How My Anxiety Brought Me Peace

It was around this time last year that I started waking up with horrible chest pain. My pulse was racing erratically through my left arm, my breathing rapid, and nothing would calm me down. Was I having a heart attack? Did that even make sense? I was 33, and although not particularly healthy in the last year, I had always lived a very healthy lifestyle. Were the long hours of single mom-ing, working 6 days a week, and managing everything, taking years off my life? I felt fine otherwise. With those thoughts, I set myself up for a long overdue physical exam. I never seemed to have time to take care of myself,  but seeing I’m all she’s got … I had to figure this health issue out. 

The appointment came, and I told my longtime doctor my concerns. She listened attentively as I nervous babbled, then she looked me in the face and said, “Ana … how are you?” I took a confused breath and said, “Oh I’m fine … just fine … just want to know what’s going on that’s making my heart race. Maybe I have an arythmia, thyroid issues, or something? Maybe I need more vitamin D; that’s a thing now right?” She looked concerned and left the room to go grab some tests. While she was gone I thought about the question again. How was I? The tears came rushing down unbidden, and quickly escalated to sobbing. I fought to breathe, and a loud whooshing filled my ears. I gripped the edges of the table and fought the feeling of falling as my doctor walked back in. She quickly ran over to me, pulled me in hard, and in soothing words said, “Ana, you are having a panic attack. It will pass. Just keep breathing. Breathe.”

Slowly it abated.

I breathed. New tears came. Ones that burned even more with heat of embarrassment, shame … disgrace. What the hell was wrong with me? Get it together, Ana. I DON’T get panic attacks. I work in the medical profession in my own right, and I was even a friggin’ psychology major. This made NO sense. I’d already survived a year on my own through a shattered marriage, custody anxiety, strains of maintaining a career, and child-rearing with little to no support. My walls were high, my skin thick, and my will iron. I felt fine … or I thought I did. I was just a little stressed, aren’t all moms? She pulled me to arms length and looked me over asking, “ What has happened recently?” Ahhh. The trigger.

Just before this happened, my mother’s best friend passed. She was cooking dinner for her kids and husband when without any warning, no previous health concerns, her heart simply failed her. She was a wonderful woman. Was. That is hard to write. The biggest heart, the kindest words. My daughter had just met her a week prior for Christmas, and she was overjoyed to gift her with a doll she had found with my own name … and that was the last I saw her. My own mother was devastated. My heart hurt for her, the family, myself.

Something gave way inside me, one of my walls perhaps, and they unleashed an onslaught of repressed worries, pain … terror. What if that happened to me? Who would know to check on my M? At 14 months she would be trapped in her crib and no one would know to check on her. How would she survive?

I already was the sort who checked on her hourly at night the way one does when they first bring an infant home. I was obsessed with safety proofing my home. I started making friends text me every night to check in on us. Every time I drove the car, I KNEW we would get into a terrible car accident. Every noise I heard was someone breaking in. I started secretly hiding things that could be used as weapons around the house. Always a vivid dreamer, my dreams had become nightmares so horrible I began to stop sleeping. Work also had me edgy and stressed, and the demands of a job that often kept me late started becoming a problem as my comfort level and coping skills for flexibility diminished. I couldn’t fail at work; I was all we had. I began isolating myself because it felt nobody understood. 

My doctor calmly looked at me, and said she was writing me a prescription for an anti-anxiety medication and recommending therapy. I was diagnosed with General Anxiety Disorder {GAD}. I stared at her. Medication? Me? I quickly told her that I do not need medication and that it was ridiculous to suggest it. In fact, I was ANGRY she had. Surely it was just a phase. Her response was calm, “It’s just to take the edge off so you can relax. But if you are so adverse to it, you can hold off a bit, but you have to go to therapy. Therapy or meds and see me back in 6 weeks because I’m worried about you.” I smiled weakly – fully intending to do neither of those things.

I got in my car. They had called in the prescription for me in case I wanted it, and my phone pinged the pharmacy text. I picked it up numbly. I got home. I stared at it. Sitting in my car I burst into tears. Meds. Had I officially failed? I knew this was the wrong mindset, but I couldn’t help it. I threw them into the glove box shoving them away along with all those useless trinkets of a car. My mom was visiting, so she was watching M. I walked in and without a tear, casually mentioned how my crazy doctor suggested therapy and meds as if I needed them. I gave a forced laugh. My mom {my sweet, tough, little, Croatian, we-don’t-go-to-the-doctor-unless-we-are-dying mother} looked at me and said, “Maybe that’s not a bad idea.” As shocked as I was, I shrugged it off.

After another fitful night’s sleep, I called my dad thinking he would back me, KNOWING he would back me that I was fine, and he also said, “I think you should consider it and definitely go talk to someone. We’ve all been a little worried. You’ve been … tense. We all need a little help here and there.” What? I reached out to a few trusted friends, and they all agreed that at the least I should seek a therapist and finally take the time to “deal with things.” M was older now, and it was time to heal and address the trauma that had happened to me.

My world was falling out from under me. I consider myself very self-aware. Had I missed this? And therapy? I don’t have time to shower most days. Who has time for that? I definitely did not.Was I so miserable to be around? I was doing everything I could to navigate a very complicated life; what did people want from me? I showed up to work. I still smiled even if it was forced. Wasn’t it normal to worry about one’s kids. I thought that was a sign of a good parent? Or was my deeply buried sadness too hard for everyone and made THEM uncomfortable? Is everyone supposed to be happy all the time?  In a fit of anger I grabbed a pill, popped it into my mouth, and accepted my failure. As soon as the bitterness hit my tongue, I spit it out in a fit of tears. I was lost.

After a few days and a lot of soul-searching, I leaned on my intuition, something that had lost a little credibility with me over the last few months. I guess I had to build trust somewhere. My friends and family loved me. They wanted what was best for me. I knew that. But no one could fix this for me, only I could. “Make the time,” I told myself. I would seek out a therapist, be properly evaluated, and do as a professional had counseled. This may be the best decision I have ever made in my life.

My first counseling session came amidst a very tumultuous time with M’s father, work drama, and a budding social anxiety. I learned methods to cope with my anxiety, how to develop and maintain boundaries {something I am apparently AWFUL at}, and discovered a place to say all the things in my head that are just too heavy and dark to dump on friends and family. I was anxious about bad stuff randomly happening because lots of BAD STUFF had randomly happened. I was so worried about all the bad things that could happen to my daughter that it was robbing me of enjoying all the good happening. 

My diagnosis was general anxiety due to crazy life events { I’m paraphrasing here}, and the treatment was coping, training, and support. Medication hasn’t played a factor, and although a part of me is thankful for that, my ego and pride realize their uses as tools to healing. It’s been nine months of sessions twice a month, and the mental space I am in a year later compared to last year … I have no words. It’s given me such clarity in my patterns and my missteps, assurances to trust myself again still brave this world. I’ve truly fallen in love with my daughter so much more deeply as I explore her world with her and who she is, versus protecting her from a world created in my mind. There is still work to do, but I have embraced the process and am truly thankful to find peace. 

This past Christmas my mother, my daughter, and I visited the grave of that friend. I recently had been dreaming of her, and I had told my mother that after those dreams I had a sense of peace. My mother smiled sadly and told me, “She’s letting you know she’s okay, Ana.”  I had to smile inwardly and think back … we’re okay too … I am okay. I found my trigger for peace.

All mothers, but particularly single mothers, are at especially higher risk for mental disabilities {28.7% risk for single moms and 15.7% for their partnered peers}. If you are suffering from any bouts of depression, anxiety, or symptoms of mental disability, please know you are not alone and that there is help. Talk to your primary care practitioner, talk to friends, or search online resources to find the best therapist. There are people to help, and you can also often use your insurance for such services. Taking the time to take care of you matters. 

**Please Note :: I am a patient and close friend to my doctor for nearly 10 years. She did not make a suggestion for medication lightly. There is a very real discussion about the over-prescribing of such drugs that may be best suited for another post.**

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Ana T. enjoys sharing her life observations with a healthy dose of humor as she navigates life with her pint size sassy sidekick M {November 2014}. She comes from a loving, loud Croatian family raised in Cleveland, Ohio. In 2008 she made the jump to Houston where she full time practices and teaches optometry. 2014 - 2015 was a blur of survival for her: difficulty conceiving, a rough pregnancy, a seemingly happy marriage shattered in a Lifetime Story–esque way. Being alone as full-time single parent/career woman with a newborn living miles away from her family definitely wasn't the plan. Despite all this, Ana T. and M are tearing up play spots, eating their way through town, traveling all over, and THRIVING. Ana T. is into trying out and laughing at fitness fads, ridiculous Facebook statusing, and at 34 still searching for ANY craft she could have a smidgeon of talent in {currently it’s knitting… stay tuned}.



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