My Anxiety Story
Hi! I'm Susan and I am the author and creator of Sound-Mind.org. I want to welcome you to this website and I hope you find all the information and resources here most helpful. I'd like to share my anxiety story with you in hopes that you will see that you are not alone. My journey with anxiety began many years ago when my husband first decided to join the United States Air Force. Newly married for only 2 years and with my first child we moved 3000 miles away from home. For the first time in my life I had left behind the security of my very close family members, many close friends and a secure job. During those years I had experiences with anxiety off and on but life was still manageable. Those years I did not understand the complexity of the problem and I brushed a lot of my feelings aside thinking they would just go away on their own. My doctor told me "it's just anxiety. You need to exercise. You have too much adrenaline and need to burn it up"! --- and he wasn't wrong, but the answer seemed all too simple because I still struggled in the back of my mind with not really understanding what was really going on.
One thing the military does not prepare you for as a Military Spouse are the real life changes you will face, the stress you may feel, and how to manage all of it. I mean, afterall, it's not really their job anyways. Being a spouse of someone in the military means mandatory moves and times when you are functioning like a single parent. During these years I had made some really great military friends. God knew what He was doing when He put them in my life. I still thank God for them today!
When my husband received a one year assignment to East Asia I was pregnant with my third child. Realizing I was going to raise my children by myself for a while we made plans to move back home so I could have the support of my family. It was this particular year that I had become sick with Ulcerative Colitis. Considering all the responsibilities, stress was a huge contributor to my illness. I managed by the grace of God. I could not wait for this deployment to be over, to move to the next location, and to be together as a family again. An assignment to the Gulf of Mexico felt like a gift from God above -- a well deserved "stay-cation". All those years and doing fairly well... but never once did I do it without the fear of when those dreaded feelings would come again. I had always kept those fears in the back of my mind wondering when anxiety would creep up on me again.
After not being allowed to crosstrain into the career of his choice, my husband made the decision to return to the civilian workplace. Together we made the decision to move back home to be closer to family and this was the beginning of many stressful life events. Within a 4 month period we had endured so many stressful things all at once. We had purchased of our very first home - which was a major fixer-upper - I'm sure you can imagine the amount of physical labor that comes with that... The kids were set up in new schools, husband had a new job routine that I had to adjust to and my Uncle that was dying of cancer (who I felt close to). And although I got the chance to spend some time with him, I watched closely as my cousins and my Aunt agonized in pain over losing him. At this same time one of my in-laws was diagnosed with cancer and this was yet another thing that I was yet holding inside consuming my thoughts and emotions. There is nothing I hate more than feeling completely helpless.
Just when I thought I was handling things well, the day came when I found myself in the grocery store with a cart full of groceries, my three children, and I felt as if the floor was pulled out from under me! I felt light-headed which scared me and I knew those dreaded "feelings" had finally come back! At this time I went through so many different feelings, thoughts and emotions, but I still continued to press forward. Being back home with family and living back in the civilian lifestyle felt good but it also came with some huge adjustments and stressors that I did not have before. I had learned that no matter where I was living or what my cirumstances were, there are stressors we just cannot escape no matter the support system we surround ourselves with.
Then in 2000, being back home only a short time, I set out on a beautiful day with family to the beach. This was the day that was the beginning of many darkest days ahead. This particular day was very windy - I just so happened to be sitting in the worst spot on the beach as I was hit in side of the head by a flying umbrella - a patio umbrella with a wooden tip being used as a beach umbrella by a tourist. Yes, that wooden tip hit me square above my ear. It had missed my temple by less than an inch and I'm pretty sure that if it hit me in the temple I would not be here telling you my story today. Thankfully, I was ok - at least I thought all I needed was an ice pack and some Tylenol. Upon waking the next day, I had a sense of fullness in my ear on the side I was hit - it felt like I had packed the ear with cotton ball. I would tug on my ear thinking my ear just needed to 'pop' or something. Then days later it was another symptom... I could hear my own voice reverberating in my head. Kind of like when you have a bad cold and your sinuses are blocked and you can hear your voice extra loud -- only it would not go away. I had spent the next couple years seeing different doctors and having tests -- CT scan, MRI... Neurotologist, and an Ear Nose and Throat doctor which could see nothing wrong with me. I was stuck with those feelings of fullness and autophony. My ENT offered to put a tube in my ear but could not promise me that it would fix the issue and so I declined. She said most of problems were anxiety related. So, I had given up looking for answers - I accepted that it was "just anxiety" and so I pushed forward as hard as I could to learn how to overcome it once and for all. I poured all my time into mastering cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) - I had visited with a therapist for a short time, took out many self-help books from the library, and dedicated all my free time to conquering this very personal challenge.
Since I was hit in the head, I had an increase in anxiety, panic attacks and even found myself avoiding big crowds, uncontrollable noisy events. And all it took was to have a massive panic attack in a store which was the start of agoraphobia. As dark as these years were for me, and how alone I felt - because noone really understood how enormous of a battle this was for me - I did all I could to learn and help myself. I not only learned by reading and talking about it with others, but I put all that knowledge to work through daily practice.
Then in 2011 I came across a book called "Phobia Free: A Medical Breakthrough Linking 90% Of All Phobias and Panic Attacks to A Hidden Physical Problem" by Harold Levinson, M.D. dated 1986. It was an older book but upon reading it I knew it was nothing short of a miracle that I came to know of it's existence. In the pages I felt like I was reading about myself and came to the final conclusion that it was time to take myself back to the doctors and insist I see a particular doctor, a Neurotologist. It was when I took matters into my own hands that I was able solve the great mystery that had contributed to the anxiety, panic and agoraphibia that I had endured. At my first visit with this specialist, he told me he believed I had something called "Superior Semicircular Canal Dehiscense" and sent me for special tests to confirm his beliefs. So many things came together for me, I finally had answers and a solution.
I spent years pouring into Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy - I learned through helping others that I was able to encourage and help myself. Over the years of participating in forums and helping others through email, telephone and social media with their anxiety and panic attacks, I got to the point where I knew it was time to create a place where I could share everything that I found valuable in my own journey and this website, although a constant work in progress, is a result of those years. It definitely wasn't easy to endure but I am happy to say that through a lot of hard work and determination I am living a healthy, happy and productive life that is no longer consumed by anxiety and the fear of panic. One of the things I found most valuable in my anxiety journey was talking to others who understood and had been there. It is encouraging to know you are not alone and that you CAN overcome it with the right skills and resources.
The vision I have today for this website is to offer as much free self-help as possible from myself and others who have PERSONAL EXPERIENCE with anxiety, panic attacks and agoraphobia. The many pages here offer interactive support and encouragement. You'l find many stories from other people, some offering encourgement and some asking for advice from those with personal experience.