I was once asked, on the radio no less to thousands of listeners, to describe what anxiety feels like. Where do you start? Anxiety isn’t simply a nervousness that makes you indecisive. I’m sure I’ll list off how I was feeling and any woman who has suffered will nod in agreement. It’s painful, physically painful. There is nausea, headaches and dizzy spells aside from the mental overload. It feels hopeless and it can pass before it hits you hard again. The lull and low of anxiety didn’t affect me all the time but it sure did like to linger and attack quickly.
On the worst days, I suffered thirty plus panic and anxiety attacks a day. A day with a torturous mind melt and physical pain. To give you an idea of what would go through my mind during attacks, and often lingered throughout the day:
I felt worthless, pointless, as though no one would miss me.
I felt scared and hopeless, as though I couldn’t cope.
I worried I was doing everything wrong. I believed I was doing everything wrong.
My insecurity skyrocketed.
I was ashamed.
I couldn’t explain how I was feeling most of the time and I felt pathetic in attempting to make sense of those feelings.
I felt isolated and alone, even when Papa Bear was with me or I was surrounded by family.
I felt incredibly happy one moment and desolate the next.
I had bursts of anger that were incomprehensible and out of character.
I was constantly frustrated and on edge.
I felt powerless and out of control.
I did not feel like me anymore.
Some days I couldn’t cope. It was accepting what I was going through that made me refocus and guide myself towards better health. Our mental health is so important and I’m not afraid to admit when I need help, but so many are. I was always open and honest about what I was going through with family and friends, with the world even, as I wrote so often about it. Suffering in silence or alone helps no one. I knew I would find it hard to come through all of this without help. It truly is ok to not be ok.
Getting Help Is Key
When I finally admitted to myself how I was suffering I got help and changed certain aspects of my life. Everyone’s story is different but getting help is the key because we are not expected to do this alone. I went to my GP in the first instance and sadly I was seen by a locum who did not know me, understand me or want to get to know me. I explained how I was feeling, what I was going through, and I cried in her office. “We can put you on medication, if you like?”
If I like? Her response was flippant. My worries and stresses were pushed aside as she ticked a box and stuffed me firmly in that cube of postnatal depression with a giant tick mark. Case closed. I did not want to go on medication. I wanted to know my options. No options were given to me, aside from a “low dosage” to see how I got on. I knew medication would not agree with me from my history. I already felt like a stranger in my own body. I wanted to regain myself, not lose myself even more. Devin cried in the buggy beside me and I felt so incredibly alone and worthless at that moment.
I left the doctors office with no prescription, no answers and no options.
Help for Everyone
It was the public health nurse who was kind and positive at Devin’s next check-up. It was as though she could read my story through my movements and the creases on my face. She knew I was suffering with something much more than being overwhelmed. I cried hard tears as she sat on our couch and cooed at Devin. Knowing I didn’t want to go on medication, she gave me the number of a counsellor and had it not been for her, my recovery would not have been as quick. If 18 months can be considered quick.
Counselling is not for everyone. Medication is not for everyone. But help is. No matter what form it comes in, the important thing is you get help.
A Fricking Flamingo
My anxiety was named my Fricking Flamingo by a friend who I will forever be grateful to because giving it a name made me approach it differently. It made me realise that it was not me, nor was it a part of me. Naming it, gave me the ability to separate from it and be better than it. I could call it out and lash out at it when I needed something to lash out at. It ironically coincided with a time when pink flamingos became more popular than unicorns, so I saw them everywhere. Which was fine, because as I got better, every time I saw a flamingo dancing on wallpaper or a throw cushion, I could smile as the distance between me and my anxiety grew. When I see a pink flamingo now, I feel vindicated I won this battle and while that pink bird will always be in the past, it will not be in my future.But even today, I often have to stop and refocus. I need to be in control of my actions since there are times when I’m not. When I notice this, I pause and change my reactions. I do my best to acknowledge and accept my feelings of anxiety if there is any there, but I don’t let it control me. I feel the anger, pain and fear but allow it to mellow and leave, focusing on a positive that will get me through the situation. It takes a lot of mental effort but so far, it’s worked.