How Anxiety Changed my Life

Christine2Merriam-Webster dictionary defines anxiety as:

1a :  painful or apprehensive uneasiness of mind usually over an impending or anticipated ill

b :  fearful concern or interest

c :  a cause of anxiety

2:  an abnormal and overwhelming sense of apprehension and fear often marked by physiological signs (as sweating, tension, and increased pulse), by doubt concerning the reality and nature of the threat, and by self-doubt about one’s capacity to cope with it.

http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/anxiety

Anxiety changed my life nearly 8 years ago. It was 2007 and I weighed in at a light 235 pounds. I was working full time for the Christmas Tree Shops and attending Salem State College full time. I was also planning my wedding. I knew that by the end of the year my life would be turned upside down.

My day to day routine was busy. Each day started at 6 a.m. when I left my future husband’s apartment in Salem, Massachusetts for work. I would travel the 30-35 minutes to Nashua, New Hampshire where I worked my 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. shift. I’d then repeat the trip in reverse, driving back to Salem via Route 3 to Route 128. Coming home was bad. I’d spend more than two and a half hours driving in bumper to bumper traffic while people cut me off, flipped me the bird, and yelled a few choice words (after all these years, writing about this experience stresses me out…).

On the other hand, there were brief moments of pure joy. The best part of the drive home was when I saw John driving in the opposite direction to school and we would honk our horns and wave at each other as we passed by. There were times when he wasn’t in school that I would have him meet me at the Burlington Mall to have supper because the traffic was so bad.

Eventually I’d get back to John’s apartment where I would start to work on my art homework. Many times I’d find myself working long into the night and have to leave at 2 or 3 a.m. to get something printed at Kinkos for the following day. Between work and school, I did not always have lots of time to spend with John or my family. Still, I was determined to get it all done. At that time in my life, when some one told me I couldn’t do something I felt fueled to prove them wrong.

Christine3At the end of April 2007, I was finishing up all my classes. Graduation was right around the corner. One of my last classes was Portfolio Class. I had one week to pull together all my art work in one place. Why only one week? I had spent so much of the semester perfecting one piece of art that I didn’t leave much time to get the rest of it together. Needless to say, I spent every free moment working on the computer to get it all done. This meant lots of coffee, no sleep, and a lack of nutrition my body needed. By the end of the week, when it was time to present my portfolio, I could barely keep my eyes open. It didn’t matter how much coffee I consumed. My body was ready to shut down. I’m sure I made a good impression on the professionals reviewing my work as I sat in front of them bobbing for apples…LOL!

I had to work the next day. I should have called out sick because I was exhausted. I forged ahead anyway. I stopped at the local Starbucks and asked for a Venti white chocolate mocha with an extra shot of expresso. It turned out to be a horrible mistake.

It took me all day to finish my coffee. When 3 p.m. came, I was ready to go but felt strange. My heart started to race. I didn’t think much about it at the time. I knew I had a huge coffee and I was tired. I got in my car to drive back to Salem.

As I sat there, my heart seemed to beat even quicker. Once I got to the connection of Route 3 to Route 128, my left arm started to get numb. I started to panic and thought, “Oh my God, I am having a heart attack!” I called John for support. I asked him to stay on the phone with me until I reached his apartment. He said, “You’re fine. You’re just over tired and had too much caffeine.” He stayed on the phone with me until I arrived.

I finally reached his apartment feeling just as bad as I did while on the road. John had made tacos for supper. I wasn’t hungry and I couldn’t think about eating. I laid on the sofa and tried to calm down. It seemed to keep escalating. Finally it was so bad I couldn’t breathe. I asked him to take me to the emergency room. I couldn’t breathe and I was crying because I was so afraid of dying. The fear was so overwhelming I’m surprised I didn’t pass out. Although, that was a good thing: John would not have been able to carry me…LOL!

The nurse in the emergency room looked at me and said, “You’re just having a panic attack. You’re fine.” She then told me to focus on a poster that was hanging on the wall. Honestly, I just wanted to smack her upside the head because here I am feeling like I was going to die and she is saying I’m fine and that it’s no big deal. I sure wasn’t fine!

They checked me out and hooked me up to a heart monitor and did an E.K.G. We were there for a few hours when they finally determined it was just what the nurse said: a panic attack. They sent me home with a few Atavan and gave me a prescription for more. They told me that when I felt anxious I should take one. The problem was that they made me feel like I could sleep for a year. It knocked me on my butt. We went home and I slept it off. The next day I felt better and thought, “I’m good. I can continue the way I have been going.”

WRONG! Little did I know this was going to be an ongoing thing.

Needless to say I had more episodes. I can remember one of those times so clearly. Back then I was into horror movies and head banging music. On Saturday nights, John and I would rent movies and my parents would buy supper. This particular Saturday we rented Zodiac, a movie about a serial killer.

This is where my life shifted again.

As we watched this horrific movie, and I saw him take a women’s life by stabbing her 14 times, I started to feel like maybe I could do something like this.

Wait, What?! Me do something like that? No, no, no, no! I started to panic and I had to leave the room. I went into the kitchen and was in tears feeling completely horrified that I had these feelings and thoughts that I could do something so terrible.

From that day forward I would have battles with myself. I’d keep telling myself I am not that person and that I don’t want to hurt anyone. I would ask John if I was a good person and I was constantly trying to convince myself I would never hurt anyone. This just made my anxiety and panic attacks worse.

I stopped watching horror movies and listening to heavy metal music. I only wanted to surround myself with Disney movies and happy music. I wanted to override all of those terrifying thoughts and feelings. I thought that if I could fill my life with positive things then I could stop the attacks from happening.

I went to my doctor again and they prescribed another anxiety medicine. I don’t remember what it was called but I will never forget my experience with it.

I had taken one pill before going to bed. I got up the next morning, a Sunday, and drove to work. As I was driving in my car I felt like I was sitting behind myself watching me drive. That was messed up. I had to pull over to the side of the road 2 or 3 times to throw up.

I finally got to work and was not feeling any better. One of the store’s assistant managers came into the office I worked in and he reeked of cigarette smoke. Oh boy, I had to run to the bathroom and throw up again. I told him I would stay if he needed me but he sent me home. I drove to my parent’s house in Lowell and crashed on the sofa, crying my eyes out because I felt so horrible and afraid.

ChristineFrom that day forward I vowed never to take another anti-anxiety medicine again and I haven’t. Some of you out there may think that I am crazy or maybe that I was strong for not giving in but I don’t think I was either of these. I just made a choice: a choice that was good for me. I didn’t want to contaminate my body with unhealthy foods or synthetic medicine. I say you need to do what is best for you and your highest good.

I made more changes in my life like the way I fed my body. I stopped drinking caffeine and eating foods with caffeine in it, like chocolate. I stopped eating foods with artificial coloring, flavoring, and preservatives. I was back on the Dr. Feingold way of eating, http://www.feingold.org. I stopped drinking cans of Pepsi and eating the junk food in the vending machines. John and I even started the six week body makeover and really focused on being healthy. John started running and lost about 30 pounds and I lost about 20.

I thought that if I started feeding my body in a healthy way, there would be less chance for me to have a panic attack.

Once again, WRONG! Don’t get me wrong I was making good choices by changing my eating habits and getting healthy but it wasn’t the cure.

To be continued. 

Is this you or someone you know?

Have you been around a family member, friend, or co-worker who was in such a good mood that you couldn’t help but be in a good mood, too? Or the opposite: they were in a rip roaring bad mood and by the time you walked away you were feeling the same way?

This is how most of my life has been.

I always felt like I was different than the rest of my family. Instead of having that strong will and understanding of who I was and what I wanted, I was the opposite. I was led by my emotions and feelings and relied less on my reasoning – like they did. People who knew me and met my family for the first time would look at me with that tilted head, like an animal does when they are unsure, and say, “Where did you come from? You are nothing like your family.” It made me feel like Cinderella… LOL! All kidding aside, the point is that I chose to turn inward yet tried to fit in.

Ultimately people want to fit in, right?

Until 3 years ago, I didn’t have the tools or language to understand what I was feeling or sensing. I couldn’t explain to those around me the intensity of my emotions and how those emotions translated physically. Before 3 years ago, I didn’t understand that my abilities affected my daily life and affected those around me. What happened 3 years ago? You’ll have to continue reading my post to find out. What I can tell you is that up to that point, I didn’t know that I was an empath.

It’s not always easy to define the term empath but I did locate a great definition on the Internet that does just that:

“Being an empath is when you are affected by other people’s energies, and have an innate ability to intuitively feel and perceive others.  Your life is unconsciously influenced by others’ desires, wishes, thoughts, and moods. Being an empath is much more than being highly sensitive and it’s not just limited to emotions.  Empaths can perceive physical sensitivities and spiritual urges, as well as just knowing the motivations and intentions of other people.  You are always open, so to speak, to process other people’s feelings and energy, which means that you really feel, and in many cases take on the emotions of others. Many empaths experience things like chronic fatigue, environmental sensitivities, or unexplained aches and pains daily.  These are all things that are more likely to be contributed to outside influences and not so much yourself at all.  Essentially you are walking around in this world with all of the accumulated karma, emotions, and energy from others.”

30 traits of an Empath (How to know if you’re an Empath) http://themindunleashed.org/2013/10/30-traits-of-empath.html  By: Christel Broederlow

To make it clear I will refer to myself as a sensitive and not an empath because I feel people can relate to the word sensitive more so. In addition what my abilities encompass is more than just being an empath and sensitive seems to cover it all.

I personally believe society dictates that sensitivity is a weakness. Vulnerability is challenging and hard to process because it can be overwhelming. I have experienced those who became angry with me because of my sensitivity. They became frustrated and angry, turning their focus from themselves to me. They made me feel inferior or were dismissive. I now understand why some people reacted in this way. Think about it, how many people in your life do you feel safe enough to be vulnerable in front of? I’ll bet not too many.

Most of my life people told me that I was too sensitive, a “baby”, over emotional, a pain in the butt, hyperactive, annoying. Each and every one of those labels where presented in a negative way. I truly believe they did not know how to be around someone who was so openly vulnerable.

When I was over tired, backed into a corner, or felt threatened, my “sensitivity” would bubble up to the surface. I would get crazy mad and scream and yell. I felt like a Drama Queen! There were times I would cry uncontrollably and I’d hear “Big Baby” or “your being over emotional!” If I was excited about something, I would bounce off the walls. I’d then be labeled “Hyperactive” or “Pain in the butt!” Those around me found these very expressive outbursts annoying. I can only speculate they felt as if they were in the middle of a tornado. Oh boy, can you imagine?

In addition to the sensitivity, I was blessed with ADD/ADHD as a child and adult. What this means for me is that food containing artificial coloring, flavoring, preservatives, flavor enhancers – like Monosodium-glutamate – would amplify my mood. If I was in a good mood, I would be in a hyper good mood. If I was in a bad mood, I would be in a explosively bad mood. Anger would come out in a nasty way and you would not want to be in my path. Sadness? Forget it. I would be a weeping willow all day.

I am grateful my parents refrained from putting me on medication as a child. Instead, they chose to put me on Dr. Feingold’s diet program. When I was 5 or 6 and in school the teachers felt I was too disruptive in class. My mother found Dr. Feingold’s cook book and put me on his diet. While following the Feingold program I was calmer, more focused, and my temperament evened out. That was my way of eating until I turned 18. I decided I didn’t need the diet anymore. Who was I was kidding? I was too focused on what I was missing and not what was in my best interest. Needless to say, I follow Dr. Feingold’s suggestions today. You can find his information and findings at this link. http://www.feingold.org.

Do you know anyone that’s like me? If you do, you may want to show some compassion, patience and understanding. Some people are just more sensitive than others. I feel there is no need to resort to pills to deal with the symptoms of ADD/ADHD or being a sensitive. Instead, we should educate ourselves. After I learned that I was an empath, I was able to learn more about it. Learning allowed me to come to terms with what I was feeling and build a network of support. Food, another thing that affected my life, can be easily changed. When combining the two, those pain in the neck, hyperactive or Drama Queen children and young adults become more understandable.

Take the time and research. You’ll be surprised at what you learn.