*This post was updated in August 2019.
When I first began to struggle with anxiety and panic attacks, I thought life as I knew it was over.
Well, I was right.
What I didn’t realize was that my anxiety was going to entirely change my life…for the better.
Let me tell you how.
The beginning of my anxiety journey
For two weeks after my first panic attack I endured a relentless bout of anxiety. I felt terrible every second of the day.
I was nauseous and faint. Food made me sick. My thoughts raced uncontrollably and they were so overwhelming that it felt like they were being screamed at me.
Most often I thought about dying from unpreventable things, like from a blood clot or a brain aneurysm. I was forlorn at the idea of not being there to raise my babies.
Unable to function normally because my brain and nervous system were so out of control, I walked around in a fog.
I was suffering.
My anxiety slowly got better once I sought professional help
In my heightened state of anxiety, I couldn’t sleep. After staying up for over 24 hours without any physical or mental relief, I had my mom take me to the hospital.
It was a scary and extremely sad decision.
My husband stayed at home with our kids, who were completely unaware something was going on with their mommy.
I didn’t know if I’d come back home that day, but I was desperate for help. I knew I couldn’t go on with the way things were.
We went to a hospital with a well-known psychiatric unit. They enrolled me in a two-week, intensive outpatient program.
The program included group therapy and classes that provided education on the various mental health issues the group was dealing with, in addition to teaching healthy coping skills.
I’ll admit: I went into treatment thinking it was going to consistent of impersonal, kumbaya sessions.
By the time it was all over, I didn’t want to leave.
What I learned from the psychiatric treatment of my anxiety
I am the kind of person that wants to learn everything about everything. I love to research, expand my knowledge, and challenge what I know.
The IOP program provided me with plenty of reading.
I personally learned the most from The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook.
The book is very straight forward, almost clinical, in nature. It perfectly summarized the feelings I was having in relation to my anxiety and panic attacks, and it provided coping mechanisms and assurance which helped me greatly with my struggle.
One of the most important things I learned during treatment was that I was not alone in suffering from a mental illness.
I met people from all different walks of life while in the IOP program. Men, women, young, old, white-collar, blue-collar…mental illness touched people across many different spectrums.
That insight marked a turning point for me.
I discovered the reason for my anxiety
An obvious part of dealing with my anxiety was trying to find its source.
This wasn’t an easy task. In essence, what I really had to do was find the source of my fears.
Fortunately, I had a good support system. With the help of my therapist, my husband, my mom and support from my co-workers, I was able to focus on myself and unpack a lot of heavy weight that I’d been carrying around with me since childhood.
I could go into detail and explain all of the factors involved, but at the root of it my problem was a complete lack of self worth and therefore self confidence.
My self worth was so low that I didn’t feel like I had the right to have an opinion. I felt inferior to others. My mind read into every look, every word spoken to me, every gesture and tried to decipher whether it was approving.
I replayed every conversation in my head…from my interaction with a restaurant server to a brief encounter with someone at the gas station. Did I say something stupid? They probably think I’m an idiot.
Self doubt ruled my life. It chipped away at me year after year and it robbed me of personal growth. I floated along, trying to make people happy, without realizing the toll that my neglect of my own needs was taking on me.
Then I snapped. I literally couldn’t do it anymore.
Something inside of me came to a halt and wouldn’t let me move on until I spent some time focusing on myself.
How facing my anxiety made me a better person
During the two weeks I was in the IOP program, I came home after each treatment and did some heavy soul searching.
What did I want from life? What made me happy? Was I living up to the best version of myself?
I began taking steps to improve or change things I didn’t like…things that weighed me down.
First and foremost, I was upfront and honest with people about my struggle. I had to let go and trust that those I came in contact with cared about me and my well being. It was time to surrender my insecurities about being judged or rejected, and instead believe in the kindness and genuineness of others.
I saw the goodness that can be found inside of people
For example, I went to get my hair cut a short time after my break down. What began as an act of self care instead resulted in a panic attack upon walking into the salon.
My impulse was to leave, but I forced myself to stay. I had to learn how to deal with that feeling because I couldn’t let it stop me from living. It had already disrupted my life so much, and I knew that every time I gave in to it that I made my recovery that much harder.
When my technician seated me, the first thing I did was tell him that I’d been struggling lately and I was currently having a panic attack. Before my anxiety I would never have been so open and raw with an almost perfect stranger, but in that moment I had to be honest. I needed to be treated gently.
My stylist reacted wonderfully. He was understanding and supportive. He assured me that I was going to be okay and he graciously guided me through the hair cut, speaking in a soft tone and doing his best to make me comfortable.
By the time I left, my panic attack had subsided. I thanked my hairdresser for his kindness.
It might seem like an overstatement, but I began to trust people. Slowly I stopped worrying about being ridiculed or shunned and instead opened myself up to connecting with others. I put my most genuine self forward and believed that those around me would accept me, and in return I also began to accept that it was okay if they didn’t.
I began to live as my most true self and gosh…I’m so glad that I did.
My anxiety is a part of me
It’s been three years since my first panic attack and I’m happy to say I’m doing really well. In truth, my life is the best it’s ever been.
I still take my anxiety medication. Self care is a constant practice. Panic attacks will sometimes plague me at night.
Some days are harder than others, but over all I am living mindfully and making healthy choices in order to live my best life.
I am happy with who I am and I wouldn’t be this way at all if it weren’t for my anxiety.
Talk to Me
Tell me about your struggle with anxiety. How did it start? Where are you now? Leave a comment below!