WRITTEN BY ERIN GIUGNO – 12/15/2018
Anxiety as an opportunity.
I remember my first panic attack nearly 7 years ago. I thought I was having a heart attack and I remember being so scared because I was home alone and I had no idea what to do. The feeling eventually subsided and my heart stopped racing. After the fact, I didn’t think much of it and assumed that I had just eaten something that did not agree with me. The very next day it happened again, but this time at my parent’s house. My loving step-mom gently explained to me that I wasn’t having a heart attack; I had anxiety.
I grew up around a verbally abusive alcoholic mother who is also bipolar. She used me as a pawn to upset my family and would do all sorts of crazy and embarassing things for attention. My earliest memories involve the strange, unpredictable, and manipulative behavior that goes hand in hand with her illness. My father eventually got full custody of me (when I was 14!) and I was finally saved from the toxic environment that I grew up in. I moved to Los Angeles and brushed my trauma under the rug. Doing this did not make me a strong person. It made me sick.
As the physical symptoms of trauma started to manifest through regular panic attacks and constant anxiety, I knew that I could not ignore these issues any longer. I found a wonderful therapist and started to work through my pain in weekly sessions. Therapy, silly woo woo practices, yoga, and expensive green juice habits worked for me for a long time. I still had anxiety, but I was able to manage it pretty well for years with only a few low moments here and there.
Then it hit me like a stack of bricks, just last year. My anxiety became so intense that it started to really scare me. I was exhausted and I didn't want to feel this way anymore. My old comfort measures no longer served me and I knew this time that I needed to approach my anxiety in a completely different way. I threw out all of my preconceived notions about wellness and treated this period as an opportunity.
I’m on the other side of it now and have learned some important lessons that I think are worth sharing. For the person who is silently suffering:
Healing is not a linear process. After the loss of my grandmother back in May, I experienced intense waves of emotion. I would be totally fine for hours, days, weeks, months and then I would suddenly break down. Learning this gave me permission to really feel all of the stages of grief in no particular order, sometimes in circles, again and again.
It’s okay to go on medication to treat mental health issues, even if it’s against your vibe. As a last resort, I made the decision to go on Zoloft one year ago and I honestly think that it saved my life. I want you to know that there is nothing embarrassing or shameful about getting a little help from medication to give you space and energy to get better. It is not a sign of weakness. In the same way that diabetic people take insulin, medication can be a proactive step in taking charge of your health and wellbeing.
WebMD is no one’s friend. How many times have you Googled a symptom and convinced yourself that you have some type of rare cancer or condition? As someone who struggles with OCD tendencies, I’m not allowed to look up anything health related on the internet anymore and neither should you. If you are unwell, go to a doctor that you trust and get it checked out.
We will always either have a positive, a negative or a neutral feeling. Mindful meditation has taught me to note the feeling and move on. When I am feeling negative, I try to remember that I will feel another positive feeling soon. Emotions are fleeting. Savour the happy ones and try not to get sucked into the trap of a negative feeling - it's a slippery slope.
Face the things that scare you. My therapist has taught me that the only way to deal with unwanted thoughts or fears is to face them. It won't be as scary as you think and the bad thing that you worry about will probably never happen.
I am not my mom, nor will I ever be like her. A lot of my anxiety stems from the fear that I am going to turn out like my mom and lose everything. I have to be reminded constantly by my family that I am nothing like my mom, nor will I ever be. As I get older, I am starting to believe just how true it is.
The silver lining of anxiety and depression is that you become more empathetic, relating to others on a deeper level. Everyone on this planet goes though pain in their life. It’s just a fact. Sharing your story is a very profound way to relate to others.
If you have a particular worry, finish telling yourself how the story will turn out if it were to be true. In other words, what is the worst thing that can happen? Chances are that the answer is related to loss and no one wants to experience loss of any kind (the loss of a job, the loss of a loved one, fear of being rejected, etc.). Playing out the worry basically removes the immediate feeling of anxiety because you start to realize how implausible it is. When you practice this enough, the hope is that your anxiety will subside.
Last, trust that the universe will never throw anything at you that you can’t handle. I've heard versions of this expression forever, but I really learned just how true it is this past year. I made it through my hardest days and I feel so much stronger because of it.
Transparency is a shared journal that is curated by Tiana Petrullo in collaboration with a beautiful community of contributors who have offered to share their personal experiences with mental health. To encourage a contribution of the most raw and real experience, minimal guidance was given. All stories have been willingly shared and are written to reflect what is personally most prevalent to the writer. Together, we offer an expansion of knowledge, awareness, and acknowledgement.