Anxiety Chronicles is a series from The Lily that examines the journeys different women have with anxiety.
This week, we hear from Karen Veazey, a freelance writer who lives in Las Vegas, Nev.
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I remember having anxiety as a child and teen, but it really ramped up in my 20s, when I developed an eating disorder. The mental and physical energy that behavior required was a coping mechanism that allowed me to keep anxiety under control. During this period, I also developed severe claustrophobia that still plagues me today. That came with panic attacks in any situation where I can’t get up and walk away easily, like in airplanes or even in social situations I’m not thrilled to be in.
At 30, the dam broke and I was flooded with OCD symptoms like obsessive cleaning and checking. The worst of it all was intrusive thoughts. My intrusive thoughts were violent, and ranged from images of self-harm to harming others, which made me fear I was having a psychotic break. I sought treatment through medication and therapy and have been continuing both ever since. For the most part, my anxiety has been managed, but during the past few months it has worsened; I’ve also developed some new phobias. I’ve now been having panic attacks even in situations that previously didn’t bother me, like riding in cars or being a room with a closed door. When I’m in those situations, I just feel like I need to get up and leave or I can’t breathe.
My anxiety resides in my chest and stomach. Some days I have an stomach ache — a hollow, nagging, nausea — all day long, and I know there’s no good reason. It’s as though my body is trying to prepare me for a fight-or-flight situation, but there is no reason for it, so there is no climax or conclusion to it and it never abates. In my chest, I feel pressure and a fluttery feeling and I notice my breathing is shallower. When my anxiety really acts up, I can’t sit still and I’ll pace to get the jitters out. When I have to sit down, I fidget with my legs or hands. During those instances, even fun activities such as watching a movie with friends who don’t know I have anxiety is really hard, because I have to fight to sit still.
When I experience a panic attack, I get tunnel vision and feel a flush up through my neck and head. My hands get tingly and I feel like I can’t catch a breath.
I spend so much time trying to actively ignore my anxiety that I sometimes just want to give in and let it take over. Despite all that, I still strive for a successful work life, happy home, physical health and a balanced social life. I’m actually thankful I don’t have worse mental health issues than I do, because I’ve seen what some people battle.
My anxiety presents mentally through racing thoughts and a feeling of doom that can make me very quiet around other people. It’s hard to communicate when there’s a whole conversation in your head about what could go wrong any moment.
On the very worst days, I want to stop whatever I’m doing and just find a doctor who can tell me that everything will be okay.
My mind is taken over with OCD intrusive thoughts about violence. Because the thoughts are so disturbing, I want to flee and escape them, but there is nowhere to go. I’m living in constant flight mode, so my body is on high alert and extremely tense. I can’t sit still or focus on anything else, so work is extremely difficult. I want to just go to bed and wake up when it’s over.
Therapy and medications have helped to keep anxiety at a livable level for nearly two decades. When something causes it to break through, as can happen with stress, I turn to prayer and reading my Bible.
For panic attacks, I carry medication with me if I know I’m going into a situation that might trigger a phobia. However, it makes me sleepy, so if I take it I have to know that I could be out of commission later in the day.
Like most mental health issues, living with anxiety comes saddled with a lot of shame. There’s no reason that should be the case, but it’s easy to feel less-than because I deal with something that everyone else seems to manage so well. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders affect 18.1 percent of the population every year, yet only 36.9 percent of people suffering receive treatment. As a culture, we have to get to place where we recognize that anxiety is a medical problem and deserves the same treatment we would seek for any biological problem with our bodies.