I am a highly anxious person. I have been for as long as I can remember, although I’m sure there must have been an adorable young version of Kim who was carefree and lived a life completely unburdened by worry. I admit – I’m still quite adorable, but not so unburdened. Although I’ve been feeling the weight of those burdens less and less…
My anxiety brought a lot of small inconveniences to my life, like not wanting to make a simple call to order pizza or just leaving a store without what I needed because I didn’t want to ask for help. There were moments that were actually quite ridiculous, like in university when I would take the bus to class and get anxious that someone was reading and judging even my thoughts, so tried to force myself not to think anything “crazy” (you can guess how well that worked out…). But there were also much more far-reaching and harmful results. This anxiety affected my thoughts and behaviours, and therefore effectively who I was as a person. It dominated my relationships with family and friends, controlled my life decisions, and consumed all that I put effort into. It forced me to miss out on inumerable opportunities and experiences. It caused me to get physically sick in the mornings before high school, then skip numerous classes and full days until eventually I dropped out – as an honour roll student. In university I would leave an exam the second we were allowed, regardless of my lack of completion, because I was so anxious sitting in that room full of hundreds and hundreds of quiet testees. Actually, one time I got so worked up about returning to university after a break that I started running down the street away from my poor Mom, who was just trying to understand. Where was I going? What did I think this was going to achieve? There’s no way of knowing – the anxiety had taken over. It had so. much. power. This anxiety made me over-analyze most every situation I did or could possibly encounter and get so worked up by the way these scenarios played out in my head that I was on a constant roller coaster ride of emotions. A big roller coaster. With unexpected twists and turns and steep drops that make your stomach turn. And then my mood, actions and entire day were affected by things that had only actually taken place in my head.
I can still remember my first anxiety attack: I was at home making my lunch on a completely ordinary and uneventful day. For some reason my hands were a bit shaky and I really focused on that. I started to worry why my hands would be shaking; nothing happened to cause that. Was there something wrong with me? As my worry grew so did the shaking until my whole body was trembling. I couldn’t stop it, couldn’t control the quaking, didn’t know what was wrong with me. I started hyperventilating. I was terrified until it eventually ended, but still remained confused and now had the additional anxiety that this might happen again at any time. Shortly after that incident I started carrying prescribed Lorazepam around with me and used it often as my crutch to stop that terror from ever happening. Looking back, I find it interesting and infuriating that prescriptions were written for me left and right, but no one ever sat down with me or sent me to someone else who could teach me how to manage my anxieties on my own….(Side note: I am not at all against medication for mental health, but am a strong advocator that it not be the sole form of therapy for any individual).
I eventually got rid of this crutch and the number of attacks I have has reduced significantly; I have learned strategies for managing these and other side effects of anxiety. Still, do I really think that I have, or even can, banish this anxiety forever as the title of this blog post suggests? Absolutely not. I have tried “working on it”, but am beginning to understand and accept that there are some things that, even though I may not like them, are just part of me. So instead what I have and am changing is the way these things affect me; I am implementing a positive outlook system. When my mind starts to inevitably worry about something that could go wrong and I feel the needling sensations of anxiety creeping in, instead of letting that worry consume me I am redirecting it to proactive thoughts about how I can prepare to prevent that thing from happening (or at least have more confidence to get through if it does). Instead of being overcome by worries of all the reasons things won’t work out, I am accepting and breaking down those thoughts then using them for discovering ways to assure that things will work. I am using the anxiety to make me more prepared; I have taken back the power that it held for so long. Did I just wake up one day and find these changes had occurred? No – it was hard work. I had to really look at myself, break myself down and decide what needed to change. I sought advice from friends and family and went to appointments with my doctor and social worker. I signed up for a program that walked me through Cognitive Behaviour Therapy strategies and kept me in touch with a support worker who kept me on track (I highly recommend this program: http://bouncebackontario.ca). I have learned to recognize that when the ball of anxiety starts to build in my chest I need to implement strategies immediately before it takes over, and that if I try to just push through it will become overwhelming. Continuing to practice, review and remind myself what I learned is a lot of difficult work, but so very worth it. While this anxiety may be a battle I continue to fight my whole life, I will no longer allow it to hold me back from living an extraordinary life.