For my entire life I’ve dealt with an extra dose of worry, fear, and social anxiety. It would flare up from time to time when I was a child and a teen but it wasn’t until I was 24 years old that it got to the point that it was interfering with my daily life. A Friday email from my boss saying she had something to talk to me about on Monday would send me into a weekend of panic, replaying every word of every conversation we’d had the week before. By Sunday night, I was convinced I was going to get fired and would never be able to find another job. I could go from zero to worst case scenario in a matter of minutes.
Social anxiety was also becoming a real problem. I would RSVP yes for a gathering but then back out at the last minute, crippled with worry over what I would wear, who I’d talk to, or if I’d say something stupid. I spent more and more time at home where I felt safe, with the TV on to drown out the exhausting stream of negative thoughts. I was also sleeping all the time to escape.
I convinced myself that if I ate better, exercised more, or prayed more, that everything would get better. None of that worked and I felt ashamed that I couldn’t fix myself. Then one day I finally confided in my husband that I had considered driving off the road on my way home because I felt so hopeless. He held me while I sobbed, and I finally reached out for help.
My first call was to my family practice doctor. She had picked up on my anxiety issues in prior appointments and mentioned the possibility of medication but I shot it down at the time. This time I went in ready for the meds and after 4 weeks on Zoloft I felt a little better. She doubled my dosage and at 8 weeks I felt amazing.
My second call was to a therapist that I’d briefly worked with the year before when I was struggling with what I now call “religious growing pains” (that’s a topic for another post!). I had built a rapport with this therapist, and she knew my background, so returning to work with her on my anxiety issues felt natural. I did several weeks of cognitive behavioral therapy, learning to replace my negative thoughts with positive and affirming messages.
Medication + therapy gave me the tools I needed to cope. They did not eliminate my anxiety, but when anxious feelings would crop up I was able to stop them in their tracks and calm myself down. The racing thoughts had stopped. I felt like myself again and enjoyed spending time with friends and could sit down and talk to my boss without having a panic attack beforehand.
My diagnosis and treatment all happened back in 2008. Since then I finished grad school, became a social worker, struggled with infertility, got pregnant, went on bed rest, delivered early, had a difficult breastfeeding experience, struggled with a lot more infertility (seriously, just stop with the infertility, OK body?), and dealt with the ups and downs of marriage, parenthood and life. Through it all I’ve stayed on medication, and the feelings of hopelessness have not returned. My husband has been my greatest supporter. He knows I struggle to remember to take daily medication so every night he brings me my Zoloft, prenatal vitamin, and vitamin D supplement.
I’ve connected with so many other people that have dealt with one of the many types of anxiety and realized that I am not alone and that there is nothing to be ashamed of. I denied the severity of my problems for many years, and stubbornly refused to take medication because I was sure that if I just tried harder I could get things under control on my own.
I don’t know if I will always struggle with anxiety. I suspect I might, and I’m embracing it as part of who I am. I am a wife, a mother, a social worker, and I have an anxiety disorder. Accepting this part of myself has been empowering. I hope writing about this will encourage others to ask for help and find relief, you don’t have to struggle in silence.