threatened to overwhelm me. That part hasn’t changed so maybe my life doesn’t look different to outsiders, but mentally and emotionally, it’s worlds apart from where I used to be. What people didn’t see was the amount of psyching myself up, or avoidance behaviors, or crying that would ensue before I would attend an event, or go to a work meeting, or God forbid, carpool.

The reality was that life was so hard. All of that anticipatory anxiety, all the angst and stress and pep talks, were really hard. I used to wonder why I was so tired, but looking back, I see why. It’s exhausting when so much of your mental energy is devoted to just getting through the day. Someone without anxiety doesn’t get it. Why would they? No one sees the hours I spent in prayer, crying out to God for peace. They don’t feel the pre-event dread that I do. If you don’t experience it, it’s hard to understand.

I’m so grateful for where I’m at in my journey. Everyone experiences some stress, and I’m not immune to it now. I still get anxious from time to time but every day events no longer require the mental strength or stamina they once required of me. It’s freeing to be able to leave the house, go to work, or meet a friend for dinner without catastrophizing or anticipating the worst happening, without actually thinking, “what if”? To feel relaxed in my own skin and go about my day without that lingering stress that hovered over me.

In fact, being a new mom has probably made my life more stressful in many areas than it ever was before, also more wonderful, but that’s for another post. The difference now is, I can manage the stress without being ridden with anxiety symptoms like nausea, crying, irrational thoughts and constant worry.

I know it’s cliché, but it really is a journey. It took me years to get to this point. Anxiety is complex and recovery looks different for everyone. Maybe it will involve therapy or maybe it will involve medication or maybe it will involve some serious life-style changes or maybe it will simply involve prayer and giving it over to God. My journey happened to involve all of the above, and then some, and it didn’t happen over night.

I’m grateful for the journey and I’m grateful for the peace, calm and relief I feel in my life at this moment.

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