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Hi, my name is Cathy…and I suffer from Anxiety … on the daily…

When I was younger, I never knew what anxiety was, and when I first heard of it, I scoffed it off as ridiculous “diagnosis”.

I did that while I was suffering, only I didn’t know the name.

I had my first full blown panic attack as I was driving on an overpass of the freeway.  It was nighttime.  I was headed somewhere fun, but can’t remember where… I can only remember the moment my heart raced, my face flushed, my thoughts went in a crazy circular pattern and took me to a place I couldn’t comprehend and I literally screamed “STOP” at the top of my lungs as I transitioned from the 55 to the 91 fwy… My heart raced for a while and I had no idea what hit me.

As I write, I’m actually reminded of an earlier episode while at high school.  I never really connected it before, but I went to the nurses office and I wanted to go home.  I had to call my dad (who was more strict) because my mom wasn’t available, and the nurse looked at me as I was scratching my arms as if I wanted to get out of my body.  I remember the school nurse’s urgency as she asked to speak to my dad.  When I got on the phone, my voice was shaky and I said, “I don’t feel good, I want to go home” and I guess my dad heard the desperation in my voice and granted my wish.

In truth, I’m sure it all goes back farther, but by the grace of God, my memory is weak and I sometimes think that is my saving grace.

The truth is, the discovery of one’s self is long and sometimes painful.

Since I could remember, I wanted to see a therapist, and as soon as I could afford it, I went.  I was in my early twenties when I found out I’m a visual learner and that relieved some of the reason why I sucked at school.  As I pursued therapy, I realized that I was quite an observer.  Something that would prove me well as I pursued my career in photography.

But the underlying problem was still the invisible elephant in the room and I had no idea what it was, or what to call it.  It plagued so much of my life and I just didn’t know how to handle it because I didn’t have a name for it.  I just withdrew more and more into the comfort of whatever home I was in and found a way to cope at work.

I will never forget the day of diagnosis…I will never forget the face of my therapist, who was an MFCC student at the college where I worked.  In hindsight, I think she knew early on what I had, but she needed me to put the pieces together before she could confirm. She would ask me many times if I had repetitive thoughts.  I had no idea what she was really asking and my first thought to that was something having to do with autistic behavior ( I can’t really explain how I didn’t understand what she was asking, because simply… I didn’t understand what she was trying to get at.).

But one day, I was feeling exceptionally overwhelmed.   My face was flushed as I entered the room, and all at once, everything I had been holding back…or rather HIDING, because I was literally afraid I was going to infect someone with my thoughts, ALL CAME FLOODING OUT…   I was HYSTERICAL with gasping breath, tears, near convulsions of the body…

Yet as I poured myself out to this woman, it was almost as if she sat back in her chair like, “THERE IT IS!”…and a calm yet determined look came over her face.  She told me, “You need to go TODAY, NOT tomorrow, TODAYYY, to the doctor and tell them you need medication for anxiety.

My brows furrowed in confusion.

ANXIETY?  WTAF is THAT??

It was the diagnosis I literally scoffed at so many years ago.  And HERE I AM!!

After I calmed down a bit, I looked at her and said, “Will I ever feel normal again?”  and she said, “YES!  Because I have suffered it, and I know how you feel!”

I simply cannot tell you how comforting it is to know you are NOT alone!!

I calmed down enough to go back to my boss and dismiss myself for the day.  My doctor put me on Zoloft, which I was on for many years, and it was like night and day….

One day I decided I was done with medications.  No matter the pill, there is a side effect.  I missed my high highs and my low lows…. I didn’t want to be “numb” anymore….. (that said the peace was delightful…just not entirely “me”)

I started with new therapists (as my former had graduated and gone onto other practice).  I searched for a therapist who would help me get off meds….

THAT WAS A RIDE!!! (keep in mind, this was the 90s)

I met with a therapist who continued to push meds on me. I finally told him, “If YOU think that meds are the ONLY way out, then you are NOT FOR ME!”  Two more sessions and I was out…and on my own.

The battle of anxiety NEVER goes away.  When I asked my former therapist if I would ever be okay again she told me that she had reduced her med use to “situational only”, which was promising to me.

My goal was med free.

Over the years, I have seen my anxiety rear its ugly head in many different ways.  Sometimes it’s agitation, other times, withdrawal, other times I’m stuck in my head in complete fear that takes over my body.

It’s present EVERY.SINGLE.DAY.  Even my own husband has no idea how I struggle and it’s been 24 yrs and counting with him.

He’s helped talk me down many a time, unknowingly, for which I am grateful.  He likely has no idea.  He’s my polar opposite and I’m grateful for him (most days 😉 )

Over the years, I have learned to find mantra’s that help (Mine is, “I am HERE, NOW!”). A mantra is a very personal thing.  If it doesn’t resonate with you, it won’t work.  My battle with anxiety has been a journey unto itself and it’s taken a toll on me over the years….

My most recent issue is one of very personal nature.  It’s a personal endeavor I started on about 4 years ago, and that is singing.  It’s always been a passion of mine and I don’t know why I started to pursue it more, but it seems with each lesson, I’m more hungry for “perfection”.

Therein lies the problem.

Anytime you try something new, it’s a journey.  And when you approach something you really know nothing about, you have to learn from the ground up and the journey is that much longer…

I’d assume that after four years, I would find some comfort in my ability, but today was a great reminder that there is a process to everything.

I started taking singing at my local community college.  This teacher would be the fourth in my (so far) journey.  He’s a very seasoned man with the confidence in this arena I am sure to never achieve.  He’s trained with the likes of stars that we know, but I dare not disclose.

In my class I feel inadequate as I’m new and many are returning students, so I scheduled a private with him to just discuss my fears and request his guidance through it all.

Let’s talk a moment about wisdom….

Wisdom is an amazing gift that one acquires through the constant trials and tribulations of ones passion…

This man has wisdom.

As I walked into his studio, I was nearly shaking with nerves.  My whole morning, getting ready, there were butterflies in my stomach.  In the classes I (hid in) from the back of the room, I could tell that he knew his stuff.  Each week, he peels away the layers of what we “Think” is correct.  And he does it in a light hearted manner.

And now I’m at his doorstep completely vulnerable, standing next to ever ounce of anxiety that I have ever owned in my life….

As he invites me in and I disclose my fears, he talks to me about the process.  He talks to me about the history of the pastime…and with each word, I start to relax a little.  I now know that as he saw me, he recognized my fear and my vulnerability.  His WISDOM let him hone in on my fears.  My body language spoke VOLUMES as I stood with my arms folded across my chest…

He talked, and I listened… and with each word, my shoulders dropped a little more…

UNTIL…. his fingers hit the piano….

In that moment, ALL my fears came back and I found myself holding my breath, instead of supporting it.

Anxiety jumped all over my body, once again and wouldn’t let me free….

He sensed this right away.  He stopped me.  He told me that instead of fear, I should be feeling the inner joy and not fear.

Slowly, he peeled back the layers of everything I was afraid of.  He ran me through the scales and looked at me and said, “with what I am hearing, I don’t understand what you are afraid of!”

And the truth is…most people DON’T get it….

But his constant reinforcement and direction helped me shed away one layer at a time.

And in one poignant sentence, I felt a sigh of relief and understanding….

“The relaxation is in the BREATH!”

I cannot tell you how powerful that statement is… say it out loud…

“THE RELAXATION IS IN THE BREATH!”

He said so much more, and some pretty powerful stuff at that, but suffice it to say, this statement is powerful, and NOT only true in singing!!

BREATH!!!

After my encounter with this wonderful man, I had another wonderful man come to my house to treat my dogs for their pain.  My poor babies are 10 and 14 and as precious as can be (Dogs).  My dog chiropractor came over and what he does just reinforces what my singing teacher said…

As he came to my backyard, I put the dogs up one at a time.  From the moment he touches my animals, he takes in a deep breath, touches them and slowly releases his breath… he literally connects with my animals through touch…and Breath….

Today was a great reminder to me.  BREATH CONNECTS!!  BREATH SUPPORTS and BREATH HEALS…

When I am feeling short of breath, I know I’m suffering anxiety.  When I breathe DEEP, and quiet my mind, I’m more in control.

I know I will have anxiety for all my life, but the longer I live with it and face it, and learn to push it away, the more inward and quiet I become.  The more trusting I become. The more I realize that I can get through just about anything.

That said… I always check in with myself.  I’m not afraid to go back on meds if I feel I can’t cope in the present.

Life is a journey, ALWAYS…

Realize that you don’t have to go it alone.  Realize that a trusted ear could save your life.  Realize that you are NEVER alone.  And realize that if you ASPIRE for more…you can find it…ALWAYS!!!

Never give up!!!