Living With Anxiety
"I'm not anxious. I just can't breathe..."
You know those moments when you're first falling asleep and you have that quick dream of falling that startles you awake? At one point in my life, instead of waking up with that startled feeling, I would wake up unable to breathe. It happened repeatedly. I would sit straight up in bed, gasping for air. This happened night after night after night. I became quite positive that there was a serious problem with either my lungs or my brain... and I was probably dying.
I went to the doctor and shared my symptoms with him. He asked some questions and examined me.
"Have you ever had panic attacks before?"
I love my doctor, but I was fairly certain he was losing his mind. I knew what panic attacks were and I was fairly certain he was barking up the wrong tree. I looked him straight in the eye and said, "I'm not anxious. I just can't breathe."
He smiled a very gentle smile and asked me to just humor him by taking an anxiety medication before bedtime over the next week. I agreed... and the 'I can't breathe' episodes stopped soon after I started taking the medication.
But it wasn't just the night episodes that changed. I quickly realized that I had been dealing with anxiety my entire life.
What I thought was normal behavior... It was all anxiety.
*That need to be on time to every event isn't a bad thing. The heart pounding worry of everything that will go incredibly wrong if I'm 30 seconds late... That's anxiety.
*The introverted part of my personality is who I am. The terror of talking to other people because I might say the wrong thing... That's anxiety.
*My fear of deep water is understandable. The shaking and dizziness I feel while driving across a bridge (because the bridge might fall apart and my car will end up in the water)... That's anxiety.
*The desire to get things accomplished at work is considered the sign of a good employee. Staying awake at night and obsessing about one piece of paper on my desk that was not a priority... That's anxiety.
Anxiety is not a choice. Anxiety is not a lack of faith. Anxiety is not 'just worrying.'
That 'always on edge' feeling is real. And it can be debilitating.
If you're experiencing the symptoms of an anxiety disorder, please contact a medical or mental health provider. It doesn't mean you're crazy or a bad human being. It means your brain is filtering things differently and there's help.
Life doesn't have to feel like this.
If you know someone with an anxiety disorder, please be patient with them. They're not trying to be difficult. (I promise. They're probably actually anxious about the idea that they may appear to be difficult.)
Annie Willems is a Birth Doula and the co-owner of Pacific Northwest Doulas