I can’t remember there ever being a time when I didn’t worry past middle school. For most of my life, I figured that it was just a part of my personality that I had to deal with. I lived with anxiety throughout most of my life, and didn’t really think twice about trying to get help for it.
It started getting pretty bad in college. I had this constant feeling that people were watching my every move and judging me. I remember that almost any sudden noise would make me jump, and I thought that people could see this. As a result, I would start blushing. I started to become afraid that I’d blush, and this would make me blush even more. This may sound silly, but it wasn’t. I dreaded talking to anybody, being surprised, and even walking past people for fear that I would blush.
Luckily, over time, the fear of blushing became less pronounced. I caught a look of myself in the mirror while I was blushing one time, and noticed that I didn’t look nearly as red as I felt, if that makes sense. I still blush, but it’s not debilitating anymore because I have less fear of it now.
However, blushing was just one of the many side affects that accompanied my anxiety. Although the blushing stopped for the most part after I got married, the side affects of anxiety came back in a different form.
I’m going to avoid going into too many details since I want to keep this post public, but when my husband and I got married, we faced a number of very serious financial and personal setbacks in our first few years of marriage.
I have always have the tendency to stay up at night worrying about little things and making them much bigger deals than they should’ve been, but this tendency to worry got worse and worse.
I started having stomach aches every day, and went to the doctor for them. We had some tests run, and everything came back as normal. I was diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) which I am 99.9~% sure was tied to my anxiety.
Along with this, I had begun feeling very irritable, which I tried at all costs to keep inside because I didn’t want to hurt anybody. I’m very surprised that I never had a panic attack or blew up, honestly.
Eventually, my state of mind got so bad that I went to my boss about it. I’d originally gone to let him know why I was missing so much work and taking so many sick days – due to stomach issues. I ended up talking to him about my anxiety as well, and he told me about a program that my company provides which allows you a certain number of free therapy sessions a year. I got the information and although I had always said that I would never go to a therapist, I started seeing one.
Throughout my therapy, I had a number of big break-through moments. The first happened at my very first therapy session.
I remember my first therapy session like it was yesterday. As soon as I got into her office I started crying. I didn’t really realize how serious my condition was until this point. This realization was my first big break-through.
My second and third big break-throughs came a little further into the sessions, but I’ll explain how I reached them.
To understand them, you will need to know a bit more about me as a person. Throughout my life, I have been intently focused on meeting people’s needs. There have been very few things that I can think of that I did just for myself. This is the way that I have been since childhood. As I got older, I started ignoring the faint cry of my own needs. This tendency became a habit, and it got to the point that I couldn’t even recognize my own needs anymore.
I’m naturally a people pleaser, so I know that there are healthy ways to get peoples needs met while also meeting your own. However, I had not been doing that. Some of my core deep-set expectations and values were getting trampled, and nobody knew about this accept for me. I didn’t realize it, but I wasn’t just suffering from anxiety. I was suffering from holding in a geyser of intense anger that had been building up for years. I didn’t realize that I was even angry up until I started going to therapy, so that was my second big break-through.
My third big break-through came immediately after. My therapist told me that if I do not address my own needs and state my own opinions, I could end up hurting the people I love in a very deep way, because all the anger that I held inside could not be held in forever. It would eventually come to the surface to bubble over, and if I continued to hold my feelings in, I would end up hurting people in ways that may damage our relationships permanently. My third big break-through was realizing that she was 100% right. Without a shadow of a doubt, I knew that I had to change. I would never forgive myself if I hurt the people I love.
As a result, we started working on my anger. I put in 110% because there was no other way. It took a while, but eventually I was able to let it all go.
Over time, this portion of my being was healed. I felt an intense sense of relief when I was free of my anger, but I found that my mind was still racing with worry as it had been in the past. It wasn’t as bad – My therapist had helped me find ways to cope with my anxiety through breathing, exercise, etc. This all helped, but not enough. My therapist determined that I have GAD based on past sessions. She suggested that I get on medication for it.
I had always known that there is medication out there for anxiety, but I was always so scared of it… I thought it would change who I am, or that I would become fiercely dependent on it, and I was scared of the side effects because we all no how long the side effects list is for medications that alter your brain chemistry. So, I asked if it’s something that more therapy would fix. She told me that my GAD is likely genetic and that although it may help a little, it would not be able to have the impact that medication would.
A few weeks later, I went to the doctor and got prescribed 10 mg of Lexapro.
I took it the first night. When I got into bed, my mind started racing in ways that I had never experience before. I felt like every single worry that I had ever had was cycling in my mind at a hundred miles an hour. It was the most intense feeling of anxiety that I had ever experienced. I remember thinking to myself as it was happening that if the pill is going to make me do this every night until it starts working like it should, I could end up committing suicide. I had never contemplated suicide before. It was that bad. The next morning, when I woke up to go to work, I couldn’t find my phone. I felt like I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown because of that. Because I couldn’t find my phone. But then I did, and I went to work, and I was okay… (I asked my therapist about this at my next session a few weeks later, and she said that she was surprised by this experience… My theory is that the reason it happened is because I had just gotten so scared of the effects of the drug that my mind started reacting to this fear… Not sure if it’s a word, but kind of like a reverse placebo effect.)
Anyway, that next night, I almost didn’t take the pill because of my previous experience. My husband convinced me to try it one more time. If it didn’t work, I could stop taking it and go back to the doctor.
We didn’t have to worry about that, though. The medication started working. My fourth big breakthrough was realizing that anxiety medication can be good for you. I’ve been taking Lexapro for about a year and a half now. Because of it, I’ve been able to overcome my fears. I became less worried about finances and we bought a house last December. Before therapy and Lexapro I never would’ve been able to make this kind of commitment. I also feel somewhat comfortable thinking about starting a family. As for my IBS, it went away too. No more stomach aches and butterflies in my stomach.
I didn’t end up increasing my dosage and still only take 10 mg. I still worry, but it’s not debilitating anymore… I think that the amount that I worry is about average – maybe slightly more than average, but it’s manageable now. I still need to work on it, but I have gotten a lot better at expressing my wants, needs, and opinions as well. Because getting my needs met is important for my relationships.
I still feel this overwhelming gratitude toward all the people who helped me through my journey. I’m thankful for my boss who let me know that the option for therapy was out there. I’m thankful for my therapist who helped me fight my own battles. I couldn’t have been matched up with a better therapist. I’m thankful for my husband for walking with me, being mature, and helping me on my journey. He makes me a better person.