Anxiety, I thought you were leaving!
An Unwelcome Visitor
When I was six years old I had to have my tonsils removed and went in for routine blood work prior to my surgery. I never had my blood drawn before and didn’t feel any fear until I saw the needle. I remember crying and then I remember telling my mom I feel sick. The next thing I remembered was waking up on a bed while as the gal in the lab offered me a cup of orange juice. I guess I became so panicked I passed out. How can a young child feel so much fear at such a young age and pass out? I don’t remember her inserting the needle or seeing blood. I had a fear of blood from that day forward.
I was a happy, outgoing child with a lot of fears. I even had a fear at a very young age of plugging a cord into an electric outlet, I thought I would get electrocuted. My dad always had a way of working with me to overcome my fears, he was very patient and had a sense of calm that I could feel. I trusted my dad. He calmly showed me how to plug the cord into the outlet after many protests from me, my mom was trying to convince me first but the more I cried, it would frustrate her. I picked up on her frustration, she wasn’t angry, she just didn’t know how to deal with my emotions. I was only 4 or 5 years old when they showed me how to properly plug a cord into the wall, how or better yet why… did I even know fear at that age?
We used to go camping a lot when I was younger and one morning dad decided to take us all for a swim, I was the only child who wasn’t able to jump into the deeper water off the wooden raft. I remember dad trying to coax me as I stood there crying and telling him I was afraid I would drown. He was in the water and reassured me that he would never let me drown, he’d catch me! Dad offered me a nickel (yes, that seemed like a lot of money back then) to jump in. I finally gained the courage and jumped. Dad caught me and let me go under the water while I was in his arms and then I came back up. I was so proud of myself and the fear left me.
I was eight years old when I dived into the water. Two years later my father died from cancer. I had no idea dad had cancer. He was ill for almost two year before he died. He functioned well until the last four months of his life and then he became bedridden. I remember bringing dad his birthday present into his room and watching him open it with excitement. After dad opened his gift, a saw that I bought him, he said, “I can’t wait to use this with you in the garage.” I barked back, “Yea, if you ever get out of bed again!” In my mind as child, I thought he was being lazy and had a cold for a very long time. I’m sure I missed our time together. I loved being out in his workroom in the garage with him. I talked a lot and dad would listen, laugh, joke with me and again, he was so patient. My mom was so busy raising five children so her patience differed. Dad never got out of bed again and died less than a month after his 40th birthday, I was ten years old.
After dads funeral, we rarely spoke of him again. As a matter of fact I don’t think we brought up my dads name much at all until I was in my twenties.
I continued to be a nervous kid and teen. I obsessed over everything, or so it felt. I worried about girls getting mad at me, I worried about my grades, I worried about my mom being pissed at me, I obsessed over boys! I wanted to be liked and didn’t want anyone to get mad at me. I had two fears, losing friends and as I grew older, I feared death.
I began to worry about death and dying when I was 19 years old. I was working in a hospital then as a Respiratory Technician. As a Respiratory Technician we responded to any trauma that came into our Emergency Room. I saw a lot of people die at a very young age. I remember during one particular trauma while I was ventilating the patient, I became light headed and felt as though I was going to pass out. The Doctor who was present said, “You look as white as a ghost, are you okay?” I told him I was feeling sick and I needed to excuse myself. I ran to the bathroom and kept putting cold water on my face as I stood there bawling my eyes out, I was embarrassed and frustrated with myself. I remember thinking, what the hell is happening, why am I such a wimp?!!
I experienced ‘incidents’ like this off and on until my early thirties. I just assumed for years that this was a norm for me, I was just a weak, wimpy person who needed to toughen up and believe me, I tried. I had my first full blown panic attack in my early thirties and I thought for sure I was dying. My heart began to race, I broke out in a sweat and I became so light headed that I went upstairs to lie down. The panic attack seemed to come on out of no-where, I was playing a video game and enjoying it. I didn’t realize at the time that it was a panic attack, that was until I had another one a few days later. The panic attacks became frequent and I became depressed because again, I obsessed that I probably had something seriously wrong with me. It took me a few months or so but I finally sought help. I went to my family Doctor first, he did blood tests and asked me a ton of questions after a good physical, he finally said I was having panic attacks. I had never heard of a panic attack before and thought it was my fault… I literally thought, “What a loser, you worry so much about everything, it’s no wonder.” Oh, the thoughts that go through your mind when you know you’re different but can’t understand why!
My friend talked me into going to a Psychiatrist (not my Doctor) and I have to admit it was extremely hard to make that appointment. This was back in the early 90’s when people with Mental Health issues were considered ‘crazy,’ and well… you just didn’t talk about it much to anyone. There was still such a stigma attached to Mental Health issues, the stigma was so extreme that the patient did blame themselves. Counseling wasn’t very popular in the 90’s and you didn’t share it with others if you were going to a Psychiatrist and/or Counselor, hush was the word! I was lucky for quite some time because the medication the Psychiatrist gave me kept my panic attacks at bay until my mid to late forties. I actually thought I had over come my panic attacks until they came back with a fervor in my late forties.
I began seeing a Psychiatrist on a semi-regular basis for my panic disorder and by this time I had full blown Generalized Anxiety Disorder (a topic for another blog). Again, it seemed there was a long period of time that different medication and a few lifestyle changes slowed my Anxiety down quite a bit and my panic disorder seemed to be on it’s way out the door, or so I thought.
I lost my mom to cancer over a year ago and within 3–4 months my Generalized Anxiety and Panic disorder decided to become a full time visitor. I thought it was just from grieving but I realized by Christmas of this past year that it was getting worse instead of better. I also fell into a clinical depression which is not uncommon if panic and anxiety plague your mind/body for more than a few months. As I wrote in one of my previous articles, if you have Anxiety for certain period of time it will lead to depression, the body gets tired from trying to fight the symptoms of Anxiety.
So what did I find out, I found out through therapy that my Anxiety has been with me since I was a young child. My Therapist believes it became much worse after I lost my father and there wasn’t full closure. I will know more as my therapy continues and we progress with EMDR.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is an integrative psychotherapy approach that has been extensively researched and proven effective for the treatment of trauma. EMDR is a set of standardized protocols that incorporates elements from many different treatment approaches.
My father’s death was just the catalyst and we have a lot of work to do. I have faith that with this new therapy I will be able to overcome a lot of my past and my mind will be able to process information in a healthier manner. The idea with EMDR is that another part of your brain will take on certain memories and process them differently, which helps to alleviate many symptoms associated with Anxiety Disorder and depression. I was also told that I’m suffering from PTSD and I always thought PTSD was related to one MAJOR trauma but they have found that many traumas throughout a person’s life can lead to PTSD as well.
The good news, the stigma has lessened a lot and no-one should fear seeking help. If you don’t seek help, the illness will continue to consume you and your life. I want my life back and this visitor is no longer welcome!