Most of us have felt it at one point or another; anxiety. It’s often described as nervousness, sweaty palms or a sense of dread. It’s not frequent; before a big presentation at work, before a gathering of people you don’t know that well and it usually subsides before you can ever really think about it. For most, that is the extent of our relationship with anxiety.
For others – for me – it’s different. Much, much different.
To give a little back story, I’ve always been one of those nervous people. One who worries about things that are completely out of my control. Once, when I was in high school, our area in Central Florida was under a Hurricane Warning. I packed up my entire room “just in case”. I’ve always been that kind of nervous.
In October 2018, my dad went to the hospital with chest pains. He had a history of cardiac issues. They kept him overnight for observation and released him finding there to be no new issues with his health. Around this same time, I remember vividly sitting in my office at work and having a pain in my chest. I told my friend Jeanne about and she looked at me as if I had two heads and said, “That’s not your heart.”
In November 2018, my dad had a heart attack that required he have double bypass surgery. I’ve never in my life been more terrified. My family and I banded together, we found strength in each other and my dad made it through surgery and has recovered amazingly.
On New Years Day 2019, my friend Jeanne passed away from a heart attack.
This is where my life changed.
I don’t know what exactly did it. I don’t know if it was a little bit of everything the prior three months had involved or if it was her death solely that rocked me to my core.
I am broken now.
When shock wore off anxiety moved in. Full force, without notice and without permission. Nonstop, debilitating anxiety. Every. Single. Day anxiety maneuvers my life.
Somedays I’m really, really good at hiding it. I put on nice clothes, wear fancy earrings, put on mascara and smile, all while barely keeping anything together on the inside. Other days I give in completely and it takes all I have to just get out of bed and get to work.
Some days I break in private. At home, with my husband helplessly watching me pace the kitchen for two hours clenching my chest and trying to convince him I’m dying while he tries to convince me to breath.
Some days I break in public. At work, running out of the office and to my car where I cry hysterically and hyperventilate to the point I nearly pass out in my back seat.
If I hear of other people’s symptoms or problems, I suddenly feel like I have those too. Listening to Covid reports and symptoms has been difficult.
I’ve been to the emergency room and doctor after doctor, even a cardiologist, for what all is determined to be anxiety.
I’ve been told my heart is healthy, I have minimal heart palpitations (most people have these, but do not feel them). My overall health is good; I need to lose weight and eat better, but for the most part all is fine. I’m fine – physical health wise.
My mental health is the problem. My anxiety has convinced me that I’m in danger of dying every day. Every ache, pain, pinch, tingle sends me into panic, and I spiral. People tell me not to think about it, but that is impossible, and they don’t understand why. The anxiety rules everything.
I’ve tried several anti-anxiety meds that ended up having the opposite desired effect on me, making the anxiety kick into high gear.
I go days, weeks, months at a time doing nothing but dwell on my anxiety and what this pain, tingle or pinch can mean. Recently, I spent four days believing a tingling in my ear and face was a stroke. I cried, I panicked, I took medication and finally went to my cardiologist. He told me I had zero chance of having a stroke. My primary care doctor said the tingling was my anxiety. I realized finally, after almost two weeks, that the tingling mostly happens when I’ve got my jaw and teeth clenched.
I believe the trauma of losing Jeanne so suddenly triggered something in me. I had said, shortly before she passed, that Jeanne was a mountain, nothing could touch her, she could withstand anything. She’d overcome some many different types of obstacles unscathed and with grace, it was astonishing.
Because of what happened to my dad the previous few months, on New Years Eve, as the clock struck midnight and we welcomed 2019, I kissed my husband and said “2019 has to be better, right?” It wasn’t. I woke up New Year’s Day to this horrible, life altering news and It was the opposite of better. Now when I hear someone say anything like that, I cringe. I now say to myself “it can always be worse”.
I’ve been on this journey for over two years now. I’d like to get off this particular roller coaster ride, but it may just be a part of me from now on. I’ve started a different anti-anxiety medication and it seems to be helping so far. I’m able to feel a pain, a tingle, a clench and not immediately panic. I’m able to get up and get ready for my day and focus on many of the other parts of my life instead of waiting for the next symptom. I’m part of a Facebook support group for cardiac issues / anxiety and it’s been so helpful.
Anxiety seems to still be so taboo, and I don’t think that’s fair. I know those around me try to understand and listen, but most of them have never felt this type of anxiety – or any anxiety. My anxiety is health correlated – specifically, cardiac anxiety. I also like to worry about strokes and blood clots, but I focus on my heart the most.
Be patient with those you love with any form of anxiety. Listen to them, research their type of anxiety to better help them along their journey. Most of all, love them and talk to them. If we all do our part, anxiety will no longer be a dirty word and those of us in it’s grasp can began to heal a bit better.