We are not transparent. Our fears and struggles are hidden under the façade of confidence and nonchalance. An acquaintance once told me, “You’re the calmest, most relaxed person I’ve ever met!”
If she only knew! I thought to myself! I am the one who suffers from irritable bowel syndrome, insomnia and fatigue, racing thoughts and heart palpitations. I am the one who clutches the little bottle of pills hidden deep inside my pocket while I struggle to breathe deeply and take it easy.
My psychiatrist explained that anxiety is primarily due to a chemical imbalance in the brain involving a deficiency in the neurotransmitters which regulate mood. Many factors contribute to this imbalance but the main contributing factor is a history of abuse or trauma.
My personal nightmare began long before the divorce of my parents actually took place. Unfortunately, in my case, the stress did not end when my mother moved out with me and my five younger siblings. Child support was either minimal or non-existent and my mother had to work long hours in order to pay the bills. I was left alone, to care for my three brothers and two sisters. Aside from my tender age, my personality was ill suited for this task. My two dominant traits of sensitivity and perfectionism fought against each other inside me like two wildcats in an alley brawl.
I viewed my new role as with the responsibility of an adult, but the child inside me was frightened and insecure.
I viewed my new role as surrogate mother with the responsibility of an adult, but the child inside me was overwhelmed, frightened and insecure. I remember the butterflies in my stomach and the nausea that overcame me when the door clicked shut and I was left to finish dressing and feeding the kids and getting them and myself onto the school bus.
I remember literally standing on my head and making funny faces to get my little brother who is a picky eater to open his mouth and finish his egg salad sandwich. I remember scrubbing my little sisters pastel colored blouse with a toothbrush after she smeared ketchup on herself. No other blouse would do for her and cleanliness was a given. As the years went by things did get easier, but the scars remained.
Dating and marriage provided a short reprieve, but my background made me hope for a happily-ever-after that was not to be. When my children were born, the anxiety that I suffered as a child and adolescent resurfaced. I began the journey of motherhood wanting to be perfect in every way. I wanted to shield my children from any semblance of the pain which I had endured as a child and teenager. My husband, a shy and reserved person to begin with, did not know how to handle this overwrought person who his wife had become and withdrew emotionally. This of course only exacerbated the situation.
I still remember when it happened. One minute I was standing in my kitchen washing dishes, the next I was trying to get my breath. I began to shake all over. My heart was beating so hard I thought it was going to burst out of my chest. I was convinced that I was having a heart attack. I managed to run over to a neighbor who called 911. I was rushed to the hospital, an oxygen mask covering my face.
In the emergency room the doctor diagnosed me with panic disorder and urged me to seek professional help. I was also presented with a little yellow pill called Klonopin. Running from one therapist to another did provide me with some insight into the roots of my disorder and I was able to obtain a prescription of Klonopin, which I use on an as-needed basis. However, in the main, I was left to my own devices, as I struggled to cope with and overcome my disorder.
Although anxiety disorders are very common, I am not personally acquainted with any other sufferers. This should not surprise me, given the fact that most people have who have known me have been totally oblivious to my inner battle.
Five Daily Activities that bring P.E.A.C.E.
I want to share with you five daily activities that bring P.E.A.C.E. If you are also suffering from an anxiety disorder, it is my fervent hope that together, we can use the following ideas to work towards fulfillment and peace of mind.
P is for Prayer:
We don’t need phones computers or faxes. God is always available and waiting for our call.
This is how my conversations go. “Please God help me figure out how to get my children to eat the broccoli soup I so lovingly cooked. Please help me find my daughters shoe and by the way help her teacher have patience today when dealing with her “out of the box” personality! (She inherited that from me!)
After running from one therapist to another and discovering that no therapist can really understand me, I realized that only He who created me and my anxiety attacks can see into my heart and know my struggle. He helps me and cheers me on.
(By the way, if you want to talk to God in public, just wear your bluetooth.)
E is for Exercise:
Jog, walk or swim. Purchase gym equipment designed for your home. Get to know your body and figure out what time of day works best for you. Listen to music or find a companion to keep up your energy. Get those endorphins going. Your mental health will thank you.
A is for Acceptance:
The first step towards acceptance for me was letting go of that picture-perfect life that I had naively envisioned with myself as the picture-perfect mother and wife. I began working on accepting the “I’m okay, your okay” philosophy.
As I began to accept my husband’s limitations he felt less threatened and did not feel the need to withdraw. He was slowly able to express the feelings of guilt, confusion, and helplessness which had burdened him when he found himself unable to meet my emotional needs. He began looking for little ways to be supportive by speaking calmly and saying things like “What can I do for you?” or “How can I help?”
Accept the reality of any given situation, and then take action to improve your life. Do what you need to do in order to feel protected and safe. Light a lavender scented candle. Take a deep breathe. Relax.
C is for Chocolate:
Treat yourself. Lock yourself in a room with a chocolate bar and curl up with your favorite book.
(For all you calorie counters, here’s an alternative:)
C is for Consuming foods which make you Calm and happy
I once heard: A banana a day keeps the psychiatrist away. Bananas contain tryptophan, an amino acid, which converts to serotonin, a mood enhancing neurotransmitter. So buy a banana and enjoy. Here are a list of some other foods which contain tryptophan: Tomatoes, bananas, dark chocolate, milk, high quality eggs, nuts, yogurt, wild fish, turkey, cheese and meat.
E. is for Emotional Honesty:
Emotional honesty means getting in touch with your underlying feelings. Write, meditate or talk to an understanding therapist. In situations where you need to disclose that you have an anxiety disorder, be matter of fact. Don’t be defensive or apologetic. Be aware of your limitations, communicate them to others and work around them.
Although humans are not transparent, God knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows our every thought and action. He is aware of the tiniest annoyance to the darkest moments when we can’t seem to make sense of anything. For some of us the challenges seem daunting. That’s why we, perhaps more than others, need to remember that with His help we can, one day at a time, achieve peace and serenity.