Anxiety has become a close companion of mine in the past few years. Before I developed my anxiety disorder, I never truly knew what anxiety was and it had never caused me any serious problems–though I was definitely predisposed to developing an anxiety disorder based on my background (genetics, childhood, disposition/personality, etc.). However it was officially triggered when my mom was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer back in May 2013.
In truth, I didn’t know how to handle that situation. I tried to numb it out, they way I had previously been able to push my problems and emotions away to the side. The way I’d been taught. But that was an unhealthy coping mechanism as I later learned, because there is only so much you can push down before you burst. The body just physically can’t handle the stress. Stress is energy, and it needs to go somewhere. So after a while, when stress gets too big, it manifests into other things. In my case, I developed a VERY SEVERE anxiety disorder.
I was very afraid of what would happen to my mom. What would happen to my family. And what would happen to me. I was a normal college student at the time, stressing about classes, boys, and my future, when this huge pile of shitty news came catapulting into my household. I had never had anything really bad happen to me before. And I didn’t realize how stressful things could get. But here I was. Although my mind tried unsuccessfully to avoid the inevitable, by numbing me out from it all and making me feel freakishly disconnected from the world around me in a way I can only describe now as a feeling straight out of a sci-fi movie, I couldn’t avoid the inevitable forever.
That severe level of anxiety lingered for a long time, slowly improving, but never truly fading into oblivion until recently. I would say it was at its most severe from October 2013 through December 2014–over a year! And to be fair to myself I was under extreme stress during that period of my life. Then it became moderately severe from about January 2014-October 2015… Then slightly severe from November 2015 until I graduated from college in December 2016. So I’ve been struggling with severe anxiety for over 3 years! But now in February 2017 I can say with much relief that my anxiety is now at a mild to moderate level. It’s a huge deal! I couldn’t have done it without the support of my family and also the wonders of modern medicine AKA drugggggssssss, yo. It took some trial and error (3 years of it to be exact) but I finally found a regimen that works for me (for the most part…).
Even though my anxiety situation is a lot more manageable than it once was, it still pops up. Especially now that I’m looking for jobs as a postgrad in San Diego. It’s not easy to find a job here in my field… So that has brought on a whole new wave of anxiety, but it feels A LOT more manageable. The difference between having anxiety and having severe anxiety is that I feel I have some sense of control over it. And I think that’s a huge deal when you have anxiety–feeling like you have a sense of control.
When I had severe anxiety, people would give me all sorts of advice about what to do, but the reality is I was pretty helpless and hopeless. I exercised for ~2 hours+/day, meditated, did yoga, “relaxed,” did things I loved, journaled, found new hobbies, went to therapy, attempted to spend time with people… But that advice was just WRONG for the level of anxiety I was experiencing. From the distance I have now, I can see that the anxiety I was experiencing was so severe that there wasn’t much that could help me. My brain chemistry had changed as a result of the pain and trauma I’d experienced going through the loss of my mother at such a delicate time in my life, and due to my predisposition to anxiety. I was living in a constant, never ending, 3-year cycle of fear. It was basically hell. I wouldn’t wish it upon my worst enemy. I had to go on medication at that point, and I’ve fortunately found the relief I needed to continue my healing journey.
Anyway, as for now, I still struggle with anxiety. In fact, I broke out in hives all over my body a few weeks ago as a result of my job search. I thought it was due to poison oak since I’d been hiking a lot, but today when I was feeling especially anxious about finding a job, I broke out in hives again. So, I think the anxiety is still there, but it’s now in another form. As uncomfortable (AND ITCHY) as the hives are, they are a million times better than the debilitating anxious feelings I used to experience. It’s a slow process, but I’m extremely happy with how far I’ve come.