I’ve written a couple of posts about anxiety, mainly this one on what anxiety looks like for me and this one that kind of jumpstarted everything. Last summer was the true catalyst for all of this to come about and my realization that everything I thought was NORMAL really wasn’t, and that the way I was living was really hurting me from the inside out.
I’ve written before about being hospitalized last summer with symptoms that felt like I was having a stroke. It led me to being admitted, an overnight, and so many tests (many MRI’s, CATscans, heart monitoring, etc) that, in the end, were inconclusive. I was discharged with the advice to “take it easy,” and an ongoing appointment with a neurologist, that came to nothing, which was a relief. (There were some scary options there for awhile.) It took months of testing on my entire body (I’ve been to more doctors appointments in the last 8 months or so than I have EVER had), medication for dizziness, and really no answers. I did end up having my eyes checked and needed glasses, which helped with the dizziness a little, but the scarier symptons were never explained.
It wasn’t until a friend gently asked me one day, “do you think you might have anxiety?” that I started to think perhaps there wasn’t something wrong with me medically, but maybe something much deeper might be going on? Since there was no bodily reason why my body freaked out the night I ended up in the ER, I became sure that it had been a panic attack. Which TRULY felt like I was dying. I had, up until then, thought panic attacks weren’t real and were just people freaking out over nothing. I’m ashamed to say I felt that they were fake and for people that couldn’t really handle their stuff. I couldn’t have been more wrong. They are scary as hell.
I believe my panic attack and my time in the hospital was my body’s way of telling me that what I was doing and how I was living wasn’t working anymore. It was a clear message that I COULD NOT ignore these messages anymore. Enough was ENOUGH.
Now that I knew something was very wrong I needed to figure out WHAT was causing me to freak out and how to find ways to alleviate it. I get asked a lot how I figured out I had anxiety and when I look back it was a sort of unfolding. The first realization was my friend asking me about panic attacks, which got me thinking about my life.
I asked, “What was going on in my life at that time that would cause me to panic?
There were a couple of things. I had had a friend diagnosed with cancer, and then I felt pain in that area, too. I suppressed it and tried to reason myself out of worrying, which only made it worse. I also had some family things going on that I was getting pushback on that really bothered me. I’m a people pleaser and will often do anything to avoid conflict (meaning, I please others first even if it hurts me.) I think these things, plus the Universe deciding I needed a wake up call, triggered my panic attack.
I also talked about in this post about how I am a perfectionist with ‘all or nothing‘ thoughts and I put a lot of pressure on myself. I take on a lot, I’m good at not admitting I need help, and I’m very high functioning, to a fault. I’m really good at pretending that things are going amazingly well and I don’t need help, and most people around me believe this. I’m also highly driven and a perfectionist, enough that another friend mentioned after seeing my daily calendar that it was really intense with what I expected of myself. My hospital visit last Summer was really a symptom of YEARS of neglect of myself and bad behaviors that I used to cope.
So all this came to a head last summer and I did a lot of soul searching to figure out I wasn’t really dying (what my panic attack and overnight in a hospital felt like), and that I needed a lifestyle change. I want to also mention that I have never been “diagnosed” with anxiety and have done my own research to figure out what has been going on with me. Out of all the doctors I saw in a 6 month period none did anything beyond look for physical reasons why I might feel bad and prescribe dizziness medications, and most would not acknowledge any other option (I get it, they were doing their jobs looking for serious health concerns.) However, I believe it is up to ME to help myself and to find people/resources who will support that.
I know I could have gone to my doctor and asked for more help, and probably would have been medicated, but I wanted to get to the root of WHY this was happening, and then if I needed further help I would ask for it. I am not against medication, but I wanted to dig deep FIRST and see if that could help.
Whew! So that is the beginning of even being AWARE that I had an issue with anxiety and wasn’t handling things as well as I thought. Now we can move into WHAT I have been doing, which is another blog post, really, but let’s just add it all in one spot for reference, yes?
Here are the steps and things I did once I figured out, “hey, I think I have anxiety issues,” and then, “now what do I do about it?”:
- Honestly this is the hardest part to explain, because I had to really look deep into myself as to what was causing my anxiety and WHY/HOW things were bothering me (and I wasn’t doing anything about it.) I do a ton of self work and have done this on my own and it has been a process. I’ve since learned that I was using over-achieving, perfectionism, over-working, extreme people pleasing, etc to deal with things, and that has not been good for me. I had to look at the roles I play in the world and figure out what was a coping mechanism and what was truly ME. I had to look deep into my life and find WHY I behaved a certain way and then set boundaries with everyone. Why do I avoid conflict at the expense of my mental health? Why do I not accept help? Why do I gloss over bad behavior and guilt trips and not set boundaries? Why does my outside self not match my insides? Why can’t I tell the truth to those around me? This is an ongoing process of really de-conditioning everything I thought I knew about myself and then teaching myself a new way of life and communication that honored me. If you need help here I would either contact a therapist, or someone you can trust to really be truthful to you about how you live. I also do personal coaching on this if you want to click here.
Helpful Link: How to Shed Your Identity
2. My daily work means digging through to who I am via my “morning work.” I get up early each day and do a number of things that are good for my soul. Right now I am in the To Be Magnetic 2.0 pathway, which has helped me dig into my entire life, particularly my past, and reprogram it. I also do a lot of self help reading, as well as journaling, and meditation. This time is invaluable to me and it has helped me figure out WHO I am and what I have conditioned myself to be like in order to be loved.
3. Something that has helped me alot is CBD oil! I started out getting it from a local health food store, but recently switched to Equilibria, where I get the softgels and the drops. Both do wonders for my ability to stay chill and to not feel (as) anxious.
Helpful Links: Equilibria Balance Box
4. I mentioned this above, but a lot of my anxiety comes from being a people pleaser. I used to make choices that weren’t good for me but made other people happy. I sacrificed my own happiness to please others and to appear aggreeable and easy going. None of this was a big deal on its own, but when it was all piled up I felt that I was trying to please others and hurting myself, and then pleasing nobody in the end. I worried a lot about disapointing people and didn’t want to risk initial bad emotions/feelings (which are unavoidable, btw, you either deal with them right away or they fester.) I have been learning it is okay to dissapoint people if it doesn’t work for me, and the initial discomfort of this is worth it in the long run for my emotional health. I had to set boundaries and learn to say no if something didn’t feel right to me, even if if caused conflict.
5. One thing I discovered in all of this is that I hate to appear “weak.” Many people comment that I “never seem stressed out,” “you are so strong,” ” you seem so happy all of the time, ” and ” I could never do what you do.” It can be addicting to be seen as a strong, competent person. I have never wanted to be the type of person who needs to be coddled or walked through anything. So I always just soldiered through. I took on everything and never wanted to admit that it was too much, because that was admitting weakness and that wasn’t okay with me. Accepting help was not something I ever did. I’ve had to look deeply into the WHY’s of all of this and discover that most of this is Ego and control issues from long ago. I’ve always been an all or nothing person, so getting to the point where I can admit that this was too much was a lot. That I need help sometimes and that is okay. I can be a strong, competent person AND admit that I need help. Again, this is daily work that I have to really put a mirror up to myself to see. The key is to be really honest with yourself and to have good people around you that are willing to tell you hard truths if you ask for them, and can help you talk through them.
6. Since I am a classic overachiever I do something daily called, “lowering the bar.” I like to shoot for the fences for everything, everyday, and this is not sustainable! I have had to give myself a lot of slack on all aspects of life, from working out to image to motherhood and family. Or basically, be okay with B- work. The word I use a lot is “perfect,” and turns out,you can’t do all of the things perfectly. You might even drive yourself into a panic attack by trying. Just sayin’. I am working on lessening up on what I expect from myself in all areas of life. Days aren’t ” ruined” if I walk 1.5 miles instead of the two I planned for, it is okay if I don’t remember something for my kids, and that messing up is okay. I am human and my rigid thoughts on PERFECTION and what I expect of myself has had to change.
7. Speaking of thoughts! Thought control and how thoughts control feelings has been HUGE for me for even before this, but even more now. To learn more about this I’d suggest listening to Brooke Castillo’s Life Coach School podcast. The premise is that everything in our life starts with a thought and we can reframe how we think, which affects how we feel. My previous thoughts were mostly negative when it comes to the things I have anxiety over, and I am working (again, daily!) to change how I think and therefore, feel.
8. I think one of the biggest things I have learned is to be honest with yourself, and others. If you have been acting a certain way your whole life and accepting certain behaviors, the people around you won’t like it if you stop. Or you may “change” or “become different” and that is scary to others. I am very lucky that I have a few people in my life (husband included) that I can say all the things I feel inside and I am not judged for it. Even if I feel silly admitting it, even if I hid it for a long time, or they might not even fully understand. A lot of my thoughts and fears sound weird when spoken out loud, but it is amazing how GOOD it feels to admit that I am scared a lot of failing and not being perfect, and that I don’t always feel enough. Healing my low self worth and my idea that I wasn’t loveable unless I was perfect at most things has been a big journey, and is sort of like peeling away the layers of an onion. I just keep digging deeper and uncovering parts of myself I didn’t know existed. I have gotten closer to key people in my life by admitting all the things that scare me versus pretending they don’t and I am above it all. Lifting the veil off and being vulnerable has been a key component in my healing.
Okay! That was a lot, yes? I have been meaning to write this forever, so getting it all out and organized has been so good for me (and hopefully for you.) So in case you coudn’t tell, this is a JOURNEY, you guys. I am still working on this daily. It feels like I am discovering parts of myself that have been hidden for a long time. The person I was before I learned I had anxiety was the person I wanted you to see, versus who I really am. I can’t stress enough that there isn’t really a one size fits all answer for anxiety and how to feel better. I have many bad days where I wonder if I have learned anything, but then I remember to just breathe and try to work through some of the steps that tend to work for me. I write out my worst fears and confront them, I journal my feelings, I set my bar REAL LOW when it comes to expectations, I tell myself I am Enough As Is and loveable no matter what I do, and really…I just love myself and all my good and not so good parts. I try to talk to myself like I would talk to my young children. I am worthy of love and all the good in the world and I don’t have to BE a cerain way to earn it. The same is true for you.