The Anxiety Chronicles is a series from The Lily that examines the journeys different women have with anxiety.
This week we hear from Lalaine D. Biegenwald, who moved to the United States from the Philippines a little over a year ago.
I began to experience anxiety about nine years ago. I was in a long-distance relationship with my husband (then boyfriend). We were talking about how we don’t want to lose each other and how much it would hurt to not have each other anymore. During that time, I was a preschool teacher and I had been concerned about my capacity to teach. I was just so overwhelmed with concerns that I might not be able to deliver what was expected of me. One night while getting ready for bed, I was watching a late-night show and suddenly, my heart rate started to go up, and I had this inexplicable sense of disorientation. I was living with my aunts and so I called for them telling them I don’t feel good, I can’t breathe, and I don’t want to die. We called an ambulance and I was rushed to the hospital.
That was the start of my anxiety and my frequent hospital visits.
It is usually the same thing again and again. At first, it feels as if I can’t breathe. Then, I can’t sleep at night. There are times that I just can’t sleep and would stay up until the sun is out. Only when I am tired of having no sleep at all, will I be able to get some much-needed slumber. However, it doesn’t stop there. In my dreams, my anxiety haunts me, and I will get a jolted awake from a nightmare.
People around me would think that I am a very caring, loving and fun person to be around. What they don’t know, as I walk, talk and interact with them, is that at the back of my mind are worries and “what ifs” and this sense of being scared all the time. I will be out with my husband, and our family and friends partying or just spending a casual day but deep in my mind, thoughts of death, accidents and sickness are always lingering. When we are out driving, I have this frightening thought that we might get into an accident. When we are eating, I feel scared that one of us will go into cardiac arrest.
I don’t want to do some activities like go for a swim, thinking I will drown. I don’t want to exercise thinking that I might have a heart attack.
Being away from my family doesn’t help. My parents are in the Philippines and they are not in their prime anymore, so it really consumes me when I think about how I might not be able to see them again.
Nighttime is the worst, since that’s the time when everything is silent, and the only thing I hear are my thoughts. This is when I consider my father passing, my mom being terminally ill or my brother getting into an accident.
One might think that everyone is of course concerned about one’s family, but because of my anxiety, I become totally consumed by these thoughts.
When I experience a very high anxiety level, I have difficulty breathing and I feel like I am about to die. The next thing I know, I am being rushed to the hospital. When I had my very first anxiety attack, the first year was just so bad that I was in and out of the emergency room. Nowadays, a bad episode involves not being able to get any sleep at all.
The best advice that I got regarding my anxiety is when my doctor told me that the only person that could heal me is myself. At first, it was rather vague, but as I go on with life, I realized what he told me was true. A book or watching a feel-good movie are some of the best ways to get rid of all my unpleasant thoughts. I find it helpful to avoid reading or watching news that involves death (murder, suicide, accidents, dying of old age or losing someone you love). It is helpful to just skip the news all together.
Another thing is to work out and be physically active. This helps tire me out before I hit bed. The best thing is to talk to my husband and my parents. Having that kind of support is valuable. I can talk to them freely and explain to them the things that make me anxious helps. Family is my best go-to coping mechanism.
Anxiety is a stigma in our society. Anxiety is really consuming and at times debilitating. I hope that by sharing my experiences, people will understand that it is best to deal with someone with anxiety by letting them talk.
It would be useful for them to know that the best way to handle us is by just letting us tell them what we are feeling. I wish that they would start listening rather than telling someone with anxiety to stop thinking and “just think of happy thoughts.” I wish it was that easy, to just think of rainbows and unicorns and fields of lavender but it is not quite effective.