Anxiety | An Open Dialogue

So let's talk anxiety.  It presents itself in many different ways.  Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, and Postpartum, to name a few.  All different but similar in so many ways.

If you don't know by now, I have anxiety.  I've been diagnosed with both Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Postpartum Anxiety, twice.

By being honest and open about my anxiety, I have found I am not alone.  At all.  Women are more likely to suffer from anxiety, not surprisingly, but these days we are speaking out against the stigma associated with mental health disorders.

Today I am opening up the conversation to two amazing women from my local community that are open about their anxiety struggles.  Jessica is a mom and business owner, about to open a new DIY art boutique, AR Workshop, here in town this summer.  Subrina is a stay-at-home mom that has recently felt the call to speak out in support of so many wonderful things.  Then you have me, a stay-at-home mom that loves to network and support people in all their journeys.  Here are our thoughts on anxiety.

How does your anxiety present itself?
Jessica - "Initially, I knew something was “off” because I was tired and feeling like not leaving the house. For me, living in the country and having no neighbors, I live for the times each day where I can socialize and be amongst people. However, in January after a VERY dark and cloudy winter, I didn’t really have any desire to go anywhere, do anything or see anyone. Then, the tightness in my chest began. I felt as though I were having a heart attack several times throughout the day and found it nearly impossible to breathe. Making a decision as simple as which cheese to buy at the grocery store seemed to take 10 minutes. One day, at Dillons, I was so overwhelmed with all of the choices that I left a nearly full cart in the produce section and ran out of the store. Having a toddler doesn’t help some days either. The chorus of “mom, mama, mommy, mama, mom” that I hear 100 times a day starts to literally hurt my ears."
Subrina - "I have both general anxiety and Social Anxiety Disorder as well as OCD. I have a constant need for order and cleanliness. I get overwhelmed very quickly when disorder occurs. I also get overstimulated with loud, constant noise. I have high levels of burning anxiety around large crowds. I tend to get very reserved and quiet in large groups."
Amanda - "I had that overwhelming worry and sense of doom that constantly hung around.  The smallest issues could send me into an absolute tale spin of what ifs and exaggerated thoughts.  It became all consuming and all that I focused on.  In the height of my first round of Postpartum Anxiety, I refused to leave the house unless my husband was there with me.  These days my anxiety consists of lots of double checking and mentally making sure I notice things so that if my mind questions it later, I can return to watching the garage door hit the ground before I pulled away."

What steps did you take to find a new level of normal upon diagnosis?
J - "There was one really bad day in February where it took me an hour to physically get out of bed. I would take 10 deep breaths then sit up, 10 breaths then scoot to the edge of the bed, 10 deep breaths then swing my legs over the bed…and so on. That day I knew that my anxiety had reached a level where I needed help. I cried on Kirk’s shoulder about how everything seemed impossible. I had a to do list a mile long and so much to get done in any given day that I couldn’t even figure out where to begin. I called my doctor and she got me in immediately. I had experienced similar anxiety when we made the huge move from Denver to Kansas and I knew exactly what was happening. I began a small daily dose of anti-anxiety medication and quickly realized that if I were to miss a day of exercise I could feel the anxiety setting in. I have had to retrain my brain to not look at the whole to do list, but one thing at a time. Why I couldn’t do something that simple before is beyond me. Also, for me, talking about anxiety and making it known amongst my friends that I have it has been a tremendous help for me. Talking about and sharing my experiences has helped me to realize how many of my very own friends are suffering in silence."
S - "Quiet times with the Lord and lots of prayer because medication did not work for me. I do self help through positive encouragement talks."
A - "Identifying that there was a problem and seeking out help was the first step.  After that everything seemed to fall into place and I was able to learn how to live with anxiety through various techniques and tricks"

Did your doctor listen?
J - "Yes. Very much so. And what I wish for others who suffer from anxiety is that they realize that medical care is available to HELP you and not judge you. My doctor never once made me feel like what I was describing with the tightness in my chest or fatigue was anything but “normal” and something everyone goes through."
- "Yes I have a good doctor that listens to my gut feelings and supports me."
A - "I have seen MANY doctors about my anxiety.  When I was first diagnosed with GAD I was a military spouse living in Georgia.  A therapist diagnosed me and worked with me initially.  Then my doctor in Tennessee diagnosed and listened to me with my first round of PPA.  She was the one that gave me the phrase I have spent many years clinging to "is worrying about it going to change it?"  Finally - with my most recent round of PPA, I saw our Family Doctor here in Lawrence.  Not one person ever disregarded my feelings and made me feel less than and for that I am SO thankful.  If one doesn't listen, find another."

What advice would you give someone experiencing anxiety?
J - "TALK ABOUT IT!!!! You will be shocked how many of your own friends/family are right there with you and, often, the people who need help look a lot like people who don’t need help. Just talking about your anxiety is a completely Vulnerable move…and when you are open and vulnerable it makes others feel like they can trust you and be honest right back with you."
S - "It can be an attack of the enemy and him preying on your perceived weakness. Speak life and positive words over yourself. Let yourself cry it out though and give yourself grace."
A - "Don't be afraid to ask for help.  I spent a good chunk of time beating myself up for something completely out of my control.  It got me nowhere.  By coming forward with my issues I learned I am not alone.  So many people are suffering in silence, and they shouldn't be.  It is nothing to be ashamed of, regardless of the stigma... because you aren't alone."

In your opinion, what is the best way to overcome anxiety?
- "I’m not here to push medication for anyone, but for me, a small daily dost of an anti-anxiety medication lifted the curtain from which I was hiding behind. I wasn’t even able to so much as make a choice about cheese and now I go weeks without even thinking about anxiety or the many choices I have to make in a day. It goes without saying that EXERCISE is so important to my mental health that, without it, I am grumpy and often don’t see the point in leaving the house some days. I work out 5-7 days a week and while the outward physical benefits are great, it’s how it makes me feel INSIDE that is the true benefit."
S - "Prayer and strong positive support from good friends."
A - "For me I tried lots of things.  I tried therapy, deep breathing techniques, and yoga.  Over the years certain things have worked during different times, a hug from my husband, a nap, a good book, things that distract my mind from the worries at hand.  I still pull out my yoga mat when I start to feel overwhelmed, and it still works.  The only thing I haven't tried is the prescription tucked in the back of my medicine cabinet.  It's there, just in case.  When I am done nursing our youngest, I hope to start using CBD oil, as another all natural option."

How is your everyday life with anxiety?
J - "Honestly, I can go weeks at a time without experiencing anxiety. I think that because I haven’t held a traditional “job” since 2011, I am triggered a lot by what it takes to open a business and a franchise at that. If I am able to work alone in a quiet space with few distractions I forget that I even had a hard time accomplishing small tasks. Today, I was triggered when a friend asked me why I was starting my new business because I “have it made as a Stay At Home Mom” and “what was I thinking?” I started to feel that tightness in my chest again. Had I made a mistake? What WAS I doing? It’s when I second guess a decision or choice that I know in my heart is right that I realize it is fear talking and not my heart. After she said that to me, I went into Spin Class and my chest hurt so badly I was tempted to leave the room and hide. I shut off ALL negative thoughts and fears and pedaled my way through it. By the end of class, the only tightness I was experiencing was because of the Cardio element. Some days are hard, but less and less just by speaking about what I feel with others. As I share my story with other moms/women, I am saddened by the number of them who tell me they have debilitating anxiety too but don’t know who to talk to, are ashamed to talk about it or don’t want to tell their significant others. After the 10th friend said that to me, I realized it was my duty to “Make my Mess my Message.” Mental health is NOTHING to be ashamed of. I tend to think that being mentally UNhealthy and not talking about it for fear of how you will be perceived is the true shame in the mental health community. I’m good now. My head is in a great place and I’m back to being my “normal” (whatever that’s worth)."
S - "My everyday life is filled with planning. If I plan well then I can keep my anxieties at bay. I'm not usually spontaneous because that's a major cause of panic. I have a notebook I use as a planner and I write to-do lists, meal plans, schedules, etc. in it everyday. I clean a lot too. Its therapeutic for me. It calms me but when the kids come in and bring "messes" it sometimes sends me over the edge. "Messes" is a curse word in our home, so the kids say. Time management is huge for me daily too. If I plan my time well, I can keep the anxieties lower too."
A - "I have my good days and I have my bad days.  But everyday is filled with routine.  My anxiety is on the low side on the days that are expected and normal.  The crazy and unexpected days often throw my anxiety into a tailspin.  I am at the point now where I can easily identify when my anxiety is starting to flare up and I can take the necessary steps to help calm it and go about my day.  I'm still learning though.  I also talk about it and let people know when my anxiety is high and thankful I'm surrounded by an amazing village that understands what that means for me."

Living with anxiety is COMMON and NOTHING to be ashamed of.

If you are experiencing anxiety, ask for help.  See your doctor.  Talk to your friends.  Admitting the problem is there is the first step towards finding a solution.

To talk to someone, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264).  Or you can e-mail me and I will listen.

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