When I was in my early twenties, my husband had a heart attack at the age of 34. I was terrified he would die, and that I would never see him again. The truth was, from that day on, I was never going to see myself again. At least not that version of myself.
I drove home from the hospital that very first day, alone and in shock. I had no support system-no family or friends to help me. They all had kids and lives of their own, and my husband’s family all lived in another state and couldn’t get there. So there I was by myself, living my worst nightmare.
My husband was my entire world. He was my best friend, my partner, and a father figure to me in a way, because he was 10 years older than me. But more importantly, he was my security. I had no relationship with my own father at that point in my life, and I had never really had a relationship with anybody before who made me feel “safe” and protected, and my husband gave that to me. I was extremely dependent on him-more than I even realized.
The day that he had his heart attack, it was like I was a in a movie. It was so horrible and my brain didn’t see to want to process that this was really happening to me. It felt like my own personal Armageddon. My world seemed to lose its color and everything literally seemed grayer and foggier.
I wanted to stay at the hospital in the ICU with him, but they wouldn’t let me, and I was too insecure to cause a scene demanding to stay, so I reluctantly got in my car and drove home. And about a mile past the hospital, I was coming to a stop light, when something caught my eye in a very bright, sharp, almost 3D kind of way. I remember it was so crystal clear and just seemed to jump out at me. To this day, I have no idea what it was, but whatever it was. It triggered my first panic attack and it was the beginning of the most difficult journey of my life.
From that day on, my life was a living nightmare. My husband and recovered and came home, but even that could not heal the emotional wound of almost losing him. It was too deep. I would go to work and be sick to my stomach and panic all day long. I was physically ill from nervousness every second of the day. I was keyed up, on edge, and terrified. And I had no idea what I was terrified of. I thought I was crazy and I thought I was days from being locked away. I was 100% completely and utterly clueless about what was going on with me. I ended up leaving my job. I quit driving because I was panicking all day long. And I quit going anywhere without my husband.
One day, weeks into this, it occurred to me that my symptoms were a lot like a patient we had at the doctor’s office I used to work at. Her name was Melissa, and she was who I used to call the “Drama Queen”. She was a nice girl but she would come rushing into the office at least once every few weeks, clutching her chest complaining of “panic attacks”. I remember rolling my eyes at her and thinking she was desperate for attention. Well, you know what they say about Karma, and they are right because I got a truckload dumped in my lap.
Once I started thinking about Melissa, I just sort of “knew” that I was having the same issues as she was having. And I cannot tell you how much hope that gave me. I had hope that whatever I was going through was an actual “thing”. It was real. It had a name. It was Anxiety. I hadn’t lost my mind after all.
I went out and bought a book on anxiety and I wish to God I could think of the name of it. I think it had a yellow cover. But whatever the name of it was, it saved me. The first page was a story about a person with panic disorder and every single one of their symptoms sounded exactly like mine. I sat there on my bed and I will never forget this- with tears streaming down my face and like a 50 pound weight had been lifted off of my chest. I was not alone. I was not alone.
Once I knew what my problem was, it was on. Now I had power. Now there was something I could do about it. I read every book on the subject of anxiety I could find. I wrote notes from these books in my notebooks all day long. I went to websites and I ordered an anxiety cassette tape series. I went to a psychologist. I went to a doctor. I tried meditation, aromatherapy, I basically read and tried everything that was possible to read or try except for medication, I knew that wasn’t for me.
What I came to believe was that my anxiety disorder was basically the result of my sensitive, negative, over-thinking personality combined with my lack of faith in my ability to take care of myself or to handle a crisis. My constant stress and busy lifestyle were also a huge factor.
My anxiety forced me to take a look at myself, a really GOOD look at myself and see who I was and the way I treated myself. I did not value myself. I did not respect myself. And I did not think I was capable of handling anything in my life. I was weak and I had become this sort of “victim” and I hated that feeling and I vowed to climb out of that hole that I dug for myself- and I did.
It took time and patience and a lot of determination, but I am no longer in that hole. 20 years later, I am strong. I am confident. I know that I can handle anything. And thank God for my anxiety disorder, because without it, I would still be that same weak girl who relied on her husband for everything and didn’t believe she was good enough or capable enough to survive on her own.
I feel sorry for that girl, so, so sorry for her. But I am so proud of myself for not giving in to this disorder and just choosing to wallow in it. I don’t even want to think about the person I would be today, or the life I would be living, if I had chosen to stay in victim mode.
So thank you anxiety. From the bottom of my heart, I love you and am grateful to you. You will always be the very, very best worst thing that ever happened to me. 😉