Trigger Warning: Anxiety attacks, drug abuse, surgical and birth trauma
Read Disclaimer HERE
Huffing and Hell
At 15 I started huffing rubber cement...which I stole from the school library, by the way. I had a little routine of coming home to an empty house after school, turning on the forbidden MTV (because it was evil and the devil would get me if I listened to it) and huffing while I watched music videos on the sofa.
That all ended when I took in just a little too much, passed out cold, and was immediately transported into a world that I thought was hell. I can’t prove that it was an out of body experience, but it felt that way. It was a terrifying thing that I will never forget. I was then thrown into daily panic attacks and flashbacks for a very long time because of it. I have since changed my views on what exactly happened when I passed out, but it was enough to scare me into godly submission at that point in my life.
Instead of therapy, I was exorcised of demons by my family that night. There was anointing holy oil, scripture reading, and yelling at the evil spirits to come out of me. I also had to renounce satan and re-commit my life to Jesus. Not like I was refusing. I was terrified.
After that my anxiety symptoms got to a point that they were affecting my life. I was shaky a lot, my heart raced and I was losing weight...mainly because I was nauseated nearly all the time but especially in the morning, which made it hard to eat anything at all.
I remember my mom bringing me to the doctor and I checked out all fine. Physically that is. And the doctor suggested I see a licensed mental health professional. That got tossed right out the door - as devout Christians, we didn’t believe in psychiatry because it was a demonic intervention and could open the door to more demons in our lives.
So, I was instructed to read my Bible more, pray harder and repent because the devil was attacking me. The fear-mongering religious beliefs and bullying from grade school never came in to question. It was simply, the DEVIL. Period.
Cops and the ER
It was around that time when our family was traveling north to my grandparent's cabin probably for Christmas or something, when about an hour from their place I had a massive panic attack in our little minivan in the back seat.
The attack was so bad that I was feeling numb and tingly. Even my speech was off and my tongue wouldn’t work, it felt thick in my mouth...my hands started tensing up and curling in towards my body which made me panic more. My dad ended up pulling over at a gas station and a cop was there who directed us to the nearest hospital.
Of course, in the emergency room, they found nothing abnormal about my physical body, gave me a prescription for Xanax, told me to see a therapist, and sent me on my way.
The Xanax didn’t do shit and I didn’t get further help.
Love and Birth Trauma
Eventually, the anxiety attacks settled down a little. Though I still had them, they weren’t incapacitating and didn’t affect my daily life very much, other than the low energy which was constant.
They didn’t pick up with vigor again until I started dating my husband. I hadn’t dated anyone for almost 10 years. I had intended on being Jesus’ bride only and never being married. It was a shocker to my system and I think that’s why it triggered anxiety.
And I was finally opening my heart to love from someone other than my family which was extremely foreign to me. The vulnerability made me feel scared and uncertain.
Anxiety was sporadic enough though, that I didn’t seek any help outside my faith until after my son was born.
Pregnancy was awesome! Yeah, I had morning sickness a bit and I got puffy and was tired, but I still loved it. I loved the way my body looked. I loved the way I felt emotionally and the sensation of this little human inside me.
Labor and delivery was not great.
We had planned a home birth, but after 40 + hours of labor, we went to the hospital for help. Everything was fine, but he just wasn’t coming down no matter how I tried. I pushed for 4 hours and he hardly budged. The doctors encouraged me to have a c-section.
It wasn’t an emergency and nothing odd was going on until after they’d pulled my baby out of me. He wasn’t breathing and I was hemorrhaging. And the spinal block was wearing off so I could feel everything they were doing. The tugging and pulling, the pain and movement. All of it. I had several blood transfusions after I was patched up.
And then my son was transferred to NICU at a hospital 90 miles away for a few days because of an infection. The whole thing was just a clusterfuck.
The weight of all that didn’t come crashing down until about 3 months postpartum. I think I was so focused on recovering - which took FOREVER - and handling a newborn alone at home, that things just didn’t set in until I started feeling more mobile.
But then, because of still being in pain, flashes of the trauma and aftermath, and being exhausted from waking every 30 to 90 minutes to feed my baby suddenly started to take its toll.
At first, it was just heart palpitations and breathlessness, then dizziness and nausea. One night I passed out in the bathroom and finally went to the ER. Everything checked out alright, as usual, but they kept me overnight, and then I wore a Holter monitor for 3 days after that.
My heart was fine. Everything was fine. I was healthy. At least physically. The doctor suggested I see a therapist about postpartum depression and anxiety. I didn't.
It All Becomes Clear
Honestly, I have no idea what I was thinking. I guess I just wasn’t thinking. Maybe I thought it would just go away. I do remember not being fully aware that it was really even anxiety at all.
Even though the doctors kept telling me nothing was wrong with my body, I just couldn’t believe it. The feelings I was having felt so physical. Like something was terribly wrong with me and I was going to die. I kept thinking that if I just research more about symptoms, I’d figure it out. Or maybe if I see another doctor or do another test they would see something that hadn’t been seen before.
About a year later, we quit church and I went through a major deconstruction of my faith, which triggered some anxiety, but it wasn’t until the following year, 2012, that I finally broke down mentally to a point that just the necessities of life we unbearable.
It was so very bad.
Everyone morning I would wake up in a full-blown panic attack. Right out of sleep. Not minutes later or hours. The instant I started to pass through into wake state, I was thrown into a massive attack. Nausea almost to the point of vomiting. Diarrhea. Absolute terror of something. Nothing. Anything. I had no idea what. I was just scared all the time. For no apparent reason.
I was completely exhausted all the time. Nothing helped. It was impossible to sleep through the night. I was crying multiple times every day most of the time I didn't know why. My physical body felt like it was falling apart. It felt like death. Many, many times I wished for death...but I couldn't do that to my family.
I was desperate to figure out what it was, but I continued to look at what I was eating, what I was doing, anything from the outside that was causing the attacks or causing me to be ill. Nothing I did changed the way I was feeling.
One day while scouring the internet for help, I came across an anxiety test HERE https://www.anxietycentre.com/anxiety-tests/anxiety-disorder-test.shtml
(No, they aren't paying me.)
I took the test.
When I was done and the results came back VERY HIGH I cried. And then when I looked through a list of symptoms I found HERE https://www.anxietycentre.com/anxiety-symptoms.shtml#anxiety-symptoms-list and I cried more.
Something just clicked.
I welled up inside with the most intense feeling of relief that I had ever felt up until that point. It was actually sinking in. Finally, I just KNEW that this was it. Anxiety was what was wrong with me.
From Denial to Determination
After that I made an appointment and had my mom drive me because I still wasn’t driving. I was so off balance that I was afraid I would get into an accident.
I even had a panic attack in the clinic while the doctor was talking to me and she was clearly able to see one in action, which was a good thing. And it just happened that she also had struggled with anxiety and knew exactly what was going on. She was so kind and understanding and she made me feel so seen and heard.
She got me a prescription for a short-term anxiety medication and I scheduled an appointment with an actual licensed psychiatrist.
Just to be safe though, I went through a myriad of further testing including my hormones, basic nutrient levels, more heart tests and some other blood tests. Even and MRI. All came back normal.
I slept a little better and felt more at ease after just that initial appointment. Having someone validate my years of suffering felt so good.
Being diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and finally naming my suffering was both relieving and odd. Labeling it gave me some validation, made me feel like if there was a name for it and other people suffered from it then I wasn’t alone. If medical professionals recognized it and it was treatable then I would be okay.
But it was odd because even though labels and names can be helpful, sometimes they create stigmas. I had grown up in a culture where mental illnesses were classified as demonic attacks. And even outside the religious culture, many people roll their eyes at these things.
I don’t want anxiety to define me.
I am more than that label. But I also realize that this label has caused me to seek out help in places that I wouldn’t have looked had it not been for naming this type of suffering.
Where I Am At Now
I still have panic attacks, but they are less and less frequent over time. I still have rough patches, but they are generally getting farther apart and less intense. Just knowing what it is has been extremely helpful. It’s been an up and down journey, but looking back I can see my progress and it feels great!
I have tried so many things over the years. Some more helpful than others, lots of trial and error. Sometimes certain things work for a while, then don’t work as well and I go through the cycle of resources until I find what is helpful for me during a specific time.
Maybe that sounds like a lot of work.
It was in the beginning. But now that I know the things that do work for me, its as easy as looking in the fridge for something that sounds good to eat and pulling it out.
In upcoming posts, I will take you through my anxiety triggers, my symptoms, and helpful resources and tips that worked for me.