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Wednesday 25 July 2012

"Making peace with anxiety" - one woman's real-life story

This is a real-life story by Cass, who has dealt with anxiety in her life. It is pure and raw and honest. Share this link if it speaks to you, or can help someone you know:

"I was always a worrier from as far back as I can remember. My first fear was the wind. I blame The Wizard of Oz.

As I pre-schooler I would wake up and run to the living room to look out the window at my ‘fear tree’, as I called it. It was a big tree across the road from my house and its sole purpose was to alert me of how afraid I was to be that day. Some days it was still as could be – those were the good days. Other days it only confirmed what I could already hear without even looking out the window: it was going to be a very bad day.

My fear didn’t just stop at wind. I was afraid of death, ghosts, spiders, chicken pox, bushfires and men with chin dimples. When I was eight I choked on a piece of meat and that set off almost 20 years of throat clearing and an obsession with my breathing.

As I grew older and more complex, so did my fears, so when I had my first panic attack five years ago at the age of 22, I wasn’t surprised, it was more a case of: “What took you so long?”

Of all places in the world, it came while I was at Disneyworld. I suddenly developed a terrifying and insatiable thirst, partnered with a racing heart and tingly feet, hands and mouth. At the time I thought nothing of it. My second came the next day while waiting for a ride. I buckled at the knees and had to be fed water by a stranger. The third lasted hours and arrived as I was waiting for a connecting flight home from LA airport, and the fourth came at a family barbecue. I ordered that I be rushed to hospital where I waited for hours to be seen before leaving and visiting a nearby medical centre. Here was diagnosed with ‘panic disorder’ and prescribed Valium.

That was the day my whole life changed. I might have been riddled with a lifetime of various fears, but I had always been a happy, vibrant person who could see the good in most people and situations. This stripped me of those qualities.

I woke each morning with invisible hands around my throat. I would need someone to be with me at all times. I was terrified to even shower for fear of being alone with my thoughts, or that the heat of the water might increase my heart rate causing an attack. I couldn’t exercise, I couldn’t swallow, I couldn’t sleep, and for the first time in my life, I couldn’t find anything to be happy about.

I took a while off work but I was so scared of being alone that I returned. Traffic terrified me so I would leave early or come in late. After a few months my boss brought me into her office with a question: “How long do you think until you’ll be better?”

I had been asking myself the same thing.

I organised to see a counsellor. He gave me an interesting analogy.

“Pretend your life is a metaphorical party. You’ve invited everyone on your street and you’re having a great time but suddenly Bob turns up. Nobody likes him and you didn’t want him to come. Because you spend all night worrying about Bob being there, you miss all the fun. That Bob is your anxiety and you can’t let him ruin your fun at the party now, can you?”

I didn’t go back to see him after that. What he didn’t realise was that, at my party, Bob was the only one who showed up and he ate all the food, drank a bottle of tequila, pissed in my wardrobe and passed out on my couch. What a shit party.

As I write this now, I look back on these times and think about how important they are in my story. Not just this story I am writing right now, but also the story of who and where I am today. I wouldn’t change it even if I could.

Because of my anxiety I stopped taking drugs, I gave up cigarettes and caffeine and I stopped putting others before myself. Because of my anxiety I learned to recognise and rationalise my fears and I started investing my time and money into my health.

I look back on the past five years and I can actually see that every single thing in my life today has come to me because of this situation. Where I live, who I am with, where I work, what I eat, what I think and how I treat others have all been directly influenced by my journey to overcome what I once thought was a terrifying misfortune, but I now consider the best thing that ever happened to me.

Many people don’t hear their thoughts and their bodies telling them they need to change and then they end up with cancer or any other number of diseases that give them the ultimatum: change or die.

I am lucky. Like my own, my body’s voice is a loud one and it just so happens that if I don’t give it the positive thoughts or the right food or sleep that it needs, it floors me until it’s satisfied I’ve heard what it has to say and actioned its request.

I don’t try to overcome my anxiety anymore, as much as it can frustrate me at times. Now I love and embrace it. I was once told never to label it as ‘my anxiety’ because that gives it power, but I am happy to give it power. It’s only ever brought me amazing things.

I once read somewhere that the key to staying calm in each situation is to think to yourself: “In five years, will this matter?” If the answer is no, forget about it. What’s funny is, I always knew that this would matter; I just never thought it’d be for the better."

To follow more of Cass's thoughts and blog posts, go here: http://littleskribbles.blogspot.com.au

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