Living a Sunshine Life doesn’t always mean happy and optimistic for me. Sometimes it means recognizing our challenges and finding the best way to work through them in the moment to help discover the positive in everyday. Because my goal is to share different aspects of my own positive living, I wanted to share one of my challenges with you. Anxiety.
I’ve had social anxiety my entire life. I didn’t know it was anxiety when I was a kid and neither did my family, but that’s what it was. Authority figures terrified me and the thought of potential punishment was daunting. This resulted in me being a model student and I did my best to always follow the rules. I was scared to try new things yet I was always worried I would be left out of fun things. It’s that feeling of wanting to do something, but being terrified to do it wrong, miss something, or be laughed at. Even something as simple as getting in the lunch line caused a slight panic for me in school.
Now that I’m older I can usually recognize when anxiety will strike and what the effects will be. I can somewhat manage it by knowing my limits and utilizing different coping mechanisms. I recognize new things still cause me some fear and the idea that I’m not making someone happy is enough to turn any day into a downward spiral.
Being in social situations is exhausting for me. I’m aware of everything that is going on at all times. The music, the conversations around me, who’s cooking something, who’s dancing, who’s playing a game. I’m aware of the people the pets and the decor. The sights, the sounds, the tastes, the smells, even the feel of different textures will grab my attention. All of this at the same time. Information overload, bombarding me from all directions. There is so much to take in it becomes overwhelming and I have to take a break. This is why I don’t last long at social functions or I’ll end up needing a week of nothing to help me decompress.
Unfortunately, knowing my limits isn’t enough to manage my anxiety anymore. My anxiety has now evolved into random panic attacks. I’ve progressed to something more debilitating than having aversions from going out with friends, distress when driving in a new city, and the extreme emotions of going somewhere new or different alone. I could manage all of those before. It was uncomfortable, but manageable. I could handle the butterflies in my stomach, the racing heart, the fear of the unknown, and the worry that everyone in the room was aware of me and didn’t like what they were seeing.
Panic attacks changed the game entirely. I haven’t had many of them, but what I have had I never want to have again. Out of nowhere, something small that I’m not even aware of can trigger my fight or flight response. To this day I can’t figure out what the trigger is on the few attacks I’ve had, but I hope to understand it someday. All I know is my heart will suddenly race and instantly I am experiencing all of my senses detecting every single thing going on around me. It’s almost like my brain can’t prioritize the world around me and everything suddenly becomes a potential threat.
Being disoriented underwater isn’t a feeling I’ve experienced, nor one I ever want to experience, but I can imagine the fear during a panic attack somewhat resembles that feeling. Not knowing which way was up, not knowing where to go or what’s around you, all while feeling like your chest is going to burst from an inability to breathe and your heart sprinting when it should be walking. Frightening. Life goes on like normal for everyone around me, but I’m trapped by my anxiety. For other people everything is fine. For me the world turned into the most terrifying place I can imagine even though there is a sensible voice in my head saying there is nothing to fear. My anxiety trumps that voice.
Not only do I have debilitating panic attacks now, but my anger has been increasing. I’ve learned over the years that this can happen with people who suffer from anxiety. I don’t know if it’s because of a hormonal imbalance, a neurotransmitter imbalance, the last straw of being overwhelmed or what. But it happens. When anxiety consumes me, I’m angry and snap at people, maybe be shorter with strangers than I intend to be during the aftermath. This is not the personality I want to have. I want to be a person who is kind and understanding, not someone you have to tiptoe around for fear of an emotional explosion. Anxiety was changing me in a way I didn’t like.
My normal has always consisted of anxiety. I never knew life without it. Fixing it never seemed like something I needed to do. Recently, though, I went to the doctor to talk about my anxiety. It was a huge step for me. I’m finally on medication for anxiety. After a few weeks of adjustment I’m starting to get back to myself, only a much less anxious self, a less emotional, more understanding self. Anxiety is still noticeable but no where near as bad as it was. I seem more even-tempered, like I used to be. I asked my family if they’ve noticed a change now that I’ve adjusted. They have all said they are happy with the way I am on my medicine.
I think life is better for all of us, and that can’t be a bad thing. Right?
I’m much happier now that I’m taking steps to take care of myself and get anxiety under control. You’ll be seeing more about anxiety here on the blog. I’ll post updates, as well as any challenges I run into, past present and future. I’ll also be writing a bit about my daughter and her journey with anxiety. She’s given me permission to share some of her thoughts on it, and honestly, she’s excited to share.
Do you have any obstacles you’ve had to navigate on your path to a positive focused life? I’d love to hear about your challenges and successes. Please share in the comments below.