“The level of anxiety I’ve experienced throughout my life is far from normal, and it’s about time I came to terms with that.“
As far as I can remember I’ve always been a ‘worrier‘. There’ve been nights where I’ve laid awake worrying about everything. I’ve worried about the things I’ve said and done over the last ten years ago, and I’ve even fretted over the things far outside my control. In the last few years of my life, the small glimpses of that worry have grown into something much, much bigger. Not only does the anxiety plague me at night but it clings to me throughout the day, reminding me that there’s always something to worry about.
The real problems started in my final year of university.
The perfectionist in me was driven to excessive new heights; studying to get the best marks, working to make money, and functioning as a normal adult in between. Looking back, all I did during this period of my life was work and study. Sleep and ‘self-care‘ weren’t words I often used in my vocabulary and fun was a distant memory.
During this time in my life, I would suffer from frequent palpitations, accompanied by dizziness and a sense of panic. I’m not talking ‘Oh dear, I’ve forgotten my keys‘ panic. What I’m talking about is unprovoked, out of nowhere PANIC. Alarm bells ringing, chest tightening, unable to breathe PANIC!
Surely, that can’t be normal. Right?
Dinner Rush Dizziness.
It was a busy day in the restaurant where I worked. We were understaffed by a significant amount. This in itself was not uncommon as we never seemed to have enough staff to go around. But never before had we been running on a skeleton crew when a rush would hit.
I had two full sections, hadn’t eaten as my break as prosponed and had nothing but coffee in my system. The more people came in, the more the kitchen backed up and the closer my anxiety got to boiling point.
I was standing at table thirty-six about to take an order when everything around me started to spin. My heart was pounding painfully in my chest, I couldn’t catch my breath and I was unable to say anything other than ‘I’ll be back in a minute‘. I placed my orderman down on the table and stumbled into the bathrooms where I promptly sat on the floor. I was shaking and trying to breathe but nothing was happening. All I could see were spots creeping into the corner of my eyes, eventually clouding my vision entirely. Luckily I had amazing co-workers who set about taking my table and getting me sweet tea to help with my nerves.
Looking back it was an intense panic attack and one of my first outside the privacy of my own bedroom.
After driving home from work one night I unexpectedly found myself in the midst of panic. I arrived home, took a shower and suddenly felt like I was unable to leave the bathroom. My head was spinning, my chest was tight and I was shaking too much to allow my legs to move. Instead, I sat on the floor and cried for over an hour before composing myself enough to move to the couch.
Both occasions, along with the many more, were shaken off as just being a by-product of stress. Everyone gets it. It was fine. Right?
I’m guessing not quite.
Since then I’ve had to pull over onto the hard shoulder just to let the panic pass. I’ve even had to escape to the toilets at work to count to ten and let myself breathe. My heart ends up beating so fast that it feels like it might burst from my chest. I’ve even convinced myself that I can actually see my heart beating through my flesh if I stand still enough.
The panic has left me feeling physically ill. I’ve found myself shaking, I’ve felt so light-headed I could see dots in front of my eyes, I’ve vomited, I’ve had chronic stomach issues, and I’ve had terrible sleeping patterns for the majority of my adult life.
But, like I said, just stress. No big deal. I’d felt like this for so long that I’d just gotten used to it. The symptoms were just normal, everyday living to me.
I like to think of myself as Ross from Friends. When you’re trying not to think about it and someone asks you if you’re okay and you just say…
But then I began anorexia recovery again and I felt that it was time to address this once and for all. I spoke to my therapist about it and the end result was additional medication to take the edge of the anxiety (Quetiapine, if you’re interested).
One thing the consultant did stress is that this medication was just to help dull down the anxiety so I can start to concentrate on other areas in my life. It is not to dull any of the emotions I might be feeling. That would defeat the purpose of eating disorder recovery.
This article was first written in 2019 when I had just stepped into the world of writing and recovery. Even now, two years in, I still need to walk up to the closet where my anorexia hides, open the door, and face any demons that might be hiding inside. Anxiety, I’ve discovered, is just one more monster in my closet.
Interested in learning more about anxiety and panic attacks?
Check out any of these posts from some of my wonderful guests.
- Panic Attacks Part 1 & 2. These posts cover panic attacks, what they are, the symptoms, and the science behind them. The second part gives us some information on how to best handle such attacks.
- When it’s more than just worry. This post discusses the different types of anxiety out there including social anxiety and GAD.
- Managing anxiety. This post discusses how to manage general anxiety.