I mentioned on my Instagram recently that I want to make sure I continue to share my story and not only my style. One huge aspect of my life that I haven’t touched on yet is my ongoing experience with anxiety, and more specifically, Panic Disorder.
From a Nervous Child to an Anxious Adult
When I was about 7 years old, I experienced severe food poisoning for the first time while I was visiting family. Due to how sick I got, I developed a fear of vomiting. It was so bad that I stopped eating due to the fear that I may vomit. I remember my mom trying to get me to drink smoothies or eat some toast for days on end, but I refused. It took a trip to the doctor and her explaining to me if I continued not to eat, I would have to be admitted to the hospital. That scared me more than throwing up.
As I got older, things got better and I was able to differentiate more of what being nervous was versus being anxious. I have noticed that when I am nervous, it passes when the situation is over. Like when I give a big presentation, I feel flutters, and then once I’m done, I feel like myself again.
With my anxiety and panic disorder, I have a high level of anticipatory anxiety leading up to situations that I know are triggers, like eating in a crowded restaurant. Once I am actually in the situation, my body goes into full panic mode. This includes a high rush of adrenaline, sweating, shallow breathing, and dizziness. Oftentimes, if I am having a full-blown panic attack, the physical symptoms of the attack will result in my involuntary and uncontrollable vomiting, the fear of which, ironically, is what triggers my anxiety in the first place. It isn’t really the eating in a crowded place that I am triggered by, it is the thought that I could throw up. So I am so anxious that I might have to throw up in a crowded restaurant that it causes me to have a panic attack that results in my throwing up, the one thing I was most anxious about. Sound stressful? It is!
When I Decided I Needed Help
Throughout the years I have exhibited a few avoidance behaviors, like not eating before a big presentation for fear of throwing up, but as I got older, it got worse.
When I transferred to a university from my community college, I was overwhelmed to say the least. I moved six hours north to a new city, and also moved in with my boyfriend, all at the age of 21.
I expected to feel nervous about the new living situation and experiences ahead of me, but that nervousness quickly turned into anxiety. I started slowly getting into a pattern that was stopping me from enjoying my life. I would go to class all day and not eat anything until I got home because that was where I felt comfortable. Then if I knew I had something to do after school, I would eat nothing the entire day. Sometimes I would go until 8:00 at night without a bite of food for fear of having a panic attack and throwing up. That quickly then transformed into only want to eat at places that were close to my house, then only takeout so I could eat at home.
As the weeks went on, my anxiety got worse and, eventually, I was so anxious, even in my home, that I didn’t want to leave. I started missing classes and was unable to feel safe anywhere.
I felt like I was actually losing my mind and finally decided I needed professional help. I reached out to the health center at my school and discussed what was happening. My family and my wonderful boyfriend (now husband) helped me realize that the quality of my life was now affected and they wanted me to be able to feel like myself and enjoy everyday things I did before. It was then that I had to force myself to leave the house to start therapy and meet with a psychiatrist.
I started going to therapy weekly, and it was the psychiatrist that realized I did not have generalized anxiety, and he diagnosed me with Panic Disorder. He prescribed me medication, and that along with my therapy had me feeling like myself again within a few weeks.
A Work In Progress
I have never forgotten that period of my life because it was the first time I really felt out of control of my body and my mind. Now, after eight years of ongoing therapy and medication balancing, I am able to confidently conquer my panic attacks and anxiety.
I still struggle though. There are still long flights that I get on and refuse to eat a bite of food because I am anxious, or I’ll get takeout to eat at home on a bad day, but I now have the tools I need to help me when I have those moments. For me those tools include meditation, therapy, exercise (working on this one more!), getting enough sleep, controlling my stress, my Panic Attack Workbook, medication, and most importantly, positive self-talk. I know there are differing opinions on anxiety treatments, but my best advice to you is to do what works best for you and what helps you to live your life without avoiding the everyday activities you love.
For the longest time, I correlated my panic attacks with failure. I felt like once I had a full-blown panic attack, I had failed myself. I had let my body down by not being able to control my thoughts. Thinking that way just makes it worse. My fantastic therapist has helped me accept this part of my life. This is a piece of me, but it does not define me. I am stronger than my anxiety, and I will not let it define me or diminish the quality of my life, nor will I let it stop me from accomplishing anything I set out to do. I say that to myself every single day and it keeps me going.
I want to let everyone reading this know that your mental health is just as important as your physical health. Anxiety and panic disorders can affect anyone, even those that you may see as confident and extroverted. If you have an anxiety or panic disorder, please don’t be embarrassed or ashamed. I encourage to seek help.
I have let my friends and family know what I am comfortable doing, what might trigger a panic attack, and when I do panic, I ask for help. I find a space that feels safe to me, I have my friends talk to me to help redirect my thoughts, and it really does help me to know that I don’t have to hide this part of me. The people that love and accept me also accept that I might have to skip out on something here or there or I need to leave early because I need my safe space.
Listen to your body and your mind, challenge yourself, reach out when you need help, and accept every piece of yourself, because once you do, you can move forward and really live.