People usually think bad words have four letters. Sadly over 40 million of us in the United States think that one of the worst words of all has seven letters, and honestly 40 million may be a low estimate. I’ve had a big problem with anxiety for most of my life. For most of those years, I was deeply ashamed of it. It was way before the words “Panic Attack” became a common household phrase. Even today, there are not a whole lot of people who know I have anxiety, and sadly even less who may understand.
Most people think it would be easy to spot someone with anxiety. People assume that anxiety sufferers are high strung, visibly stressed out, and agitated. Often times we can just seem quiet and shy. I have sat in the middle of a party, stressed out to the max, and many may just think I’m a snob. The truth is that I was trying not to show how petrified I was at that moment. Social situations are hard for us because, God forbid, a nasty panic attack could strike at any moment. We constantly live on edge, fearing it could hit at any time. Some attacks are quietly held inside; some are full out panic and hyperventilating with sweat on your upper lip and a painfully racing heartbeat. There are many varying signs and symptoms of anxiety. It’s ugly. It’s unwanted. It’s a nightmare.
There was a time in my life that I was highly successful in my career. I was the one people came to with all of their problems, because they thought I always had everything under control. For a while, I thought I did too, and then it all started crumbling down. Even with a lot of counseling and therapy, I’m still not sure how or why.
I started to lose every good job I had, I think, because people could tell something was “off” with me. Going to meetings started to be one of my triggers. At one time I was actually a public speaker. I was the Director of Marketing and Training for a large company in the Multi Family business. I was certified by the State of Texas to teach several core Real Estate classes. One day as I was standing before a very large class, the kind that has multi-level seating, the room started to look unsteady to me. Suddenly I could hear my heart beating loudly in my ears, and my hands and feet became freezing cold. I knew what was happening; it’s happened to me several times before. It was the beginning of a huge panic attack. That was also the beginning of the end of my career.
When I got home early that evening, I told my husband that some people started getting sick after the catered lunch, so we cancelled the class. I was so ashamed, and consumed with guilt. We had three children to support, house payments, car payments and lots of other bills. It was the 90’s and we were trying to keep up with the Jones’. Every time that I lost a job, we got further and further behind. We eventually lost our home and had to move. This happened many times.
For some reason, I can’t remember when or how I came clean to my husband about it. Luckily he was very understanding and supportive. I think I was afraid that when he did learn the truth about me, he wouldn’t love me anymore. Maybe that’s why a lot of us, with anxiety, hide our condition. We don’t want other people to look at us differently. We definitely don’t want people to think that we are weak. I can tell you that it takes a lot of courage to accept the fact that you have this problem, this mental illness, and still go on with your life. I choose to do my best to fight it, and enjoy every day that I can. Sometimes I lay awake in the deepest part of the night and wonder how far my career could’ve gone if this horrible monster hadn’t gotten ahold of me. For a college dropout, I was really making a good career for myself. How much of a better life could I have given my children, if I was able to continue working?
Anxiety isn’t always about panic attacks. For some people it’s an everyday struggle. It can be a feeling of general uneasiness, feeling high strung and over charged. It can be sleepless nights, never being able to sleep as deeply as most people, or not being able to sleep many continuous hours at a time. Sudden noises or movements can easily startle. Both bright lights and or shadows can make you feel uneasy. Something like the news, the media, and worrying about the world can become obsessive. I think OCD (obsessive-compulsion disorder) is connected to anxiety. I am definitely a germ-a-phobe and frequently wash my hands. I once told my daughter in law that if they ever say I died of alcohol poisoning, it would actually be from too much hand sanitizer!
I present myself to the world as a smiling and happy go lucky person; it’s just in my nature. Why bring everybody else down just because I have problems? Even doctors are shocked when they take my blood pressure and it’s extremely high, because I’m usually smiling and joking around with them. I have a severe case of White Coat phobia. It reminds me of the song, Tears of a Clown. You never know what people are hiding inside them.
The truth is, despite this sometimes severe and chronic anxiety, I am a very happy person. I’m deeply in love with my husband of 30 years. We have three healthy and happy grown sons, a wonderful daughter in law, and an enchanting little granddaughter. What more could I want? Well, I’ll tell you. I want a life free of this torment that is so sneaky. It slithers and hides and you never know when it may strike. It makes it difficult to want to leave your house, even to drive. On-line shopping for almost anything we want, especially groceries, is delightfully enabling to me.
The purpose of sharing all of this with you is so that many of you will know you are not alone. If you are one of the lucky ones who have never had this problem, maybe this will bring some understanding to you. The psychiatrists think I am this way due to some traumas in my childhood and an abusive first husband.
Now for the good news. This is something that can be dealt with. I fought taking any medication for a long time, fearing all sorts of things about it. I didn’t want to get addicted to drugs. I didn’t want long term use of the medicine to damage my liver or kidneys, and especially my brain. I’m not much of a drinker, and I don’t smoke cigarettes. However, I have learned that for me, some medication does help to lead a fuller life. Somehow, just knowing I have a couple of little pills in my purse makes it easier for me to sometimes venture out of my house. I even made it to Colorado and back, on airplanes full of people during the flu season. That was a big deal for me.
Two of the best and most natural things that have helped me to cope each day are yoga and exercise. The problem for me is finding the time and energy to do it consistently. When I was doing my exercises on a regular basis, my blood pressure even behaved well at the doctor’s office! That was huge! I watched some yoga videos on Youtube, and taught myself how to do it at home. We also have a treadmill. They say getting outside in nature is really good for anxiety, but remember that I don’t like to leave my home if I don’t have to. Plus in this area of Texas, there aren’t very many pretty or comfortable places to walk. It’s too hot, it’s too cold, or there are too many bugs. I can come up with lots of excuses. Plus – West Nile Virus is a real thing!
I am constantly doing research. I discovered that they grow a specific kind of Marijuana that is supposed to help with anxiety. So when I was on vacation in Colorado, I decided to try some. It was okay, but it didn’t give me the kind of relief that Xanax or Clonazepam does. I’m trying to live my life much more holistically than ever before, so I was really hoping the weed would work. If it had worked well, I would be trying to figure out how to move to a state where it is legal. To be fair, I only tried that one kind, and I was nervous about smoking it in a strange place. Maybe a different strain of it, in my own home, would have been better. Who knows? I have heard that it does work for some people.
Another thing that can be helpful is to join support groups. I prefer some of the ones on Facebook. You can tell people when you’re having a hard time, as well as help people in a crisis. For instance, one of the symptoms people bring up a lot is air hunger – or feeling like you can’t get a deep enough breath. I always tell them to look up “breathing exercises for anxiety” on Youtube. I also tell people to research grounding and tapping, for anxiety in general. Different things work for different people, and we are lucky enough to have a wealth of information available at our fingertips. However, we all know you can’t believe everything you read, which is another reason why I like actually talking to real people in these support groups. I’m in one for my Thyroid/Hashimoto’s as well.
Learning to live in the moment can be a big help. You tell yourself that, “Right here, right now, I’m okay. We’re all okay.” Learn to be like Scarlett O’Hara, from Gone with the Wind. Tomorrow is another day, and you can put your worries away for a while. Something as simple as counting your blessings can also help. My greatest blessing is my family; however I am also grateful for things like my home, electricity, and my favorite TV shows. Not everyone in this world is lucky enough to have those simple things.
My next endeavor will be trying to learn to meditate. Everywhere I look, people are talking about it. There is a male news anchor on Good Morning America who actually had a panic attack on air. He had to take some time off, and he said meditating saved him. So I figure it’s worth a try. I’m just worried my busy mind will not shut up long enough to get anything out of it. I often wake up in the middle of the night and find things to worry about.
And on another positive note, I read an article recently that said that a lot of people with anxiety actually have higher IQ’s than the average person. So I looked further into it and there are actually several studies that have determined this. So, HA!!
I will keep trying. I will keep doing research, for me and for all of us. The first novel I wrote was about a young woman who had an anxiety disorder from a traumatic event in her childhood. They say write what you know.
I’m coming out loud and proud in this magazine. There will be a lot of people, who think they know me well, that may be surprised. I have several thousand friends (mostly other Authors) on Facebook and other social media platforms, and I’m very hesitant about exposing myself like this. But if it helps even one person, it will be worth it.
© Copyright 2018 KT Banks all rights reserved
KT Banks has written two novels, a story for the Chicken Soup for the Soul books, and over one hundred articles. She has been happily married for over thirty years, has three grown sons, a daughter in law and a sweet baby grand daughter.
Her struggles with Hashimoto’s and Anxiety take away a lot of her energy and she’s not sure she will ever have the strength to write full length novels again, but that is a major goal. She believes attitude is everything and faces each day with positivity and joy, always finding something to be grateful for.
You can connect with KT on social media through Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn