The Birth of Anxiety and Road to Healing
A couple of weeks ago I released a blogpost called The Gift of Anxiety. I had no idea the impact or reach that it would have. My guess was that there were many out there who hid their anxiety disorder(s) because of the responses they received when they did muster up enough courage to share. People just do not know what it is. In fact; for this blogpost I looked up “anxiety disorder” and even Webster was confused and a bit condescending. Based on the tremendous feedback that I received, I want to address first steps in finding relief and healing. To do that, I need to start at the birth of my anxiety story.
There are two parts to my AD (anxiety disorder): the discovery of my anxiety disorder and the prequel. The discovery happened in 2005. My wife and I were on a double date with some of our best friends. We were at a local coffee house reminiscing, laughing, and enjoying each other’s company. Suddenly I felt different. It felt like I was getting weak and about to pass out. Do you remember the old tube televisions? When you turned them off there was a slow darkening of the screen until eventually only a tiny light glowed in the middle of the screen. That is what was happening to me! I immediately shook my head to snap out of it and blurted out, “I need to get to the ER now!” Fortunately, the ER was only a mile away. I was rushed to the front of the line. Nothing says “heart attack” like a large Native American staggering into the ER being held up by his panicking wife and friends.
It was quickly discovered that it was not my heart. My blood pressure had become dangerously low. A few weeks prior to this incident I went to an Indian Health Clinic to have a bone spur on my heel looked at. It was incredibly painful, and I needed relief. I sat frustrated from the time the clinic opened to the time that it was closing. I was in pain. I was frustrated. When they finally saw me and took my vitals, they ignored my bone spur and immediately diagnosed me with high blood pressure. I get it. Fat guy, elevated blood pressure, give him medicine and put him on a diet. The problem was that after bombing the bone spur with ibuprofen, the intense pain eventually went away. I did not have high blood pressure, I was just in pain. However, I was still taking blood pressure medication. This is why my blood pressure sank so low.
The ER doctor recommended that I ease myself off of the medication. However, I was so shook up from my experience that I stopped the medicine cold turkey. Big mistake. I did not know that one of the side effects of stopping instantly was anxiety or panic attacks.
Over the next month I made at least six trips to the emergency room. This was an expensive habit brought on by intense moments of fear. Fear of dying. A small pain in my arm or chest would set my imagination off on a tangent. I could create every symptom of a heart attack. I would feel dizzy, I couldn’t breathe, and I would go into fight or flight mode. Finally, a member of my church, who sold medical equipment to hospitals, brought a heart and blood pressure monitor to my house. He monitored my heart for 24 hours to show me that my heart was fine. This helped for a brief season, but the attacks kept coming. I tried talking to my wife and one of my good friends that I served with. Neither could understand. I could see the confusion in their eyes and on their face. They saw me as a strong person; mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. However, when I tried to explain what I was going through, I could see their confidence in me waning. Not because they didn’t love or care for me, but because they just couldn’t understand.
This is when I learned how to ride out my anxiety attacks and hide them. I realized that I always survived the attacks and that I never had a heart attack. I never passed out. In fact, nothing bad ever really happened. I just needed to ride it out. I mastered the art of hiding my attacks. I call it high functioning anxiety disorder. People saw the “normal me” on the outside, but on the inside, I was falling apart!
Before I delve into a few first steps for relief and healing, it is important to know where the roots of my anxiety began. My journey with this powerful menace did not begin with my first panic attack. My story starts well before that in my childhood. There were two brutal wounds and a scary moment that have been uncovered in my therapy sessions. My wounds are from my mom and my dad. My scary moment was when, as a child, I almost drowned. I will not get into all of the details of my wounds and my scary moment, but those were significant markers where I felt alone, abandoned, and afraid. It is natural for people to feel those emotions, but it is not natural to feel them consistently and constantly. My therapist, Summer, explains it with a bear analogy.
If you are confronted with a bear, your mind signals all of the mental, emotional, and physical parts of who you are to go into fight or flight mode. This is a good thing, as long as there is a bear. As a child experiencing a constant dose of loneliness, abandonment, and fear, my mind tried to heal by burying it all with acclimation. I just got used to the bear. As I grew up, I forgot the bear. However, on that fateful night in 2005, the bear woke up from hibernation when I had my first panic attack. My panic attacks have always consisted of the very same fight or flight mode feelings that I had when I was a child. Overwhelming fear, adrenaline rush, dizziness, fear of death, all of the things.
As an anxiety attack, though, it just seemed to come from nowhere. It was random. There was no bear. In counseling I learned how powerful the mind is and yet how flawed it can be. My wounds and moment were buried deep enough that I felt fine about them and stored them as painful memories and part of my testimony. What my mind did, though, was store every part of those painful and fearful moments. The sights, the sounds, the smells, every single detail. Details that I do not outright remember, but details that act as a trigger to send me into fight or flight mode without warning. It seems random to me, but my mind is connecting the trigger to the bear.
Relief and Healing
Step one of the healing process began when I met Steve. Steve was a member of one of the churches that I served at several years ago. He suffered from Anxiety Disorder and found healing. A dear friend, who was desperate to help me, connected us. It was amazing! Within seconds of our first conversation, Steve was finishing my sentences. He knew how I felt. He understood! The more I shared, the more he gave insight into a world that I had not been able to share with anyone. It was my first sense of hope. That one conversation gave me several weeks of reprieve from any form of anxiety attacks.
I wish I could say the attacks never came back, but they did.
The next significant step came when I learned how to breathe and think. My mother-in-law actually taught me to, at the onset of my attack, take a deep breath through my nose and release it slowly from my mouth. Inhale for five seconds, exhale for five seconds. The breathing and the counting were enough to stave off most attacks, but I needed more.
The next step was purely a gift from God. I began to think through my fears, step by step. I was afraid I was going to die. I was afraid of blacking out. I was afraid of losing control. I was afraid. These were my fears every single time. I had data. This will seem obvious, but for those with anxiety, reality is not so obvious in the moment of the attack. I realized that I never died. I never blacked out. I never lost control. My fears were not substantiated with reality. All of these steps gave me hope, relief, and long periods of peace. The symptoms were manageable, and life seemed livable for a season.
In recent months I began to notice that the anxiety attacks were coming back with a new ferocity. It was almost like they had become immune to my tactics. Not only were they more powerful, but they were also more frequent. I knew I could not just try and treat the symptoms anymore. I needed healing. As noted in my previous post, I finally sought professional help. I am now four weeks into therapy, and I am on my way to healing!!! I have experienced a drastic difference in how I think and feel. I am finding freedom and joy in this journey. Best of all, I have found purpose. Anxiety Disorders are a mystery to everyone except those who have them. My purpose is to give a voice to those who suffer in silence and to educate those who are uninformed. If you are one of those who are struggling with anxiety, here are my recommended steps:
· Speak to someone that knows the language and has found healing.
· Take time to breathe and think (explained above).
· Make an appointment with a Christian counselor (New Vision Counseling in OKC!).
· Share your story (helping others, helps you!).
Thank you for being a part of my healing.