“His palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy,
There’s vomit on his sweater already, mom’s spaghetti…”
I find myself thinking of these Eminem lyrics from time to time, mainly because on any given day these words could perfectly describe my experiences with anxiety (except in my case, mom’s spaghetti would probably be my mother’s macaroni pie). Most days, I am able to function, give or take some uneasiness or feeling on edge. However, there are other days when I simply cannot cope – I feel overwhelmed, my pulse starts racing and a headache ensues. I am on the verge of tears, or I am already crying, and a few times (probably more times than I’m willing to admit) I have thrown up in the office bathroom, at home, at my parents’ house or at my in-laws. You get the point?
Most, if not all, of us experience anxiety at some point. It could be while waiting to speak in front of a crowd, the moments before a job interview or on the morning of your wedding. Your stomach is in knots, you may cold sweat and your heartbeat speeds up a little. Adrenaline kicks in.
For many of us, the level of anxiety we experience is beyond average and happens more frequently (than others). Our hearts beat erratically, we get light-headed, nausea ensues and the urge to pass out is real. The worst part of it all, is that the body constantly exists in this hyper state of being on edge. Over time, we feel drained. We feel tired but on edge and it messes with the function of mind and body – at least, that is how it has been for me.
I always knew what I experienced was beyond normal, but I did not realise how bad it was until I started having constant panic attacks a few years ago – the insomnia, violent nightmares, my heartbeat was volatile, I could not breathe and my vision was blurred. A few times, I was convinced that I was having a heart attack and I managed to get myself to the hospital. I was seen by medical staff and got hooked up to the ECG machine but the results were always the same – my heart rate was normal.
It was by the third visit or so, that the doctor asked me if I suffered from anxiety. I did not know how to answer but after she asked a series of questions, she referred me to the Psych (Psychiatric) Clinic.
Psych Clinic? I wasn’t crazy, was I? Persistently mulling over this brought on another wave of anxiety. I have seen first-hand how our society treats with mental health issues. Mental health is only ever brought up when someone commits suicide. Outside of that, anyone expressing anything that could possibly indicate that he or she is suffering from anxiety or depression would be treated with any, or a combination, of the following:
“Like yuh need to go St Anns or what?”
“You doh look depressed.”
“Stop getting on so, it have people worse off than you.”
“Why you always fretting about everything?”
“Yuh need to pray more.”
Thankfully, I can say that these statements were never thrown in my direction. I am fortunate to have people in my life who have been there for me through the ups and downs, the visits to the clinic, through the medication and everything in between.
In the midst of it all, I struggled with the fact that General Anxiety Disorder is a real thing and that I had to deal with it. From Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), to my joints dislocating when they feel like it, I am used to having and talking about the disorders that affect my physical well-being. However, the concept of having something wrong with me mentally shook me, it frustrated me and I wanted to make the anxiety and everything that came with it go away. So I followed my doctor’s orders and started the medication and it helped almost instantly. I felt really good once I took that pill every day, but after a while, I made the decision to wean myself off it. I didn’t want to be on it long term as I wanted to be able to cope with it (the anxiety) on my own. Since I have been medication free, I have worked more on how I treat with the moments when I feel on edge, when I find myself worrying more than usual and when the nausea hits.
I force myself to be still and simply breathe. I would block out all the noise and focus on my breath, until my heart beat slows down, and I don’t feel as high strung. At the beginning, this proved to be a challenge, but the more my anxiety reared its ugly head, the harder I focused on calming myself. Once I’m calm enough, I would read the Bible or my journal or I would simply remain still, until I feel like I have regained my composure.
That strategy works for me, but by no means is it a complete and absolute ‘fail-safe’ way to cope. I know that everyone’s experience is different and some people will probably have to stay medicated while others may be able to cope once they can identify their triggers and practice healthy coping mechanisms.
My message in all of this to you, is that you should never be afraid to speak out about how you are feeling. Whether you feel stressed, depressed, or overly anxious, let your feelings be known. If you are feeling like you can’t cope, seek professional help. Do not ever let the negative stigma stop you from doing what you need to do to take care of yourself emotionally and psychologically. You got this sis, you can do it. Just take care of yourself…you will be okay.