I am a Southern Girl from Alabama , but I am currently living in the Los Angeles area. Two years ago I moved here to be with my then fiance and now husband. I work as a children’s tutor, run my own small blog design business, and am currently getting my master’s degree in counseling.
People often consider people with anxiety disorders to be weak. While I sometimes struggle with everyday issues, I am a strong woman. I have survived much in my short life: a broken home, an abusive childhood, and a drug addicted brother.The mere fact that I was able to graduate high school and college is a huge achievement because just attending class was often a task akin to pushing a 100 lb boulder uphill.
Another misconception is that anxiety just isn’t that big of a deal. But anxiety/panic attacks are a big hindrance to your everyday life. When I try and explain anxiety to others, I tell them to think of their biggest fear and how they feel when confronted with that fear. Now imagine feeling that way everyday when faced with mundane, daily tasks that shouldn’t be terrifying.
Do you remember feeling that you were more anxious than other people? How old were you when you had your first panic attack?
I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t nervous. I always had an understanding that I was different than other kids. My family labeled me a drama queen or overly sensitive and my best friend would call me a “scaredy cat.” I would throw temper tantrums everyday before going to school because I was so overwhelmed by thoughts of answering a teacher’s question wrong.
As a child, when my mother was a minute late coming home from work, I couldn’t breath. I knew she was dead. I was scared to answer the phone because I was so socially anxious. I also never voiced my fears because I just had a feeling that I was “different” and that it wasn’t okay to be that way.
I had my first panic attack at the age of 14. I just remember sitting in my bedroom and doing my homework, and all of a sudden feeling like I couldn’t breathe. My heart was racing, my hands were tingling, and I was convinced I was going to die.
I’ve never had a heart attack, but I think that is what it would feel like. I was home alone at the time, and I never told anyone what happened. I didn’t want to worry anyone, but I mostly kept it secret because I just didn’t want to deal with the problem.
What triggers your panic attacks?
Since I entered treatment, my panic attacks are now very rare. When I had panic attacks in the past, they usually came after I had what I call a “nervous day.” A nervous day is just when I have a lot of free floating anxiety. This means I feel really anxious all day for no reason that I can explain. On these days, I just can’t relax and have trouble sitting still for any length of time. I also pace the floors like a caged animal.
Sometimes on these days, I will have a panic attack. I’ve also had panic attacks that aren’t triggered by anything at all. I can be calm one minute and feel like I am losing my mind the next. This is something I have never understood and has never been fully explained to me. But I’ve learned this is very common.
How do people react when you tell them about your anxiety issues?
When I was younger, I used to be really ashamed of my anxiety. I would work really hard to hide it from everyone except close family and friends. While I don’t walk into a room waving the anxiety flag, I’m much more open about it now. Most people are very supportive when I tell them about my anxiousness. They usually ask me questions about what it is like, or tell me about people they know who have anxiety.
However, a few people have launched into a negative diatribe over the use of medication to treat mental disorders. I usually just tune those people out because it is obvious to me that they don’t understand what it is like to have anxiety. Plus, I don’t need people that are that judgmental as part of my life.
Have you sought treatment for your anxiety issues?
I started attending therapy when I was about 16 years old. I was going through a particularly rough time. I had started skipping school more days than I attended because I was so overwhelmed. I found out that I was going to fail the year because of my absences. I remember thinking I couldn’t tell my mom I was failing and believing that my life was pointless.
Because of all this, I tried to commit suicide by overdosing on Tylenol P.M. Luckily, I changed my mind at the last moment and called 911. I was so ashamed and I just knew something had to change. My mom found me a therapist, and I was in therapy weekly for three years.
I can honestly say she saved my life. I finally had someone to tell me I wasn’t crazy and this wasn’t my fault. She also gave me the tools to manage my life and anxiety. Because of the positive experience I had with her, I decided I wanted to be a therapist.
During this time period, I started taking anti-anxiety medication. The medication didn’t/doesn’t take away my anxiety, but it brings it down to a level where I can cope. I also have very few panic attacks anymore.
I’ve gone through phases in my life, when I have taken myself off the medication. But when I’m off the medication it doesn’t take long for me to start feeling like my life is too much for me to handle. I have accepted that I will be on medication for the rest of my life.
What advice would you give to someone struggling with anxiety issues? Or to someone whose loved one has anxiety issues?
My advice to someone who has anxiety is to not be afraid to ask for help. There is no reason to suffer in silence. This only makes it harder. Help could mean therapy, medication, or confiding in a loved one. Find something that works for you.
Also, don’t stop living your life. There have been many times I didn’t do something because I was scared, and I have regretted it. But the times I have soldiered on, have been the best and most rewarding experiences.
If you are dating, friends with, or related to someone with anxiety, the absolute very best thing you can do is try to be understanding. Remember to listen without trying to problem solve. Attend therapy with the person if you can, you may get a new perspective on the disorder. I know the thing I love the most about my husband is that he doesn’t always understand me but he tries.
Do you know anyone who struggles with anxiety issues? Any questions for Brittany?