Once upon a time I heard about this 'thing' called anxiety. Like most people who have never suffered from anxiety, I didn't think it was actually a legitimate problem. In fact I often thought that people with anxiety might be weak, or looking for attention.
In 2002 my brother died. I was there when he died, I watched him die. He was 27 years old. Prior and even during his illness my brother was a vibrant person, full of energy, jokes, laughter, hopes, dreams, and love. He wanted more than anything to get married (which he did), have children..had childhood dreams of becoming a cop, loved fast cars, camping, and his mother. He was loyal, brave, strong, and forgiving. Although I wanted to throttle him when we were kids, as an adult I admired him.
He and I were supposed to grow old together. That phrase may seem odd coming from a sister to a brother, but it's true. You make assumptions that your siblings will be with you until you're both old. You assume that it will be you and your sibling(s) in the end taking care of your aging parents. You're whole life is carved into an intricate puzzle when you have a sibling. Did you know that if one sibling is good at one subject like math (as an example) that the other sibling will subconsciously become good at reading. This is a survival of the fittest type thing I suppose..but whatever it is, that is how deeply our siblings shape our lives. Anyways... it was the night my brother died that I had my first anxiety/panic attack.
I'm a bit of a control freak. I plan everything, I take care of things. When my brother took his last breath, all I wanted to do was fall to my knees and sob, but I didn't. I felt this overwhelming need to make sure everyone else was ok...my mother, my younger siblings, his wife.
We had just got back to my mothers house after he died that night, and all went our separate ways. I would say we all went to bed, but I don't think any of us slept that night. I was lying in bed when all of a sudden I couldn't breathe. I thought I was having a heart attack. I jumped out of bed, my hand over my heart, and for the next few hours paced around the room holding my mothers wireless telephone with 911 already punched...I just had to hit talk. I cried, I fretted, I felt sure my mother would lose two of her children that night, and then it passed and I went to sleep.
I had no idea what happened to me that night, or what it was, but it was the start of my battle with anxiety and panic.
These attacks started to occur daily. Not always the full blown panic attack, but an attack to some degree nonetheless. It would come out of no where. I could be shopping, out with friends, or even just watching TV, and then all of a sudden my heart would race, I wouldn't be able to breathe! I'd hop off the couch, I'd grasp a rack at the grocery store to keep me upright lest I faint. I kept a note in my purse, right on the top in case I died riding city transit on the way home. This note told people who I was, who to contact when I died, and where my young son went to daycare, so no-one would forget him.
I would get hot at first, then my heart would race, I'd check my pulse (I spent 2 years with my fingers on my neck checking my pulse), my eyes would blur and I couldn't focus. Where visiting a doctor used to be a once a year experience for me, I found myself heading there on a monthly basis. If they weren't available I'd go to the emergency room. I was convinced I had heart problems, a brain tumor, some kind of cancer. I simply could not enjoy my life.
Eventually I started seeing a psychologist. I went on anti-depressants, had a small stash of ativan in my purse (ativan rocks!), and tried to heal myself.
Meditation helped me tremendously, I even weaned myself off the anti-depressants and ativan (although ativan sure was great!). I made some pretty major changes in my life also, which eventually included a divorce.
My psychologist gave me a great visual, which I use to this day. She had me imagine I was carrying a large sack on my back. A sack that I would fill with all of my responsibilities, worries, fears, etc. Well, if you don't ever clean this sack out (think a big purse), the bag gets too full, and the bag breaks.
When I feel like my load is getting too heavy, I deal with some of those things in my sack. I try not to adopt the burdens of others... I do what I can and I try not to "sweat the small stuff".
Don't get me wrong, anxiety returns to me on occasion. I'm not sure it will ever go away completely. I find it usually comes around when I'm feeling overwhelmed or sad...and I just haven't spent the time, or effort dealing with the things in my sack.
There are so many anxiety sufferers. So many people that experience panic or are down trodden with depression, especially in our world today where there is so much pressure to do better, and to go further.
But there is hope. People need to know that, and to know they are not alone. Be mindful of your sack, spend some time with you, and spend some time dealing with things that are important to your well being.