The Torture of my Anxiety Disorder
by Katie Hill
I was 16 years old, a junior in high school when I had my first "anxiety/panic episode." I've had anxiety my entire life, remembering having my first panic attack younger than 6 years old over a stomach ache and had panic attacks throughout my life, but on March 27, 2008, I had my first severe panic attack to the point where I truly believed I was going to die. I remember it clearly, simply "thinking" that I had a blood clot in my leg. I was an obsessive thinker. There was absolutely no way I had a clot in my leg in my good health and young age, but the thought lingered with me all night until I was almost asleep around 11 pm, then the panic hit me like a ton of bricks. I threw the blankets to the side, got out of bed and started pacing around my room, my heart was racing, I was hyperventilating, my thoughts were racing a hundred miles an hour. I was losing control. I was too afraid to go upstairs and tell my parents because I was afraid I was going to scare them and they'd have to rush me to the emergency room, which for some reason scared me even more. I didn't fully calm down until around 2 am when I finally fell asleep. The next morning I woke up still anxious, so I told my mom and went to a doctor. I was referred to a psychiatric hospital because my doctor at the time didn't know what to do about anxiety. I talked to a psychiatrist and was put on fluoxetine. It helped for a long time, taking it daily until 2010 when I was 19 years old, I went through another bad anxiety spell. I was working on a vegetable farm that summer and it was physically draining. I started to dread going, not getting a day off, and not being used to that type of work that my anxiety started to kick in again. One night my chest hurt and my heart was racing and I was terrified I was having a heart attack. On my 19th birthday my parents had family over and I felt so claustrophobic I had to leave. Driving was my escape and a way to calm down. As the months went by my anxiety grew worse, I missed work, I felt very out of reality, I couldn't eat, I lost 10 pounds because of my overwhelming fear of having a heart attack. I even went to a heart specialist just to be sure I didn't have a problem with my heart and of course I didn't. It amazes me how powerful the mind is and how powerful fear can be. I was also taking medication to take only as needed which helped tremendously. I bought an audio program that focuses on cognitive behavioral therapy which also helped a lot. Eventually my anxiety dissipated around December 2010. I started dating a new guy in the spring of 2011 and eventually we got engaged in 2013. Throughout our relationship I've had very little anxiety and definitely not enough to interrupt my life in any way.
Then all of a sudden in October of 2014 I was having anxiety, more frequently at night. The first panic attack I had was the fear of having a stroke or a brain tumor. I had a slight headache with pain on one side of my head. I thought for sure something was wrong with me. I went for a walk outside until it got dark. I prayed out loud. I prayed please God don't let anything happen to me. I truly believed something was wrong with me. I called my fiance, and we went for a walk and eventually my anxiety went away. As the months went by and the weather started getting colder, my anxiety grew worse and worse. I developed an immense fear of taking a shower. I was terrified of passing out in the shower or having something happen and no one would know because the door was shut and locked. I would have panic attacks in the shower, I would get out and my heart would be racing and I'd be out of breath. I started taking showers every other day. I bought tea for relaxation so I could relax at night and natural supplements as well, but it just grew worse. By December, my anxiety and panic had become a daily thing. I was having a hard time eating again, I would tremble and shake to the point where I was almost throwing up, and I was very needy with my parents. I felt like a child. Christmas Eve I was convinced I was on the verge of having a stroke. The left side of my face was slightly warm (which isn't even a symptom of a stroke) and I was hypersensitive, being extremely aware of the way I felt and the way my face felt. What if my eye droops? What if I start slurring my words? In front of my family? I was terrified of scaring my family, upsetting my family if something was to happen to me. I knew deep down that I wasn't really having a stroke, but the panic was creating extremely irrational thoughts. I was delusional. The anxiety was tricking me to believe things that weren't real. After Christmas, I immediately called the doctor after avoiding seeing a doctor and getting on medicine, I was desperate for help at this point. I got put on hydroxamine which was basically a strong allergy medicine. It didn't help my panic and out of reality feelings. I went back and got put on fluoxetine, a daily anxiety medication, which still wasn't helping all that much. I went back again, and got put on a stronger daily medication and lorazepam, which I took twice a day for when I needed it. Although I was on medicine, while it was kicking in, I constantly believed I was losing my mind. Constantly afraid that something was wrong with my brain. What if I had a mental disorder? What if I had a tumor? What if I had MS? Every possible brain problem scared me. I couldn't even think about my brain without getting anxiety. I lost 13 pounds. I went 2 weeks without showering, I could barely dress myself, work, and driving no longer provided me comfort. I was afraid of driving because what if I pass out and crash my car? I depended on my parents for comfort. I wasn't sleeping. I would stay up all night, talking to friends online if they were up. I'd play video games to distract myself as much as possible. My biggest problem was feeling out of reality. I felt like I didn't exist. I felt crazy. I couldn't even look at myself in the mirror. I didn't feel pretty. I often went days without putting makeup on because I felt so strange and unreal. I distracted myself every way I could. Forcing myself to eat was one of the hardest part of my anxiety because I absolutely love eating, so when I had to force myself to eat and was practically gagging, it was absolutely depressing.
My anxiety started getting slightly better. My body symptoms changed slightly. When I start to get anxiety, it feels like my mind is shutting down, I can't think straight, I just freeze and feel paralyzed. I take deep breaths. I'm not embarrassed about having to take medicine when I have these episodes. I was always against taking medicine, but it has helped me tremendously, I honestly don't know what I would've done without the help of the medication I'm on.
Today I've gained back all my weight, I take half a klonapin every 2 days when before I was taking 2 whole klonapin a day for my anxiety. I work. I feel like myself again for the most part. Anxiety is my worst enemy. It is very powerful. But I've come to realize I am not alone. I'm not crazy. I admit that I have anxiety disorder, and I am not ashamed at all. Of course I'd love to know what its like to not have any anxiety, to travel the world, and not worry about my health all the time. I still struggle with anxiety. I still have that fear of going through severe anxiety again. I still struggle with feeling "out of reality." I get depressed at times because I'm afraid of feeling like this forever. I want to live my life, to have kids, to have a house, to at least move out of my parents without terrorizing fear. Its been a very tough battle but I believe that it all gets better in time. Its been 4 long months and I still have a way to go. If I can do it, you can do it. I have faith that God has a plan for me. My anxiety disorder will not define me, but it has made me a stronger woman because of it and will continue to try me and test my strength.