How Anxiety Changed my Life: Part 2

Dad (aka Santa Clause) and I at Christmas.
Dad (aka Santa Claus) and I at Christmas.

My dad suffered from anxiety since his early 40s. He was not alone. His siblings, his father, and his grandfather suffered from anxiety, too. Their legacy was to continue with me.

When both my father and mother realized I was showing signs of anxiety, they shared with me the techniques Dad had learned from a cassette tape and video he acquired from his doctor. Dad taught me the breathing techniques that worked for him. He taught me how to use them to help control my sympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system triggers the fight or flight response in your body. I tried it and it helped… but many years later. At the time I was like the typical person that wanted instant results. The video, on the other hand, was supposed to help relax my mind and body. Instead, It was like tie-dye in motion and it made me feel more anxious. It was not a good solution for me.

I knew I needed to find solutions that worked for me. I didn’t want to rely on synthetic drugs and I wanted to take a holistic approach to relieve my symptoms of anxiety. I did some research on the internet on how to deal with it. One website suggested repetitive motion, like sweeping the floor. Other suggestions were meditation, yoga, or cardiovascular exercise. http://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/anxiety-schmanxiety/2014/02/cant-relax-because-of-anxiety-get-repetitive/

I took the simple approach and started with kids coloring books and crayons. The repetitive motion of coloring seemed to calm my nerves. Then again, once I graduated, left my job, and got married the anxiety was happening less. I thought, “Yeah! I’m cured!” Unfortunately, this was not the case.

After the wedding we lived with my parents. During this time the movers came and packed up John’s apartment in Salem and my things at my parent’s house in Lowell. Our stuff was on its way to West Virginia. In the meantime, we lived at my parent’s house yet spent a lot of our time traveling back and forth between Massachusetts and our new state. Eventually we found a place to live in: a quiet neighborhood in Martinsburg about 15 minutes away from John’s new job. It would be ours for the next three and half years.

New Year’s Eve of 2007 came quickly and my brother Albert and his beautiful wife Stacy had a party. I was excited to be closing the year with my family because we were leaving soon after. We spent the following day with my family. It was bittersweet. I was starting a new life with my new husband but I was going to live 500 miles away from everything I knew.

January 2, 2008, was a cool brisk day in New England. John and I loaded up our vehicles, said our final goodbyes, and drove 8 hours south to Martinsburg. We each had a walkie talkie so we could communicate while on the road. After a couple of stops and many hours later, we finally arrived. We took refuge in a hotel off the I-80 in Martinsburg courtesy of my parents.

The next morning we woke with great anticipation and excitement. We were off to sign papers for our first house and get the keys. That night we slept on a blow up mattress and ordered take out. The next day we were ready for our belongings to be delivered to our new home. What a mess…ugh!

The next few months were dedicated to cleaning, opening boxes, and finding a place for our stuff. It was a bigger challenge than I anticipated. This was my first move after all. I decided not to work right away because I wanted time to recover from my burn out.

After a couple of months I was getting bored staying home all the time. I wanted to poke my eyeballs out so I started the search. I was looking for a volunteer job that would support my recently acquired degree in graphic design. Let’s face it folks, there are not a lot of graphic design jobs in “Wild and Wonderful” West Virginia. I most certainly was done with retail.

I found a volunteer job with the American Red Cross. I met with the local chapter and they gave me a chance. When I met the other employees there was one person that I got a bad feeling about. I dismissed it because everyone seemed to like her. I put that aside and focused on my work. I helped design a billboard, did layout for an advertisement book, helped with Red Cross mailings and so much more. One day I was asked to do cold calls to try and raise funds. The thought of doing this made me nervous but I felt I had to do it. This trigged the start of a long run of anxiety and panic attacks.

It was terrible.

I couldn’t leave the house. I was a hermit. It was so bad I couldn’t go grocery shopping. I would have to tell myself I was going for John so I could fill the fridge with food.

Around this same time I was having physical issues. I would eat something that was fatty and couldn’t stand up straight after. The pain in my left side ran across my stomach to my right side. I had pain in my right shoulder. I slowly stopped eating foods that were high in fat. I started to loose weight. I finally went to the doctor and they determined I had a diseased gallbladder. Bottom line: it wasn’t working. The gallbladder stores bile. When you eat, bile is transferred to your stomach to break down the fats in the food. That was not happening for me.

On February 6, 2009, I had my gallbladder removed. After that my diet was limited. I could only eat plain chicken, turkey, rice, noodles and potatoes. That is all I ate. My acid reflux was a nightmare and my digestion was way wonky. Over the next year, I lost more than 70 pounds. The doctors could not figure out why I kept loosing weight.

Although the doctors could not determine why, I thought it was because 3 years earlier I had half my thyroid taken out. Although I only had half, I suspected I suffered from hyperthyroidism. This disease increases your metabolism, makes your heart race, and so much more. They wanted to put me on medication but I said no. Instead, I tried to handle it on my own. However, my anxiety got even worse. So much so I had to drive myself to the emergency room because my arms would go numb and I thought I was having a heart attack.

But I didn’t.

I became more sheltered in our home and was nervous about every little pain or twinge in my body. It was about a year and half since we moved to Martinsburg and my “condition” was wearing thin on my husband. He didn’t know what to do. I was an exposed nerve and there was nothing that comforted me. Unfortunately this provoked a fight between us. I won’t get into the details but lets say it wasn’t pleasant. The silver lining was that it was a turning point for me.

Me in massage school before graduation.
Me in massage school before graduation.

I cried myself to sleep every night for the next two weeks begging God to point me in the direction I needed to go in. One night, out of the blue, I had my “AH-HA” moment. I wanted to be a massage therapist. I could work with people and help them in an environment that wouldn’t be stressful.

I found a few schools in our area. There was one school that stood out to me. It was a 7 month program and the cost of tuition included everything. The only thing was that it was an hour away in Frederick, Maryland. We visited the school and signed me up. I was excited and nervous but ready to move forward with my life. I was excited to learn a new trade that I could use wherever I went.

About 2 months into the program, I allowed a fellow student to perform energy work on me. Energy work is defined as “the techniques originating from ancient traditions and recent discoveries that are used to manipulate the bioenergy of the patient with the goal of restoring harmony or removing blockages from within the body.” She was not trained and I shouldn’t have let her. I didn’t feel the effects right away. It wasn’t until after I got home from school that I started to feel the symptoms. I started having pain in the center of my stomach. My eyes felt like lead weights and it seemed like I was looking through a fish bowl. I couldn’t stop crying and shaking. She worked on me on a Friday and by Monday I was a mess. I had to call John at work and ask him to come and get me at school because I couldn’t drive home. John immediately brought me to my chiropractor and he balanced my energy and realigned my body. http://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/energy+work

I was not the same after I had that energy work done on me. There were certain students I couldn’t be around or bare to have touch me. Every day for two months straight I had anxiety and panic attacks – two to three times a day. It always seemed to happen when it was time to get on the table and get a massage. Someone would touch me and I would start to get nervous and want to run.

One day a new instructor came in. She knew our current instructor because she taught her the art of massage when she was in school. She saw me having trouble and had me lay on my back. She held my feet and took hold of my toes. One by one, she gently squeezed each one, moving from my little toes to my big. It was weird but I felt better. She told me she was performing zero balancing on me. The definition of Zero Balancing is: A powerful body-mind therapy that uses skilled touch to address the relationship between energy and structures of the body. Following a protocol that typically lasts 30 to 45 minutes, the practitioner uses finger pressure and gentle traction on areas of tension in the bones, joints and soft tissue to create fulcrums, or points of balance, around which the body can relax and reorganize. http://www.zerobalancing.com/about

A week or so later, I was having another anxiety attack. Out of nowhere, my new instructor said, “You know this is a gift?” I thought, “Are you nuts? I can do without the anxiety gift, thank-you very much!” As it turns out, she was right. I’ll get into that more later.

I still had no idea at this time I was an empath. My instructors suggested I try acupuncture. That also helped my anxiety. Later on, I also took a class called Energetic Core. It was all about different meditations and how to keep myself centered and balanced.

After a long 7 months in massage school, I finally became a certified massage therapist. Two months later I passed the National exam and got licensed in the state of West Virginia. I got my first job with a chiropractor and then a second as a sub contractor. For the next 7 months I worked as a massage therapist. Unfortunately I was still having anxiety and panic attacks.

In June of 2011, John received orders again. This time we moved to the middle of the Pacific Ocean to the island of Oahu in Hawai`i. Moving to the island was like moving to the center of an energetic tornado. But I’ll explain more about that next time.

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.