Anxiety: The Battle I'm Still Winning

It was an experience I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.

A crawling sensation closed in on me. I didn’t know what to do other than allow myself to be consumed by it. I remember feeling it especially in my back; the oddest and most unpleasant sensation I can’t possibly adequately describe—and I don’t particularly care to. My mother and brother were at a loss as I wept . . . for no understandable reason.

I can’t. I just can’t do this.

Panic attacks are one of the worst parts of struggling with anxiety. Thank God I haven’t had many, but I’ve had enough to shudder at the word.

It’s awful.

It seems like anxiety is an epidemic these days. As soon as you mention the despicable and tired “A” word to someone, you often see recognition and understanding in their expression. Most of the time, if they themselves haven’t been diagnosed, they at least know someone who has been diagnosed with the disorder. Struggling with anxiety feels like a trademark of being a millennial; just another part of daily life. There is so much to do, see, and have; yet peace remains mysteriously elusive.

There are many reasons offered for this concerning reality: the relentless use of screens and social media, decreased strength of relationships and community, increased awareness of mental and emotional health problems . . .

It’s bewildering to me that someone can wake up in the morning mostly carefree and relaxed. But they do. And so can you.

The general disposition toward the matter has become one of resignation: of course you have anxiety. Here is some medication to take the edge off.

On the other hand, there are some who take the opposite stance: anxiety is a made up problem created by those privileged individuals with too much time and too few challenges.

Honestly, for most of my adult life I agreed with the latter perspective. I rolled my eyes whenever somewhat brought up the subject and was highly opposed to medication—it looked like an easy out to life’s difficulties.

I was forced to take all my eye rolls back when I became quite overwhelmed with the obsessive and intrusive thoughts that began to plague me. It became difficult for me to do anything. I couldn’t focus due to this torment I was experiencing in my head. I was being attacked by my own mind and living in a state of complete fear and dejection. I prayed and prayed and prayed. Nothing happened. I had nowhere to run because I was the problem; it was my own personal hell.

After months of trying to cope on my own, it became too much to bear; I couldn’t anymore.

I finally went to Google (when in doubt) and came across the practice of Dr. Greg Bottaro. This led me to finding the person who has been my faithful companion (emotionally and spiritually) for the past two years.

Maybe you suspect you could have anxiety, or maybe someone close to you has been diagnosed with it. Regardless of the situation, here are some things that could be helpful to know:

  • Anxiety is not a fake problem
  • Anxiety is not a spiritual battle (although it can certainly affect your spiritual life)
  • Anxiety can be crippling if not dealt with
  • Anxiety will affect your relationships
  • Anxiety can be exacerbated or improved by other factors (sleep, exercise, food, etc.)
  • Anxiety is not feeling “stressed out”
  • Anxiety can be a result of trauma
  • Anxiety does not speak truth
  • Anxiety does not define you
  • Anxiety can be managed
  • Anxiety is treatable

It took the help of a skilled professional to help me see that there wasn’t something inherently wrong with me. Rather, I was fighting a tough and painful battle with a disease that had infected me long ago. I realized I had been living in a state of apprehension and fear most of my life, but didn’t know any different . . . it was the norm. It’s bewildering to me that someone can wake up in the morning mostly carefree and relaxed. But they do. And so can I. And so can you.

There will always be struggles and burdens we carry with us. Anxiety will never have the last word.

There are tangible and healthy ways to manage anxiety. No, you probably won’t ever be entirely free, but your life doesn’t have to be a living hell either.

If you suspect you may grapple with anxiety, or if you think someone you know does, don’t wait for a complete meltdown to get help. Do it now.

Find a psychologist (one with similar values to yours is best). I was lucky enough to love the first one I met, but that will not always be the case. You may have to try a few therapists to find the right “fit.” Yes, it is expensive and time consuming, but it is worth it.

Read up on mindfulness, and then start practicing.

Look into some lifestyle changes you can make. For me, running a few days a week and maybe going to an exercise class helps immensely. I know others stop drinking coffee because it increases their feeling of agitation. Sleep is a huge factor for me. So if you’re not getting a good night’s sleep, look into how to fix that.

Finally, if needed, don’t be scared to see a doctor. When I say “doctor,” I mean your primary care provider. Some people see a psychiatrist as their therapist who can prescribe medication, if that is your case, you may not need to see a PCP for this.

Ideally, medication shouldn’t be a lifelong fix as much as a temporary crutch. I have been taking medication for close to a year now and am hopeful to start weaning off (with the help of a doctor and my therapist) in the near future.

I can truthfully say I have gotten significantly better over the past few years. The gentle, probing, compassionate guidance of a third party who gets it and can offer more than nice words has been a game-changer in the absolute best way. Additionally, medication has offered great relief along with the continual development of the skill of mindfulness.

I am so much better off than I was two years ago. I am more carefree and productive and able to love more—which is everything. No, I haven’t won the battle. This is the struggle I have been given and will most likely carry most of my life. I have come to terms with it and accepted it as an important and fruitful part of my journey toward the-best-version-of-myself.

I’m still fighting this battle. There will always be struggles and burdens we carry with us––and that's okay. As long as I keep striving to be my best self—in spite of my great weaknesses and challenges—anxiety will never have the last word.

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