Let’s Talk About The “A” Word

It’s taken me a while to write about my anxiety. Why does my story matter? I didn’t see any benefit of me rambling about my experiences. Besides, there were plenty of people talking about anxiety online already.

Then, the more I thought about it, the more I recognized this: If so many people are talking about anxiety, then there must be a demand for information.

I also realized that if I knew more about anxiety when I was younger, I could’ve saved myself, my friends, and my family a lot of grief.

Maybe my story pales in comparison to somebody else’s story, yet just because somebody has it worse doesn’t mean my story isn’t important.

So, here it is, my story.

I’ve always been called a “worrier” or a “perfectionist.” I needed to do well in school, to look my best always, to not make mistakes, to be a great athlete, and well, you know the type.

Every day before going to school from as far back as I can remember, I’d get sick to my stomach. As academics became more difficult and as “social status” became increasingly important, my anxiety grew stronger and therefore, more apparent to me.

I began experiencing unbearable chronic pain and numbness in my extremities. I didn’t know what was causing it and couldn’t find a pattern. I journaled every time I felt it to help track what might’ve triggered the pain, but there was no recurring theme: It wasn’t my diet, the temperature, or my fitness.

I saw every doctor and neurologist in Rhode Island to find a cause for it. My pediatrician was convinced it was nerve damage. I had ENG tests, needling, vertigo tests, and blood tests monthly. Nobody diagnosed it for 4 years and I had to deal with the discomfort practically every day.

I thought it’d never be resolved, but as the saying goes, sometimes things have to get worse before they can better.

I took a psychology course in high school and one of the vocabulary terms in our textbook was “conversion disorder.” As soon as I read it, I ran over to my professor and asked her more about it. Conversion disorder is when a psychological trigger weighs so heavily on your mind (i.e. stresses you out) that it manifests itself physically in the form of numbness, blindness, and paralysis.

Bingo, that’s me! Fast forward a year and I’m at Emerson College. Mental health was discussed every day there. (Art schools, am I right?). It was at college that I realized I had anxiety, but it was also there that everything got worse.

Aside from the general stresses of college: classes, internships, adjusting to a new city, making new friends, and living alone, I had broken my ankle the second day of college. (Skateboards, man…) It was a painful 6-month recovery. It was also at college where I learned first-hand about sexual assault, sexual harassment, and PTSD. It was the perfect storm.

I had my first anxiety attack when a boy I liked tried to put his hand up my shirt. (It was consensual, I was just triggered.)

I saw a therapist for a while to help with PTSD, but the anxiety attacks continued.

My second attack was when I was crossing the street towards my classes. At first the world went sideways, then I couldn’t breathe, then I couldn’t see, and then I nearly fainted on the cross walk. I stumbled into a cafe, grabbed an ice tea and drank it. Everybody told me I was dehydrated and I figured they must be right. Now that I think about it, I definitely didn’t pay for that iced tea…

The third instance was when I was walking into a Banana Republic in my hometown. I lost my breath, lost my eyesight, and started uncontrollably crying. My mother had to put down the navy cardigan she was eyeing and take me outside.

It continued like this for a while. My body would uncontrollably shake when I’d enter a party. People would ask me if I was cold or why my leg was shaking so much, and I’d make something up along the lines of I drank too much coffee or I should’ve worn a jacket.

I became infamous for canceling plans to meet old friends for coffee or to meet new friends for drinks. Staying in just seemed so much less stressful. I stopped driving altogether, too. I never liked it to begin with, but the idea of driving when I could have an anxiety attack at any time was too dangerous.

Crossing the street, going to class, conducting an interview, walking in front of a crowd, calling somebody on the phone, or even attending family parties caused my limbs to go numb, my heart to race, and my breath to shorten. I even gave myself bloody arms and legs from nervously scratching.

This January, I finally decided I needed help. Yoga wasn’t working, meditating was too hard, and exercise wasn’t feasible with my ankle. I needed reinforcements.

Enter: Meds.

After a series of blood tests measuring my off-the-charts cortisol levels (aka my stress hormone), my doctor concluded that my stress levels (from the moment I woke up!) were high enough to warrant medication.

So I took a minor psychological exam and the doctor prescribed me 5mg of Lexapro and diagnosed me with generalized anxiety disorder and social anxiety. (No surprise there.)

I learned that anxiety manifests itself in many ways. Sometimes it’s a headache or an upset stomach. Sometimes it’s a loss of appetite or increase in appetite in the form of binge eating. And sometimes it shows itself externally: hair loss, breakouts, skin rashes, and more.

Having experienced all those symptoms, I knew the medication was a good idea. But it’s not easy making that decision.

Taking pills does not mean you are weak. You are one tough motherf**ker. You’ve fought through the most trying of mental circumstances and now you’re choosing to survive and overcome it.

I didn’t see that at first, but I see that now. The side-effects of anxiety meds (nausea, mood swings, possibility of weight gain) made me want to quit, but I stuck it out for 4 weeks. I didn’t feel any differently, though. I started a new job and was having anxiety attacks on the shuttle to work, in the office bathroom, and on the street corner where everybody takes their smoke breaks.

Then I went to Vegas. I need a vacation. Yet, the utterly overwhelming city triggered an anxiety attack followed by me passing out at the concierge desk. The EMTs at the Palazzo Hotel laughed and told me Welcome to the Nevada heat. Make sure you’re drinking water!

I called my doctor later that week.

Make it 10mg.

And it worked, now here I am. Happy, healthy, and six months without a nervous breakdown. (There was one day where I felt one creeping, but I fought my way out of it.)

Here’s the thing:

Often, anxiety can lead to depression and other disorders and problems, so it’s important to tackle it head on and spread awareness so that others do the same.

I wish I told my friends and family sooner about my anxiety because I think my life would have been easier. Today, all my friends and family are trained on how to pull me out of an attack. They understand if I need to step outside for some air. They know I’ll get nauseous if I don’t take my pill on a full stomach and they don’t get mad when I cancel plans (which is less often, but still a thing I do). My life is better on meds and it’s better now that I’m open and honest about it all.

If you’re struggling with ANYTHING, my advice is to see your doctor & tell your your friends and family.

It’s hard enough dealing with it everyday, don’t make things worse by keeping it a secret. Besides, maybe sharing your story will make somebody else feel less alone. Because what I learned recently is that I’m far from alone.

That’s basically what I hope this blog post does for somebody else. Anxiety isn’t an isolated occurrence, it’s a tumultuous journey and it will shape you as a person, but it does not control you.

Now it’s your turn. Tell me your stories, ask me any questions, or tell me if there’s something I should include in this article that I’ve forgotten to include.

Let’s break the taboo.

One Comment Add yours

  1. markzarrella says:

    Mia you have an amazing story and I’m so happy and relieved that you are able to overcome your anxiety. Having read your story and reflecting on my own life, I’m now considering talking with my doctor.
    Thank you and I hope you don’t mind me sharing your story with my friends and followers.
    Congratulations Mia!

    Like

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