Anxiety or a feeling of anxiousness can be a good thing, such as that rush of adrenaline you feel in the pit of your stomach when receiving a passionate kiss, or the excitement of meeting your favorite celebrity, or even those butterflies you get when on a roller coaster and it’s making its first climb up the hill before plunging you down into what feels like a free fall.
But anxiety can also be a horrible feeling when experiencing it during an anxiety or panic attack. Anyone who has ever fallen victim to this debilitating condition knows firsthand that these types of adrenaline rushes are anything but pleasant. Imagine, if you will, that feeling in your gut when you’re overly excited about something or someone and that adrenaline rush speeds up your heartbeat and your pulse quickens. Or an event or thing that absolutely terrifies you, scaring you to the point that you have to cover your eyes to prevent seeing it.
Now, imagine that exact same feeling never going away, but remaining there in the pit of your stomach, taunting and terrorizing you, an endless supply of unneeded and unwanted adrenaline! That’s what an anxiety attack is.
What is anxiety? According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), “anxiety disorders involve more than temporary worry or fear. For a person with an anxiety disorder, the anxiety does not go away and can get worse over time. The symptoms can interfere with daily activities such as job performance, school work and relationships.” While these facts are quite true, there is much, much more to being stricken with an anxiety disorder. Some of the other symptoms/problems related can include:
- Bouts of uncontrollable crying
- Irrational fear (What if? What could?)
- Unnatural thoughts (Am I dying? Am I crazy?)
- Feelings of doom and gloom (Irrational and overwhelming feeling of dread)
- Fear of dying (Or obsession with thoughts of death)
- Feeling certain that there is an underlying, possibly fatal, disease that hasn’t been detected
- Feeling that “you’re losing your mind” and wondering if you need to see a Psychiatrist
- Feeling of worthlessness
- Lack of sleep or being unable to stay asleep
- Nervousness and/or pacing
- Wringing of hands
- Loss of appetite
- Lack of sexual desire
- Rapid heartbeat / heart palpitations
No two people are the same; therefore, the symptoms may vary from person to person. Serotonin is a chemical that has a wide variety of functions in the human body. It is sometimes called the “happy chemical,” because it contributes to wellbeing and happiness. The scientific name is 5-Hydroxytryptamine, or 5-HT and is mainly found in the brain, bowels and blood platelets. Serotonin is an important chemical and neurotransmitter in the human body and is believed to help regulate mood and social behavior, appetite and digestion, sleep, memory, and sexual desire and function. In short, if the body is experiencing a shortage of Serotonin, this leads to depression and anxiety disorders. The goal is to get the Serotonin at proper and functioning levels again and restore a sufferer’s wellbeing and treat the anxiety and depression. I liken it to the function of defragmenting a computer where fragments of your hard drive get scattered and the purpose of the defragmentation is to gather the scattered pieces and put them back where they belong.
Every single symptom that I listed above are ones that I personally experienced during my own battle. Please allow me to tell you my story.
Mine started in mid-2003, but it didn’t begin as anxiety. I found myself experiencing bouts of uncontrollable crying, pacing the floor and constantly wringing my hands. I attributed it all to a series of sad and heartbreaking events that had occurred in my life within a matter of months and told myself that I needed to get a grip on things and pull myself together. No matter how hard I tried, I simply couldn’t, and things began to take a turn for the worst from that point forward. It was then that I learned that even the strongest of people have a breaking point.
In the beginning, I had no idea what was happening to me because I had never experienced anything even remotely close to what I was going through. Sure, I’d cried before over various things, but I always knew why I was crying. But all of this was new to me – and extremely terrifying.
I was on my way to a doctor’s appointment in West Palm Beach when I was suddenly overcome with an intense feeling of dread, like something bad was about to happen or that I was on the brink of death. I turned around and drove back to my sister’s house with the intention of trying to calm myself down, but instead, the symptoms only got worse. My heart was beating so fast that I could feel it pounding in my temples, my hands began to shake, my body felt like gelatin and I began weeping uncontrollably. Brenda rushed me to the emergency room in Belle Glade and they called me right back because I, and they, thought I was having a heart attack. My heart rate was sky high, as was my blood pressure, and I had to be sedated for fear that I might experience a stroke. As bad as this experience was, they only continued to get worse, resulting in multiple trips to the ER and having to be sedated because my blood pressure and heart rate reached extremely dangerous territory (220/190 BP and 157 Heart Rate)! I experienced many more of those episodes before finally being diagnosed with a Generalized Anxiety Disorder and put on medication to control the depression and the panic attacks.
Prior to my experience, I had never known anyone who had suffered through anything such as this. I felt completely and utterly alone, with no one to talk to and tell my troubles to that would understand exactly how I felt. And I certainly didn’t want to burden anyone with my problems, so other than my husband, no body really knows the pain I suffered or how bad my episodes of anxiety truly were because he was the one by my side each and every time. He is the one who held me in his arms and comforted me while I cried and trembled. He is the one who drove me multiple times to the ER while I was in the throes of a devastating panic attack.
Attempting to cope with a debilitating anxiety disorder is not an easy task. Sudden outbursts of crying will leave you completely and totally incapacitated, to the point that you don’t want to be around anyone, you don’t want to eat, you don’t want to go anywhere or do anything. In my case, I became withdrawn, a shell of the woman that I was prior to the onset of my illness. I found solace by bundling myself up in a quilt that my sister, Linda, made for me, curling up in my recliner and watching television. Even if I couldn’t completely focus on what was on, it was something to keep my mind occupied so that I didn’t dwell on what was going on with me. I missed a lot of work because of panic attacks and mine got so bad that I couldn’t even walk into a store by myself for fear of “what could” happen while I was in there alone.
Anxiety can, and will, destroy you, if you let it. It robs you of your joy, your happiness, your well-being and who you are as a total person. Personally speaking, I experienced bouts of feelings of worthlessness, shame, embarrassment, self-pity, suicidal thoughts and even disgust. I hated the person that I became and could barely stand to even look at myself in the mirror.
People who suffer from this soul-robbing illness have a tendency to associate certain places, events and even people with the onset of a panic attack and will do everything within their power to avoid them at all costs.
After nearly two years of suffering and finally being prescribed the proper medications, I began to heal, to get better, and eventually, to put it all behind me. It is a time in my life that I don’t like to think about although I will never forget it. I don’t need to be reminded about the hell I went through to get where I am today.
There is absolutely nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed about in admitting you are now or have ever been a sufferer of anxiety/panic. Like I said, even the strongest of people have a breaking point – but you don’t have to remain broken. There is hope. There is help. Trust me, I know that for a fact.
Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI’s) work wonders and definitely do the job that they’re made to do. However, I did have to take Xanax temporarily to stave off the panic attacks until the Zoloft could get into my system and begin the healing process. Within 1-2 weeks of taking medication, I felt like a different person and finally felt like the old Glenda was making a comeback.
When a person is suffering from an illness such as an anxiety disorder, don’t EVER tell them to “snap out of it!” Don’t you think for one second that if there was an on/off switch it would have never been allowed to be activated in the first place? If I could have simply snapped out of it, I most certainly wouldn’t have suffered as long as I did because it was undoubtedly one of the darkest, saddest, most horrible things I’ve ever experienced in my life. With that said, I will further say this…I would rather die than to ever have to go through it again.
I’m most definitely not a doctor, but I can offer some good advice to sufferers and/or caretakers of sufferers. Some do’s and don’ts, if you will.
- DO listen, hear what they have to say even if you don’t have an answer. Sometimes, all a sufferer needs to know is that someone is listening and that they care.
- DO be patient. A sufferer of an anxiety disorder is not going to get overnight or instantaneous relief. Instead, do what you can to help them through their hardest times. Dopamine is a wonderful thing and is produced by skin-to-skin contact – massaging their head, holding their hand, rubbing their back. It’s also very comforting.
- DO try to help them find something to keep their minds and hands busy. It is next to impossible to think beyond the illness but keeping them busy can help to distract them. I recommend puzzle and coloring books, jigsaws, reading to them, etc. The sound of a caring voice is also very comforting.
- DON’T try to force them to do anything they’re not comfortable with, such as going to a particular place or participating in events they’re not ready for. Be patient while they’re healing.
- DO offer moral support. There are times when a sufferer doesn’t feel like engaging in conversation yet knowing that someone is there with them and that they’re not alone is a wonderful feeling.
- DON’T be mean to them. If you can’t treat them with kindness and understanding, the best solution is to STAY AWAY FROM THEM. They’re already suffering enough and don’t need added pressure.
Anxiety disorders can be triggered by any number of contributing factors with the most common being stress or a traumatic event. Don’t waste time trying to figure out how or when it all began. Instead, focus on the available treatment and work towards getting better. In the end, that’s all that really matters.
It is common for anxiety disorder sufferers to think irrational thoughts or see themselves as broken, crazy, or just plain dysfunctional. They will feel, say and act in ways that are not normal and totally out of character for them. These are all traits associated with an anxiety disorder. The bad news is that although temporary, they are horrible to experience and a person can fall so deeply into that black abyss that they feel they’ll never get out of it. That’s what depression and anxiety do – they take a strong, whole person and shatter them into a million tiny pieces. But the good news is that all of these things ARE only temporary. Every bad thought, every bad feeling, the sadness and depression will all begin to dissipate with the proper medication and will eventually disappear altogether. With that healing comes a proper sleeping pattern, a normal appetite, and hopefully, a strong sex drive. The road to recovery is long and bumpy, the ride unpleasant, but what glory it is to finally arrive at the destination of normalcy once more.
Do you have a story you’d like to share, perhaps your own experience or that of a loved one? Something that could perhaps help another sufferer learn to cope and get through their dark time? If so, share your story and how you deal with it, such as coping mechanisms, relaxation techniques, etc. I would love to hear from you.
To all you sufferers out there, please know that you are NOT alone and that there are others like you who suffer and who care. Anxiety is a debilitating condition and left untreated, can result in suicidal thoughts and even suicide. If you’re a sufferer, you don’t have to face it alone. Surround yourself with people who know and understand about your condition, people who are or have been sufferers. There will be many who will offer advice but NO ONE can understand what you’re suffering through unless or until they experience it for themselves.
National Suicide Prevention Center – 1-800-273-8255
Until next time…take care and God Bless!!