Why share my story and where do I begin have been two questions on my mind for a really long time as I started this mission of self-healing and wellness and where I struggled to find a purpose. You can read about why I share my story over on my previous post, Why Am I Here?...This post is just part of my story that is still a work in progress.
When I was twenty-two, in my last year of college, I started suffering debilitating panic attacks, almost out of nowhere. It got to a point where I couldn’t sit through a lecture without feeling like the world was spinning, feeling like my heart was palpitating or going to stop beating altogether, and feeling extremely dizzy and light-headed. I felt I was about to die. I became obsessed with counting my pulse as a distraction. I was in and out of the ER thinking I was having heart issues, but I was discharged without getting any real answers.
My first memory of when this all began was when I was suffering weeks of insomnia and late night attacks while living and working for a summer stock theatre company in 2003. One particular night, I had to wake my supervisor to take me to the ER because I thought I was having a heart attack. I was put on a 24 hour heart monitor where it was discovered I did had a mild irregular heart beat but was "just" stressed. I was back in the ER two more times over the next few months before finally being referred to a good general practitioner when I returned to school. While at my appointment, my doctor witnessed me experience a full on attack. He was the first person to explain to me what I was experiencing, as I was experiencing it, in a way that made sense to me. That was life changing on how I would experience my attacks moving forward. I was officially diagnosed with generalized anxiety and depression and and put on Xanax. The effects of the Xanax were almost as bad as the attacks. I couldn’t get out of bed while taking it, let alone participate or pass my last year of courses, so I was put on a milder, as needed, medication which seemed to be working and I was learning how to cope.
This was at at time where nobody I knew talked about mental health, anxiety, or depression. The little knowledge I did have, didn't feel like it fit what I was going through. I was dealing with a lot of stress from school and going through tough life lessons but no more than the average college student. I felt broken and felt a lot of shame. Eventually my anxiety did became somewhat manageable once I knew what I had - with only the occasional episode where my roommate had to call my mom to have her talk me though it - but I could function and finish out the year. It became easier to read my body, and feel an episode coming a day or two before full on panic attack. I could stay ahead of the symptoms.
Living with anxiety became my new normal. The depression didn't really play much of a role at this point....that eventually came later. I started working immediately after graduation for a theatre company and began my freelancing career in theatre, going from job to job, state to state, working in a high-stress, high-demand industry where we know how to work hard (and play harder, some would say). I would only suffer the occasional full on panic attack after a particularly stressful production closed and where I would have a small window of down time before the next busy season started. Every time I would slow down, my anxiety would worsen, so my solution - keep busy.
I was able to continue living this way for a solid five years or so until life eventually handed me more than I could handle, but I had no other choice but to go through it, going into survival mode…and I felt like survival mode was the only way I was going to live.
Over the next decade, my family and I would be thrown through the wringer, and it feels like we’re still there some days…but I know now that I don’t have to live in survival mode. I know now that when life throws me for a loop, I will adapt. I can experience it and I will get through it. I am a work in progress and I still have bad days...as my family can attest...but I know that it is fleeting. The bad days will pass and the good days are always going to come.
This is just a snapshot of what became years and years of a long journey of struggle...and resilience. We get to decide how our experiences define us as we move forward. When things feel impossible, know that this is where the real transformation can begin.
I will tell more of my story and I hope this platform will allow for others to be inspired to share their stories of survival, their stories of success and self-empowerment. I hope to build a community where we can leave people a little better than the way we found them.
Please comment and share your story. I would love to hear about where you are and what you've overcome.