Anxiety Chronicles is a series from The Lily that examines the journeys different women have with anxiety.
This week, we hear from Katy Gentry, a 38-year-old mom of two children under 3½. She is a former foster parent, a studio vocalist, EMC actor and special education teacher who is now a full-time stay-at-home mother and advocate for her adopted son. She is also a sexual abuse survivor and has been living gratefully in sobriety for over four years.
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I remember my first panic attack at age 7 or 8. It was summertime and our little town had a machine called a fogger. It was a large green vehicle that would drive slowly through neighborhoods to kill mosquitoes with this dense smoke seeping from the back of it and filling the street leaving behind a white cloudy tunnel. It was loud.
You feel trapped. I would have nightmares because of it. I stayed inside that entire summer. I remember faking illness or begging my parents to make up an excuse so I did not have to attend activities, school or classes.
My anxiety got worse during school. I became forever changed while living through a short time of sexual abuse while in high school. It heightened while I cried myself to sleep my first year of college. If I were honest, I probably felt anxiety before the age of 7 but I could not label it and I surely did not have the tools to self-calm. I was hastily placed on antidepressants at age 18 after filling out a checklist.
Panic attacks. Dread. Feeling trapped. My lungs can never fill with enough air to allow me to catch my breath. My pulse increases steadily and quickly. I start to whisper or moan repeated phrases of ‘oh, no’ or ‘it’s okay’ between sucking in the air I can barely breathe. I reach for the nearest and sturdiest object to hold. Sometimes I have to moan loudly to intake air. I cry because of the bodily overtaking. I hear every sound all around me as one large instrument. I feel the urge to throw objects or feel the pounding of my hand on something. Once they are over then it’s a recovery period. My body is numb and I go through the motions. I feel drained, depleted and exhausted. On the daily, anxiety starts the moment my body wakes up. When I find calm throughout the day it is in moments and I drink them in because they are fleeting.
Dread. The anxiety takes over any reasonable thought and turns everything into a dead end with no escape. I move into fight, flight and freeze. I become angry and short with those around me. I feel there is no way out and there never will be. I become paralyzed and unable to rationalize the situation and look for potential solutions. I can become mean. I can act as if everyone is out to get me. I replay the past and I imagine the future with the same outcomes. I am depleted of all joy. I want to sit. I lose my appetite. I struggle to try. I become overtaken by a version of me that is not the version that I have worked so hard to live out.
When my anxiety is at its worst, it normally means I am taking my first Klonopin by 7:30 in the morning. It means I am already arguing with my 3-year-old. It means I have cried while brushing my teeth and if I was lucky to get a shower in, I cried there, too. It means I am already thinking of my calendar: who I need to email, what I need to order, the dishes that aren’t even dirty yet but will fill up my sink. It means I think of everything and nothing all at the same time. I go through the motions of my day. It is a day with little moments of joy — little moments of calm — but they are fleeting. But I get up and I do it because I am a mom. I don’t get breaks.
Thankfully, I am a grateful sober woman who just celebrated living alcohol-free for four years and four months. My go-to for many years was wine — daily bottles of wine. But now, after living clearheaded for over four years, my coping mechanisms have turned to increased time on self-care: solo trips to New York City to feel alive; texting my husband to let him know that when he comes home I will be leaving for a few hours because I have to; timing when I take my medication so that I know I have enough hours in the day to parent and be alive and think and make decisions before the medication wears off; buying overpriced coffee and cake pops; praying out loud in the car before I take my children anywhere; writing; singing; tickling my children and hearing their giggle; and eating ice cream right out of the container. It also means attending weekly therapy sessions and working with a psychiatrist to manage the right medication for me. It means spending the money and doing some hard work to feel better.
Living with anxiety and the impending panic attacks does not take away my ability to teach, to lead, to engage with others, to parent my children, to love my husband, to be in charge, to believe in Jesus or to live a life of purpose. It just means I have to work a little harder to find joy in things.
I am not ashamed of anxiety and not concerned with how I am perceived as someone who is challenged by it daily. That is a choice I make daily — just like I do with my sobriety. However, I don’t laugh as much as I want to. I don’t enjoy things as fully as I would like. It robs me of fun, trust, relationship-building and peace.