Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The Most Important Post I Will Ever Write


This is a post I've been thinking about writing for a long time. In the sewing community, I've found so much love and support. I tend to keep things upbeat and positive on this blog. And mostly sewing related, which is why I popped in a picture of my Hour Basket. But in my experience, a little vulnerability goes a long way in allowing somebody to relate.

My Journey with Anxiety 

A decade ago, I had my first panic attack. I was driving to a friend's bachelorette party when suddenly I felt trapped. My heart skipped, then raced. I had hot flashes, and needed air. I desperately struggled with the windows and A/C while trying to drive toward the nearest interstate exit. I had no category for these feelings.

Thankfully, my longtime friend Christie was with me that night. She took me to get dinner. (I didn't eat.) Then she drove me home. I don't remember much of that car ride, except for laying in the backseat thinking that my heart was going to stop beating. The initial panic attack had spurred a series of physical symptoms (racing heartbeat, tightness in my chest, etc.) that lasted all night. I was sure this was it, and I was dying.

The years following my first panic attack were filled with confusion and self-doubt.

Anxiety has been a major theme in my life, tainting even the nicest memories. The first time I went to Quilt Market, I was thrilled to get to meet many of my blogging friends in person for the first time. On night one in Kansas City, I walked to a Mexican restaurant with two of the sweetest girls ever. Sitting at the table, I felt faint, spacey and oddly disconnected from reality. I couldn’t eat more than a couple tortilla chips, and excused myself to the restroom. Was it that weird dessert I ate earlier? I apologized to my new friends, and called a taxi to take me back to the hotel early.

I honestly don’t know if I had some kind of food poisoning, or if it was the panic attack alone that made me feel so off. Granted, I had a lot on mind at the time. The book publisher I worked for was going through major layoffs, so I would likely lose my job. I had just gone through three interviews for a new position with a company I loved, and I was now in Kansas City for the final interview. While it’s not totally surprising that I spent most of the weekend feeling anxious, I look back at that trip with some regrets. Most of all, I wish that I had spent less time in my hotel room feeling ill and more time being present, enjoying my time with people.

It wasn’t just driving or traveling someplace new that made me anxious. Sometimes normal things like shopping or going out to dinner made me feel uneasy. I’d go over scenarios in my head, preparing myself for how I'll react if I panic. On one occasion, my husband bought us tickets to the ballet on Valentine’s Day. Instead of looking forward to a new experience, I spent the days leading up to our date researching the theater, wondering where our seats would be, and planning a possible escape route. I mean… who does this?

So often, I've blamed myself because I can't hold it together. Sometimes I keep it bottled up inside, so ashamed and worried sick that activities I used to enjoy become a lot of work. I wonder how long I can keep up a facade of calm, collectedness before the inevitable happens and my cover is blown. Hey, look at me. I'm anxious!

One day, I felt such an intense panic while driving that I pulled off the Interstate. I was used to taking abrupt exits like this, if I felt panicky and needed to escape. Letting my heart rate slowly return back to normal, I sipped some water and bit into a granola bar, just as I saw the cop car.

“M’am, this is a very unsafe place to pull over. Are you having car trouble?”

“No,” I sheepishly replied. “I’m just having a little panic attack,” and smiled.

“Well…. Do you have a medical condition that requires you to stop and eat?”

“I’m pregnant.” This was true. But not the real reason I pulled over.

After scolding me for poor judgment (“You could get yourself killed”), the cop sent me on my way. My emotions soared from fear to intense anger… at the officer… at myself. I turned my keys in the ignition and immediately merged back onto the freeway. With the cop car out of sight, I sped toward my exit. Just a couple quick turns from home, shame over the whole situation welled up inside of me, and I sobbed. Tears blurred everything. I dried my eyes with my shirt sleeve and continued home.

Matt was in our room folding clothes. He saw my smeary face and asked what was wrong. I didn't have the energy to go into it, but I also couldn’t hide. So I recounted the entire story about the panic attack and the cop.

“I’m so … tired… of this,” I said. With a baby on the way, I had deeper fears about caring for a little one while trying to hold it together myself.

I started therapy just weeks later. My counselor introduced me to guided visualization, and I was driving on the Interstate again. He taught me how I could imagine myself driving successfully, and then enter a situation with confidence instead of fear. It was one way to fight back against the negativity that my mind pitted against me.

Counseling helped a lot. While I gained control of my life to the point where I resumed normal activities, I always felt the looming threat of anxiety coming back, this time stronger and debilitating. Despite my fears, however, I wrote my first book. I traveled to conferences. I kept going.

Mid- to late last year, I felt free from anxiety for the first time in a decade. I was living my life fully, confident that I could accomplish anything I set out to do. I suspect a lot of this was connected to the elation I felt in overcoming my very real fears in becoming a mom.

So, this is how normal people feel . . .

I felt so free! I felt so myself. I had true hope that this anxiety journey was over.

Around January this year, the panic attacks returned. Sitting at a red light, I felt trapped by the cars around me. I started to feel faint. I fanned myself, fiddled with the radio, grabbed for my phone.

Anxiety was a part of my life once again. And I felt defeated.

 

This time around, I've taken a proactive approach to tackling my anxiety. I started going to counseling (again). Adjusted my medication. I read so many books. I journaled every night before bed about my day, citing possible anxious triggers. I also wrote things I was grateful for each day to inject some forced positivity into a dismal situation. I joined a women's group at church and asked for their prayers and friendship. Despite my sense of embarrassment over the whole situation, I left the house every day and did the very things that scared me.

With practice, I have learned to cope with panic attacks so they happen a lot less often. Today, I'd describe them more as passing thoughts... or manageable worries. Even if I felt a hint of anxiety, I still push forward and do the very thing that scares me. I keep driving rather than pull off the road. I breathe deeply and take new experiences one step at a time. This is not easy, by any means, but it has gotten so much easier with practice.

Most days are fine. But I'm not so far removed from the struggle of anxiety that I can forget its very real pull on me. Those days that left me feeling raw, disappointed, and exhausted from the fight... there were so many! I was disappointed in myself, and the whole situation. I was ashamed that I had to work so hard in the first place at things that come so naturally to others.

But for today, I've found peace. I've realized that although I may still be living with anxiety... I'm still living. Truly living.

I'm proud of myself for what I've accomplished in spite of this giant, scary unknown. I can accept myself, and love the person God created me to be. And I'm eternally thankful for my support system… the people who can remind me who I am.

If you are living with anxiety or depression, please know that you are not alone. If every day takes a lot of effort, I get it. And I'm right here with you.

If you have never experienced this kind of anxiety, I bet you know someone who does. If your friend, spouse, parent, or child is battling mental illness, I've put together a few stats and explanations here to help you understand.



Thanks for reading, and for being a part of my journey! I also recommend this excellent post today by Grace Bonney at Design Sponge called "Things that Scare Me."




34 comments:

  1. Lindsay, bravo for having the courage to post your story! I have no doubt others will gain strength through yours!

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  2. Lindsay, remember you are strong, you are a women, a wife, a mother, a blogger and most of all a person who has taken steps to meet life head on...so keep doing what you need to do to be yourself and take time to be those other things when needed. Be aware that there are others that feel as you do and take comfort that they read your blog and make each day count for what it is. Life, you have to live in it, so make it help you...That is what we all need.

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  3. Thank you for sharing what must have been a very difficult revelation about yourself. I experienced panic attacks for a period of time several years ago and with the help of counseling and medication have not had the very profound attacks you are describing. Just a suggestion but you might try a yoga class. It seems to have a very relaxing effect on both your psychological and physical well being. I hope you continue to find coping mechanisms that work for you in order to enjoy life to the fullest.

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  4. I had my first anxiety attack about 10-11 years ago. I ended up at the local heart hospital scared out of my mind! I still have the worst time in the hospital now, or doctors offices...
    bravo for reaching out to the rest of us and telling your story!

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  5. I had my first anxiety attack about 10-11 years ago. I ended up at the local heart hospital scared out of my mind! I still have the worst time in the hospital now, or doctors offices...
    bravo for reaching out to the rest of us and telling your story!

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  6. Thanks a lot for posting about this - I have a partner with anxiety and depression and I always like reading other's perspectives on it, it helps me learn new ways to be supportive and understand what might be going on in his head.

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  7. My husband suffers from panic attacks. His first episode he ended up in the hospital thinking he was having a heart attack. That was 24 years ago and he still has them, but not as bad with medication. Thanks for sharing this. A lot of times I just don't understand. This helps.

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  8. Maybe this is why I feel we connected :) *hugs*

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  9. Thank you so much for writing this. You have no idea how well timed it is for me to read this. I appreciate your honesty and bravery for sharing.

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  10. Lindsay, thanks for sharing this. I'm sure it was very difficult - putting yourself "out there" always is, never mind when it's about something so personal. I'm certain that you've helped a lot of people who felt as you did but perhaps don't know what it's about.

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  11. Thanks for sharing your story. I am sure you have helped more people than you know, from those who suffer as you do to those who love them.

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  12. Thank you for sharing. It is good for all of us to know that we are not alone in our struggles.

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  13. My panic attacks started when I was 28 some 40 years ago. You have definitely put up a brave fight to conquer yours. Sometimes I give in and do nothing other times I'm good to go. It was easier once I realized I was actually dying.

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  14. Thank you so much for sharing. I think it's good to share our mental health issues, it's not good that we have them, but it's good for people to understand that there's others all around them having challenges, and hopefully it will help to remove the stigmas and increase understanding x

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  15. Thank you so much for sharing, I am in my 50,s and have in the last 6 months started having panic attacks It is wonderful to know that someone has found a way to manage these terrifying attacks. I now know there is light at the end of the tunnel.

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  16. Aww, Linds. How brave you are to write this (and post it!).

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  17. Lindsay, it's been a blessing to meet you and become your friend. You are so brave and strong! I'm always here if you need me in any way!

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  18. Lindsay, your bravery is inspiring! Hang in there, and know that I'll keep you in my prayers too!

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  19. Lindsay, I have found you to be a very impressive, accomplished young woman, and this post makes me respect you all the more. We all have things in our lives that we don't like to talk about, things that make our lives more difficult. Thanks for being open and allowing yourself to be vulnerable. Hugs.

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  20. Can't tell you how proud I am of you for writing this post. What a blessing you are to all of us, Lindsay, and I know you're specifically blessing others out there who struggle with these issues too. Isn't it good to know that the Lord can use everything in our lives -- even the most difficult, painful things -- to bring about His good plans. Hugs to you, friend!!

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  21. What a difficult and important post to write! It is hard to open yourself up and become vulnerable, but your story is so important! Those of us who haven't a clue how difficult life is for those who suffer panic attacks or depression - thank you for shedding a bit of light on how impacting they are on your life. You have dropped a pebble into a pond...you will never know just how far-reaching the ripples will be!

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  22. Thanks for putting this out there to help others. It so hard that there are still such stigma on mental illness. I've struggled with minor panic/anxiety attacks and have found a lot of help by cutting sugar out of my diet. It's tough and I hate it and definitely go on sugar binges every once in a while. But I definitely feel better when it's out of my system. I have a sister with bi-polar. It's tough for all of us to deal with and definitely tough for people who haven't been there to understand what she deals with. Talking about it openly brings awareness!!

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  23. Lindsay thanks for your brave honest post. Someone very close to me suffers very badly (in phases) from anxiety -the "can't go to the shops", "can't go to events", even, occasionally, has trouble leaving the house -variety. It's horrendous to go through and even harder to watch and try to provide support. It's badly understood, and people don't realise how debilitating it is when it's bad. So awareness is key. It's a journey too - it comes and goes in waves and sometimes it's good,,sometimes not so good. I hope it goes well for you in the future xx

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  24. Lindsay, I have never seen you as anything other than a strong, confident and inspiring lady. After reading your struggles I see that even more about you. I am so happy that you decided to seek help and kick 'anxiety' in the ass. There will be set backs, struggles, but with your determination and strength ~ you will prevail. I don't suffer from anxiety, but know the feeling of not wanting to leave the house. Forcing myself to just get out is not easy. I know that with your honest and personal post...you have helped many others who do!!

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  25. Kudos, Lindsay - it's tough to talk about illnesses that don't always have a physical component. It's hard for us and others to judge how they are progressing, too - so knowing how to help or how to support can be very, very difficult.

    I have generalized anxiety as well, and while I've had it in some way most of my life, things turned bad when my husband was nearly killed in a car crash in 2011. I started having panic attacks several months after - when I was working as his caregiver while he recovered from critical injuries - and thought I was having heart attacks.

    I also suffer from pretty terrible health anxiety, which scared me when I became pregnant last fall. I was so worried that my HA would make pregnancy awful due to me constantly being afraid of what symptoms really meant. Sadly, because of HA, my blood pressure and pulse race when I'm at appointments and have had to be watched closely because of it , which has put me keenly aware of what anxiety really does to my body, physically.

    Anyway, another anxiety sister here to say, thanks for talking about it - it's important, because not all of us suffer in the same ways. Some of us are more aware, some are less - some can leave the house and internalize and some get paralyzed by fear.

    xoxox

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  26. My husband has battled anxiety for over 20 years and only recently began to get a handle on it. It breaks my heart that he has missed out on so much over the years. Thank you so much for sharing your story - I hope that things continue to improve for you.

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  27. I had my first full blown panic attack when I was in college, only I had no idea until recently that that is what was happening. It is the weirdest feeling when you become aware of your heartbeat... because it isn't. A truly frightening thing and I ended up getting lots of medical testing for heart arrhythmia (I wore a heart monitor my entire senior year in college) and ended up with no conclusive results. Now, 15 years later, I had to leave my full time job last year to find the space and courage I needed to finally face what is going on in my life head on. I applaud you for your open honesty with your journey and I wish you continued expansive peace and joyous living.

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  28. Thank you so much for sharing your deepest feelings with us. I suffered post natal depression after both of my children's births, so have a tiny inkling of what you're going through. It was very important for me to know that I wasn't alone, and there were many other people feeling the same every day. I sincerely hope you get the help you desire. Thank you again for being so honest and open.

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  29. It takes a very brave person to put this out there in public. While I don't suffer from anxiety my son does and we've had to learn many ways to help him, including therapy. Thank you for sharing such personal thoughts and feelings.

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