I want to share my story. And not just the story that most everyone knows. The story that I’ve been trained to keep hidden because it feels like no one understands. A lot of people write it off as not a big deal, because “it’s not real, it’s all in my head”.
My life for the past 13 years has been a struggle with Anxiety. Not just the normal every-day nerve-racking situations that most people can say they feel anxiety over. I’m talking life-crippling, day long attacks that bring me to my knees in feelings of complete and utter hopelessness. Let me tell you, it’s scary; and it most definitely is real. I want to share this because, there are others out there that struggle with this. I want them to know they’re not alone.
Let let me preface this by saying that everyone with an anxiety disorder has attacks that look different. This is only a part what mine look like.
I sit in the air port last Tuesday; It’s 6:20 AM and my flight doesn’t leave for home until 10:30 AM. I’m shaking so much I can barely hold the phone to my ear as I talk to my mom who is trying to distract my brain from this ongoing war. Tears are streaming down my face because I just want to be at home in bed where I’m comfortable; where I know how to deal with this in solitude. All alone, not in public, where I feel like people are looking at me like I have 10 heads. (Truthfully, they’re not, no one in the airport is even looking at me). I’m exhausted because I haven’t slept at all. I’m trying to remain strong, because in just a little while I have to adult, and make it through security. My body is so tense my hands are starting to go numb. I’m so nauseous I take sips of water that have to be less than a 1/4 teaspoon just to keep my mouth from drying out. I know that if I take anything larger, I’ll be running to the nearest garbage can. My brain can not just focus on one thing. I’m thinking of literally all the things. All of them. And all of those things, in this moment, don’t even matter, but I can’t tell my brain to turn off, and it all just adds to the anxiety I’m already experiencing. I’m replaying the whole weekend in my head wondering if anyone noticed I’ve been completely faking normal for the past 4 days, because this attack really started last Thursday, and it has been that long since I’ve been myself. I’m wondering how full the plane will be, who will be sitting next to me, what if they throw up, what if I throw up, what if because I’m so nervous I’m flagged at security, what if the flight gets delayed, how will I make it home, should I check my bag, should I not check my bag, are my cats at home okay, did my sister feed them right, did I come across as rude this weekend when at times I hid behind my phone, will the plane ride be okay, will we make it, what if we crash. All of that and it barely scratches the surface of what is going on in my head. I’m aware that many of those things would never happen. But this is was anxiety does. It sends your brain into a frenzy that creates situations that have like a 0.01% chance of occurring, and those are the only things you can focus on.
My mom brings me back to reality as she’s telling me about making my dads lunch, and how she will be leaving for work in a little while. I take a long deep breath and let it out slowly through my mouth. I’m trying to focus on releasing the tension I’m creating in my legs. Once I can get my brain to focus on that, I may be able to make the shaking stop. In my head, I’m reciting “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10); “Cast all your cares upon him for He cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7), over and over and over again. My palms are sweating. I’m at war with my body temperature because one minute I’m freezing and the next I’m sweating. I’m wearing a shirt, whose collar is no where near my neck, but I feel like it’s choking me and I can’t breath. Finally after a half hour of conversation with my mom I’m starting to calm. I’ve consciously relaxed the muscles in my legs and arms, and I’m no longer shaking uncontrollably. When I realize what I’ve accomplished I wonder how long it will last, and the calm feeling lasts merely seconds before the next wave of hot flashes and nausea comes and I’m loosing control…again. This time I’m more than frustrated, I’m exhausted, and I’m overly emotional because the only thought that is in my head is that I will NEVER beat this. I hear my mom’s response to my incredibly long drawn out breath “I thought we may have been ok.” More tears are streaming down my face and my mom begins to pray. When she finishes I feel a slight relief. But then, more tears come because I feel so useless, so helpless, and like such a burden.
We disconnect our call, I take a deep breath saying those same Bible verses over in my head, and I attempt to stand up and make my way through security. I put in my headphones and start listening to music. The line doesn’t take very long, but I do feel weird as they swab my hands for drugs. The first thing I do on the other side is buy water, which I continue to sip in small amounts. I find a table, far away from any food smells that only make the nausea worse, and get out my Bible. I read through my devotions for the day, and try to make up for the past few days that I slacked on by only reading part. I feel slightly better, and encouraged that if God was with Joseph, than he must be with me right now too.
It’s getting close to 9:30 now, so I make my way to my gate. I find a seat, somewhat secluded and open to Psalm 46. I read it over and over as the shaking begins to return now that the flight is getting closer. I hear over the loud speaker the the fight is basically full. I being to think about all the things that could possibly go wrong on this flight. While at the same time I try to tell myself how ridiculous all this sounds. When boarding begins, I try to walk without falling over because I’ve yet to eat anything today and I’ve burned so many calories from all the shaking it’s probably a miracle I haven’t passed out yet. I enter the plane, breathing heavily, but trying to hide it, worried if they see the actual state I’m in they’ll refuse me entry or something. I choose a seat close to the back, right next to a window. I can do this. I keep telling myself that as I listen to the music. It takes us a while to get going, apparently there is an issue with a cargo bin. The fact that it is taking us longer makes me more upset.
When we finally taxi down the runway, I close my eyes and brace for take off. The ride is bumpy as it’s rainy outside. This does not help the nausea. More hot flashes. I take off my fleece jacket. I fan myself, the music playing on my phone is now so loud I can’t possibly hear anything around me. This is the only way I’m even remotely comfortable, because I can’t hear if anything around me would make matters worse. I’m fighting the nausea, eying the bag in the seat pocket in front of me wondering if the time for it’s use is now. I can only imagine what will happen if I actually throw up. I’m fidgeting and trying not to bother the girl next to me. But the fidgeting helps hide the fact that the shaking has returned and it’s pretty bad.
When they announce that we’ve begun our descent, the girl next to me looks at me and smiles. She puts her hand on my leg and squeezes and I take out my headphones. We begin a little conversation about flying anxiety. We introduce ourselves and talk some more as we hit the runway and land. All I want to do is get off this plane. It’s now what feels like 90 degrees. I’m relieved that we’ve made it. That in only a little while I’ll be home; I’ll be safe. My grandparents, sister and nieces are waiting for me. I try to remain strong, to hold it in; when all I want to do is sob. This has been the longest few hours of my life. They’re all talking about lunch, which is the last thing on my mind. I just need to be at home. When I take a seat in the car, all that anxiety that I’ve been hiding for the weekend, for the plane ride hits me like a ton of bricks. I’m shaking so badly, when my niece calls my name I can’t even respond. I’m breathing heavy, my mouth is so dry I can barely swallow. I’m running my hands through my hair and pulling hard, hoping maybe the pain from that will relieve something… anything. Tears start to come, and now, not only my hands, but my head also has gone numb.
As I read back over this experience, now in my normal state of mind, I see how a lot of people could react the way they normally do. I’ve been told a lot of things in regards to my anxiety; things that make me feel less than human. Things that I will share, but not yet… because that is not my reasoning for writing this. There’s a whole other side of this story that I purposely left out. I’m working on writing that part, which I will share in a few days. It’s the part that made me feel lead to share my story. And that’s the Hope that I find in my moments of despair. Jesus.