I Didn’t Know I Had Anxiety Until I Was 31
I am an introvert, hear me roar. Well, not so much roar, more like a quiet meow that won’t draw any attention. I love to read, write, and relax in the comfort of my own home. My home is my sanctuary; it's the only place where I can control my surroundings. I like activities that are quiet, calm, and borderline boring. I am one of those people who's great to talk to one-on-one, but if I’m thrown into a large crowd, I'm a wallflower. I hate small talk, but love deep conversations. I need time to prepare for everything, even a phone call. I worry about just about everything. For awhile, I thought all introverts stressed out the same way I did. I thought all introverts dreamed of being a recluse someday. I thought all introverts were as afraid of the world as I was. I thought this was how everyone felt. The biggest problem, however, was that I didn’t know I had anxiety.
Looking back, I suppose there were clues I ignored. As a kid, I persistently avoided class trips, birthday parties, and any tough situation I feared would be too uncomfortable. As a teen, I continued to get anxious in social situations. I loved hanging out with my friends in an intimate setting, but as soon as a big party was on the agenda, I was ready to go home. I started to wonder if something was wrong with me. Everyone else seemed to be fine in situations or settings that made me want to breath into a paper bag. I, on the other hand, wasn't.
Then one day, I discovered something that helped me feel more comfortable in my own skin. Alcohol allowed me to be around people without feeling so insecure. I could actually have a conversation without over-analyzing every word. I could have fun at a party and meet new people with enthusiasm instead of fear. Alcohol gave me the freedom I needed to let the witty, sarcastic, and fun version of myself come out. I felt brave, confident, and much less anxious. I liked the way drinking made me feel, probably a little too much.
I felt overwhelmed so easily, I hated crowds and when I got into an uncomfortable setting my heartbeat sped up like I'd just ran a marathon. I just never thought to question them as anything other than part of my introverted personality.
I started using alcohol as a crutch to help me cope with my hidden anxiety. I was not an alcoholic, but I wasn't in control of my social drinking either. Sadly, I tried to self-medicate for awhile, before realizing that I was only prolonging the inevitable. One morning, after waking up sick for the umpteenth time, I decided I didn’t want to feel like this anymore. I didn’t recognize myself and I was tired of feeling like crap. I was clearly coping with my fears in an unhealthy way, and it had to stop. It was time for me to handle life without my so-called liquid courage. So ironically, at the age of 20, I stopped drinking.
I found it hard to be the only sober one at the party. I felt silly and out of place, so I stopped going out. I unintentionally pushed my friends away. I even started to find some family events too difficult to handle. It was no one’s fault, I just felt more comfortable at home, so I stayed there. A lot.
When I got married, my husband was very supportive of me and my neurotic ways. He always encouraged me to do things that overwhelmed me and face my fears. Unfortunately, he just ended up watching helplessly as I continued to isolate myself. I had many symptoms of anxiety. I felt overwhelmed so easily, I hated crowds and when I got into an uncomfortable setting my heartbeat sped up like I'd just ran a marathon. I just never thought to question them as anything other than part of my introverted personality.
Instead of sleeping soundly at night, I stared at the ceiling, reliving every conversation. I worried to the point where I made myself sick.
The first time I had a panic attack, I thought I was going crazy. It happened a couple weeks after one of the hardest days of my life. My husband and I were elated to find out we were pregnant with our second child. But sadly, our world was flipped upside down when the small flickering heartbeat we once saw on the ultrasound screen was now motionless. We had suffered a miscarriage. I'd never dealt with grief before this moment. It was lonely and confusing, and it only made my anxiety worse. Days went by before I could leave my house. My body had recovered, but emotionally, I was a mess.
Finally, I decided to get out of the house and run some errands. My first stop was to return a movie my husband had rented for us the night before. As I stood in line, a man approached me from behind. My heart began to race and my mind started playing tricks on me. What if he hurts me? Why is he standing so close to me? I felt like a brick was sitting on my chest. Even though the man was just standing in line, I felt genuine fear. I'd know idea what brought on this feeling. Possibly the lack of control surrounding the recent loss of a baby made me feel fear in the midst of grief. But honestly, I think my anxiety was just tired of being pushed deep down and it was finally coming up to the surface — at full force.
I turned around and ran to my car like a lunatic. Neglecting the rest of my errands, I drove straight home, crying and struggling to catch my breath the entire time. I vowed to never leave my safe, warm bed again. And I wish I could say that was my only experience with panic attacks, but over the years they only continued to get worse. I just didn’t know they had a name.
At work, I made friends easily, but I still preferred to eat lunch alone. Sometimes I even sat in my car just to have a minute to collect my thoughts. When I got home, I immediately put on pajamas and breathed a sigh of relief to have made it through another day. Instead of sleeping soundly at night, I stared at the ceiling, reliving every conversation. I worried to the point where I made myself sick.
My husband dealt with my issues, like any supportive partner would. He helped talk me through difficult moments and showed me unconditional love. In the midst of a panic, he'd hug me and talk me down. "You are safe, babe," he'd say with sheer confidence. He'd remind me that worrying would not change a single thing. He'd stay home with me sometimes, understanding how hard it was to get me to leave the house.
I worried over the silliest things for hours, sometimes even days. Too many sounds, bright lights, even my husband working late sent me into an anxious frenzy. I stressed about my husband dying, my children getting hurt, and a host of other things. Prayer helped, as did alone time, but I felt God leading me to seek help. So finally, I made an appointment to see my doctor.
I got defensive after my husband ever so delicately mentioned the word "anxiety." Ultimately though, I sat down and Googled "anxiety symptoms" one day, and there on the computer screen was like a mirror reflecting back at me. All the struggles I'd faced, feelings I felt, and emotions I went through regularly were staring back at me, listed as bullet points. It all made sense suddenly.
I'd been fighting a life-long battle that I never even knew I was fighting. I thought I was alone. I thought there was something wrong with me. I thought I was too fragile for this world.
As I described my symptoms, my doctor nodded in agreement. He told me that a variety of things could help me, but that I was in fact dealing with bouts of anxiety. At 31, I finally had an answer. He suggested natural things to try, like exercise, healthy eating, and cutting back on caffeine. He also prescribed a daily, low-dose antidepressant to help me.
Following my diagnosis, my anxiety has slowly improved. I still have moments where the world feels like it's sitting on my shoulders, but for the most part, it's a lot better. One month of taking the medication, my husband mentioned he noticed I seemed calmer. Honestly, I felt calmer. I felt like dealing with the chaos of life, marriage, and raising three kids was a little bit easier. My fuse when dealing with discipline was longer, the ups and downs in my moods were closer together, and I felt better equipped to face the world. Of course I still deal with moments of panic or worry, but knowing what I'm up against has made it easier to handle. I can now identify and my avoid triggers, instead of avoiding everyone and everything.
I have anxiety, but it's not who I am. Anxiety is something I'll probably always struggle with, but just knowing that sets me free somehow. I'd been fighting a life-long battle that I never even knew I was fighting. I thought I was alone. I thought there was something wrong with me. I thought I was too fragile for this world. The world has always overwhelmed me, and still does, but I refuse to let it overcome me. I didn’t know I had anxiety, but now that I do, I fight back everyday. I'm patient with myself when I fall apart, I'm proud when I get back up, and I'm finally able to face my fears. Yes, I have anxiety, but hear me roar.