Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Dealing With Anxiety, Pt. I


I’ve been hesitant for a while to talk about it. Since I know many people face it, and some cases are way more severe than I feel mine is, I didn’t feel like I had a right to use the word.

Maybe it’s just worry. Maybe I’m just a high-level worrywart. I mean, it doesn’t affect my life, right? I can still function, albeit I can’t exactly do the things I want to do, like join a book club or get involved at my church. But that’s just because I’m shy, not anything serious.

In November, I had my first panic attack. It happened around 2am one morning, waking me up from broken sleep. My breathing was ragged, my body hot, and my thoughts swirling. Is this what death feels like? Slow down, Steph, just breathe. You’re OK. You’re OK. You’re OK.

anxiety2 I didn’t mention it to anyone. I thought there was something medically wrong with me, asthma or some such, so I kept it a secret. I had no idea what it was but it went away the next day so I pretended things were normal.

In December, I had another one. It happened again in the middle of the night. I couldn’t catch my breath. It felt like I had run a million miles at top speed. My body was hot, my body was cold. My mind again racing. What was wrong with me? Do I need to go to the ER? Why does this crap always happen to me? I really can’t breathe! Jesus, I need your help. Just help me breathe. Jesus, just help me breathe.

I ended up Google-ing my symptoms the next day and realizing it could have been an anxiety attack. I even went and talked to my grandma, who has had severe attacks in the past, and she confirmed it. Since that night, I’ve carried this problem with me. I’m so hesitant to put a name on what I’m facing because it feels so final. And what if I’m wrong? What if all I’m experiencing is high-grade worry?


I’ve been talking to the ever-lovely Kyla Roma about this very issue, and she put it this way: “I think the biggest thing to know is that if it’s an anxiety disorder vs. if it’s not is really subjective, and it really comes down to one question: Does it interfere with your life?’”

Does it interfere with my life? In a word, yes.

Stay tuned for Part II and III – where I talk about how anxiety affects my life and what I’m doing to combat it.

photo credit: v, v, v


  1. That can definitely be scary. I hate the feeling of anxiety creeping in (though mine is never as severe and doesn't necessarily interfere with my life often). I'm looking forward to reading about what you're doing to get rid of the anxiety.

  2. I've had some minor issues with anxiety as well, but I don't know if I've ever had a full blown panic attack. That sounds super scary to wake up to though, that's for sure. I'm glad you thought of talking to Kyla though, talking to someone who goes through something similar is helpful I bet to ease your nerves about the whole thing!

    and kudos to bringing it up on your blog. I bet that couldn't have been easy, but it's really nice to see you taking charge of the situation!

  3. I've never had the no breathing but I have the upset stomach, can't stop thinking about it, I want to puke feeling ALL the time. I think DH would definitely say it interferes with my/our life. I hope you get it worked out soon!

  4. Seconding imlivinginadream: kudos to you for bringing this up because it definitely is not an easy topic. I suffered pretty serious anxiety when I was a kid, so I know exactly what you're talking about with the panic attacks. It is not a good feeling. Things have gotten A LOT better as I've gotten older, but once in a while, I still have them.

    Look forward to hearing more of your thoughts on things and how you're handling it.

  5. I experienced this, too, many years ago. It can be very frightening. Just a suggestion - get a good physical check up just so if it does happen again, you can reassure yourself that the cause is anxiety alone (which, at your age, it probably is.)

    Have you tried any breathing techniques? Metered breathing, etc? (Breathe in 3, out 3. In 4, out 4. In 5, out 5, until you reach 10. Then start again.) It can really help to even out and slow your heart rate.

  6. I definitely don't have anxiety THAT bad but I do sometimes worry so much it causes me to lose sleep, break out, not eat well, etc.

    P.S. I have gotten your emails. I completely forgot, ugh. Sending the book out today! And I haven't received the book from my partner either just so you know!

  7. Good for you for opening up and talking about it... I think more people deal with anxiety than they would admit!

  8. I was diagnosed anxiety disorder (just like Kyla!) almost 8 years ago, and getting help with it really does make a difference. I still have panic attacks, sure, but I know how to fix them and what makes me less likely to have one. I look forward to reading the rest!

  9. Thanks for being brave and sharing this with us; I have had panic attacks in the past. Feels like an elephant is sitting on my chest, can't breathe, can't think clearly. It's so awful and frustrating. Fortunately and so far, I haven't had one in about a year or two, and I have been able to change my life to make them go away. But if they come back? I'll be going to talk to someone for sure.

  10. Great post girl. Thanks for sharing!

    While I never have had a panic attack I do have very mild anxiety sometimes. I just feel like I can't focus in and it's hard to concentrate and it's like there's a buzzing happening in my body and I can't sit still. I HATE the feeling and find it usually comes when I have too much to do and I'm ignoring my to-do list and being unproductive. Drinking less coffee in a day has definitely helped me and doing yoga has also helped me.

    Looking forward to reading the rest of your posts on this! XO

  11. I definitely used to suffer from panic attacks on a regular basis- having one at least twice a month. I hid it from people for so long (the only person who knew was my freshman year roommate because I would often have them at night like you), but finally talked to my parents about it and got help. I haven't had one in a few months now, which is great!

    I look forward to the other parts of this post!

  12. I'm so proud of you for sharing your story. I totally understand your thinking in terms of not wanting to label it, but Kyla's got it right - if it's interfering with your life, then it's worth figuring it out.

    I look forward to reading the rest of this story and I hope that there is eventually a happy ending to it. :)

  13. I'm so glad you're sharing about this - and I'm glad you're not letting yourself diminish what you're dealing with just because other people may have a different type of difficulty.

  14. I think it's incredibly brave of you to share this. I did a post way back on my struggles with depression and it was SO hard to put it out there because unfortunately there is still this stigma around things like anxiety/depression. But I think we should view them no differently than we view high blood pressure and other chronic things like that!

    I am looking forward to the future installments of this posting series!!

  15. Sorry to hear about your struggle with anxiety. I've been there, I used to get debilitating panic attacks (at prom - totally embarrassing) and was highly medicated. The best thing I ever did to help me wasn't pills, it was therapy and learning better techniques to stop anxiety before it gets to the point of a panic attack. Managing stress is the key, though its not easy, and takes time to get the hang of. While I still occasionally have episodes, at least I understand what's happening, and that the feeling Will go away.

    It's funny, because I was JUST going to write a blog about ways I help curb my stress before I have a full on break down.

    I'm looking forward to future posts on this topic from you. In the meantime, I hope you feel better and I hope you don't keep having episodes, because they are the worst :-/ Thinking about you hun!

  16. I think it's wonderful you're posting about this. Luckily, I've never had an anxiety attack, just dealt with lost of stress.
    I look forward to reading the next two parts of this series.

  17. I used to have a friend who would get anxiety attacks rather frequently, but wouldn't do anything about it. I think its a good thing that you recognize that there's a problem, and that you're talking about it.

  18. I'm so proud of you for opening up, recognizing the issue, and sharing it with us! I struggle with my shyness/anxiety, but it's something I don't talk about very often because it's a big, confusing issue to tackle. I've never had an anxiety attack, but quite often, I worry and work myself up to the point of getting sick to my stomach and getting awful headaches. I can't wait to read more in this series and see how you're dealing with it.

  19. I get extremely anxious as well; although, I have yet to have an attack. I think this is more common than you think, as our bodies all deal with stress in different ways. Thanks for sharing :)

  20. I had a few panic attacks in law school, but started to have actual, recurrent anxiety issues after the bar exam. I had at least three a month for a few months until I began seeing a counselor. It was kind of embarrassing at first (although I'm not sure why). Now, if I start to feel anxious, I can calm myself down before I get to the point of no return.

    Also, I've noticed that I think I have more anxiety about HAVING a panic attack than I do about something worth worrying about haha. I will sometimes be in a tight space and think, "Geez, how embarrassing would it be to have a panic attack in front of all of these people?!" That was what made them the most debilitating. Life is easier when you stop ignoring them and get them under control. Good luck!

    (PS. I read your recent weight post. Good job!)


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