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Speaking out about Anxiety

I have a confession to make.

Over the past few years, I have been struggling – really really struggling – with anxiety. More recently, this anxiety has turned into panic attacks. They are scary, embarrassing, and often times debilitating.

My first panic attack occurred in January. I was at work and it came out of nowhere, and it scared me so much that I left work to go to emergency because I was certain that something was wrong with my heart. After running some tests and ruling out a whole bunch of stuff, the doctor landed on a panic attack, with the root cause being the recent loss of my father.

It’s been 10 months today since my dad died tragically at the hands of alcoholism and addiction. In those 10 months, I have also had to remove myself or set very rigid boundaries in other very crucial relationships, and it feels as if I am now mourning the loss of my entire family. Loss can either bring a family closer or tear them apart, and unfortunately for us, it did the latter.

There are no words to describe how much I miss him.

Combine the family turmoil with other things – health issues, financial struggles, major life changes such as a new house, and a career – that I LOVE – but that taxes me every day as I try to give and give and give when I am empty myself – all of this leads down a very dark path on the hard days.

Yesterday, I had another panic attack. At work, again, which of course lead to a lot of shame. I am a senior hairstylist at the best salon in the city. I am highly educated in my craft, and I am excellent at what I do. I take care of others all day long, and I am happy to do it. So for me to turn into a sobbing, shaking, sweaty mess on the floor of the staff room with my face buried in a towel in front of my peers…well, embarrassing would be an understatement.

Yesterday, though, it was different, for two reasons. One, because I now know exactly what a panic attack feels like, so I didn’t feel that sense of impending doom and I knew that it would pass. And two, because I could actually feel the anxiety building in me for 7 hours before the actual attack happened. I remember thinking that I was feeling the same way I felt before my other attacks, and wondering if I was going to have another one. I remember trying to calm down and focus on breathing, but not being able to. And finally, it was a challenging moment at work that suddenly sent me into the spiral.

Luckily, I had a very sweet, supportive coworker who also suffers from panic attacks with me when it happened. She gave me exactly what I needed – a cool cloth on the back of my neck and calm, reassuring words that I was going to be okay. Because of that, the attack lasted maybe only 6 or 7 minutes, and after taking some time to calm down, I was able to get on with the rest of my shift. I was also lucky to come home to my boyfriend, who had made me dinner and set up a nice, calming space in my bedroom that I was able to retreat to after. Eventually, I fell asleep, but the exhaustion I feel after these attacks often lasts for days. It is awful.

So, now what? This has been my third major panic attack in 7 months, accompanied by a series of other smaller episodes and struggles. The weight of it is becoming a lot to bear, and I am afraid that it will begin to affect my everyday life more and more if I don’t do something about it.

I refuse to take medication. Yes, I know it would help me, but I am one of those weirdos who won’t even take Advil unless things are seriously unbearable. I suffer through aches, pains, coughs, colds and flus without pills because I am stubbornly rooted in what I believe. I don’t think the answer to my anxiety lies in a chemical, mind-altering pill. And I don’t want my emotions to be controlled. I want to believe that I can fight this some other way. The turmoil and the cause of my anxiety is coming from the inside, so I feel like the treatment should, too.

Currently, the things that help me are running, meditation (although inconsistent), and sometimes essential oils and herbal teas as well, although they can’t exactly ‘fix’ me if I’m already feeling anxious. I also see a therapist once a month, or as much as I can afford to, to try to cope with the loss of my parents and the current state of my family. I’m not sure what else I could be doing. It already feels like so much.

I really don’t want to resort to medication. I struggled with depression through my teenage years, and I never filled the prescriptions for antidepressants that my doctor gave me. Instead, I turned to creating music and doing things that inspired me to battle it, and it worked. I want to do the same thing now, but so far, I just can’t seem to do it. I feel defeated.

I don’t even really know why I wanted to write this post. Here I am at the end of it, and I feel like I should be providing some inspirational quote or some nugget of infinite wisdom, but I’ve got nothing. I guess I just wanted to reach out, explain a little bit what I’ve been going through, and maybe somebody will read this and at least understand that they are not alone.
It helps a little bit to get my thoughts in writing sometimes. And if someone happens to relate to this along the way, then that’s great.

Any constructive thoughts, questions or relative stories are welcome in the comments below. If you’ve made it this far, thank you for reading. I hope you have a wonderful weekend – and, if you’re struggling like me – that you find some peace.

Ashley Dempster is a twenty-something Canadian Travel and Adventure blogger based in Calgary, Canada. Her passions include good food, minimalist packing, running, music, and chasing down every opportunity for adventure.

15 Comments

  1. It’s okay to take medicine , sometimes we need it, but I understand that you are looking for more of a holistic approach. The best advice I can offer you as a panic attack suffer myself is just ride with it, whenever you feel like your having a panic attack pretend that they are waves and instead of letting them crash into you just go with the flow and ride with them, and you will see that this can either stop the panic attack from even starting or it can end a panic attack that is already happening or one that is about to come. I read that from a book and it truly has helped me a lot. Also when we are exhausted / tired , we tend to be more anxious and stressed out over all so we are more likely to respond to stress or little triggers that usually won’t get our attention if we weren’t in that state of exhaustion whether physically or mentally. However the more you focus on the emotional pain from anxiety the more you give it the power, let your thoughts flow, be mindful , look at your surroundings , count the letters on a title of a book near you , or the letters on a stop sign, little things like that help distract you, most of all let your thoughts be just that, thoughts and most importantly it’s okay for these thoughts to come , let them be thoughts without any judgement .

  2. Don’t rule out medication. Anxiety and depression runs in my family and they all say they are so glad they went on medication. There is low dosage stuff that is safe for pregnant women that my sister swears by. If the natural therapies aren’t working medication will help you get through these hard times. If you had an illness and your doctor recommended antibiotics you would take them right? Especially if the natural cures weren’t working. Mental health is the same thing. There is no shame in needing medication.

  3. I wish I had words of advice or an inspirational nugget to give you, but I don’t. I do think it’s good that you talk openly about your anxiety and even writing this post and getting your thoughts out there I think can be helpful. Continue to lean on those who love you for support, that’s what they’re there for and remember you are never alone in this.

  4. Ashley, it’s so empowering seeing you be so honest about all this. You should never be ashamed of how your body deals with stress, it’s a completely natural coping mechanism and the people that matter will be nothing but supportive and concerned. I am 100% with you on the medication front, i never take pills unless i absolutely have to. When I was younger I suffered with anxiety, although mine didn’t escalate to the panic attack stage, I still get those all too familiar feelings occasionally. What I find helps is a herbal remedy called Kalms, not sure if you have it in Canada or if you have tried it already? They sell them in Holland and Barrett, here’s a link – http://www.hollandandbarrett.com/shop/product/lanes-kalms-tablets-60034245 – they also sell Bach Flower Remedy’s – http://www.hollandandbarrett.com/shop/brands/bach-original-flower-remedies/ – which i found so helpful when I was suffering through a particularly bad time 6 years ago.
    Only give these a try if you feel they will be suitable for you of course do your research etc but if there is any way I can help you then please let me know xx

  5. Thinking of you during this tough time. I’ve only had 1 panic attack – when I was much younger – and I remember how awful it was. I have always been an anxious person but in recent years, I’ve actually found changing my diet made a noticeable difference, particularly finding out if I’m allergic to any foods or any have food sensitivities, and stopping eating them. It may sound a little crazy but it did help! I also used to go to acupuncture a ton, which I found very relaxing, and I swear by the magnesium supplement Natural Calm. All little things I know, but they can help even a bit!

  6. Thank you for sharing your story and heart with us, beautiful soul. All I can say is you know what’s best for you and your well being. I personally don’t think we need to be “afraid” of medications, but at the same time, I get what you’re saying about not wanting to band-aid symptoms and deal with the root cause. I’m the same way. I went through a period a few years ago where I developed acute anxiety/panic symptoms and left the Dr’s office with an RX for anti-depressants to which I threw away. I just KNEW it was a phase, and I’d get through it, on my own terms and with learning proper coping skills. It’s like we’re taught that discomfort and pain is not okay and we need to get rid of it ASAP.

    Always here to lend an ear to you. xoxox Sending so much love to you.

  7. First, there is NOTHING wrong with taking medication for anxiety. There are no awards for trying to be a hero and suffering through. Zero. When it comes to situational anxiety, medication can help you to see and feel a bit more clearly so you can better deal with things through therapy and CBT. No one is saying you need to be on them forever.

    Second, medication doesn’t numb you. At all. For me, it eases the anxiety and I actually probably feel happier on it. Not manic happy, but real, true, happy, because I no longer feel like I have an elephant sitting on my chest because of anxiety. I still get sad, frustrated and anxious at times, but it’s all at a level I can deal with. Even if you don’t want to take something daily, having an active script for Ativan or the like can help ease the panic attacks.

    Also, for me, instead of fighting feeling anxious, I try to breath it in. I identify the feelings. I give them a name. I say I’m feeling anxious and I find it helps.

    I’m really sorry you’re going through this. xo.

  8. I suffered from anxiety and panic attacks after losing ny job and a particularly tough semester. I saw a counsellor and worked hard every day to change how I felt. It’s been 8 months since I had a panic attack. Thoughts that helped me the most:

    – It’s not always going to be like this. You’re strong, there will come a day when this is a distant memory. Just remember that. It’s not going to be over in one day. You won’t realize it’s over right away, it will just sort of happen slowly over time.

    – Do something kind to yourself every day, even if it’s just taking the time to think positive thoughts. Take care of yourself physically and mentally. It’s okay, this just happens to people sometimes. Life is messy.

    – Knowledge is power. Read about the science behind panic attacks. It’s like a false alarm for your fight or flight response, your body mistakenly trying to protect you. Just accept the feeling and let it run its course, as terrible as it is.

    Thank you, I’m glad you posted about this side of your life. I’m sure it will help someone now or one day soon.

  9. Oh Ashley, I am so sorry to hear you are struggling but sharing your emotions with us is such a courageous act. I had a similar experience as you when I lost my grandparents over a decade ago. They were the glue that held our family together and when they died, it tore my family apart to the point that we’re still trying to rebuild it.

    I was also like you in the sense that I did not want to take medication and I stuck to that for a long time before I caved in and began taking it. In my own experience, the medication didn’t help. I felt numb on the meds which essentially made it worse for me. It essentially took some time to find what worked for me, and I think that is what is most important – that you find what works for you. Don’t be afraid to try things in the search of what is right for you either. For myself, seeing a therapist really helped because it was an outside source looking in without any judgments and guiding me along. Sometimes we just need someone to help us change the way we see things or think about things, and sometimes we just need someone to listen. I hope whatever it is, that you find it.

    Sending you oodles of love, comfort, and support.

    Alex xo

  10. I am with you and won’t take meds…not saying they are bad, but I feel I can manage without them so far. If you ever want to chat as I have a simular experience with loss of my dad and share the love of hiking, feel free to message me. Or follow my blog/facebook. Google crazieladies.wordpress.com and it should come up or crazieladies.wordpress.com or crazieladies on facebook. Take care.

  11. I’m so sorry to read about your struggles. I really have nothing to offer aside from love and support. I appreciate your openness about what you’re going through and hope that you can eventually find a way to help ease the symptoms of anxiety.

    I recently suffered what I believe to be my first mild panic attack. It was horrible and I hope I never have to repeat that moment, crying alone in my car. While situations are different, know that you are never alone in your struggles.

    Sending you love and light <3

  12. Thank you for sharing your story. I don’t have any advice but I hope that by opening up about your experience you will find a way to deal with the anxiety, whether it’s holistic or through medication. Several family members suffer from anxiety and medication has made a huge difference for them.

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