Growing up, there were so many emotions that marked different stages of my life. I remember happier days when my mother used to take my sister and me for ice cream and pizza. I also remember the pride I felt at the swimming galas when my mother would be cheering the loudest as I took first place. Those days did eventually come to an end when she fell ill. It may sound strange to some, but my happy memories from my childhood only go until I turned thirteen. What followed was a mix of depression, anxiety, and insecurity.
If you have read my ‘Accepting Grief‘ series, you know of some of my emotional struggles. But one thing I have never really spoken about is just how much of an impact anxiety has on me.
After such an interesting year, I am certain that many more people have experienced similar emotions as I did growing up. So for the purpose of bringing awareness and the comfort that you are not alone, I have chosen to share my personal battle with anxiety.
Anxiety induced panic attacks
The very first time I experienced a panic attack, or at least what I now know now to be one, was when my mother was in the hospital. During that period, I would use my lunch breaks at school to power-walk over to the hospital where mama was kept. What scared me was the difficulty breathing I experienced upon arrival. Of course, walking fast can make you lose your breath but this was different. It felt more like a tightness in my chest, accompanied by wheezing.
What also stood out was that the inexplicable fear I felt as though I had a gun pointed at my head. It was such a tough experience that the nurses had to give me something to help with my breathing. Nothing made sense back then, but it was something that only worsened with time.
How anxiety affected my body…
When anxiety builds up, your body is pumped with cortisol. In short bursts, you get that adrenaline rush that can give you the boost to run just a little faster or carry something a little heavier. When the release of cortisol is prolonged, it starts to have a toll on your body.
Around the time that my mother was in the hospital, I got the very first taste of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and just how debilitating it could be. Annoyingly, my body also started to break out in hives and left scars that are visible to this day. So not only was I struggling to breathe, I could not stomach anything without feeling serious pain and I scratched uncomfortable wounds all over my body!
… and my appetite
My appetite has been always been erratic depending on the emotions I feel. Back when I was a teen, before my mom passed on, I would rarely eat anything. It was more so to do with the fact that she wasn’t working and money was scarce than anything else. At that time, since my mother was in the hospital, my godparents took me in. During the time I lived with them, I would save any snacks that were meant for me and took them to my mom during my daily hospital visits. And when we were at home, I would eat more than necessary to compensate.
Since then, whenever I feel the anxiety build-up, my first instinct is to turn to food. Strangely enough, my brain is hard-wired to believe that food and stress have to go hand in hand. It may be because eating something gives my body something else to focus on. And it did. The panic attacks are not nearly as hectic. The only issue now is the consequence of stress-eating. But again, as a teen, I assumed that I could cheat the system and still have my food without necessarily eating it. If you’re keen to know how that went, you can read about the birth of my eating disorder.
The correlation between anxiety and sleep
With anxiety comes the fear of both the known and the unknown. This can look different when presented to different people, but for me, it came as a difficulty falling and staying asleep. Falling asleep was hard in itself because of all the thoughts that ran through my mind. But the hardest part was continuing the nightmare in the dreams that followed.
Before my mother fell ill, I would dream of her dying. After she passed away, I would dream of her suffering the last few weeks of her life. This is something that only went away decades later, with the assistance of a psychologist. But sometimes does resurface. It was brutal and I don’t think I will ever fully get over it.
Although the term is used very loosely, there are many people that suffer from anxiety and its side effects. Just like everything else, there isn’t a “one size fits all” template that will show what to look out for. Anxiety can be debilitating, so showing compassion to anyone who is going through dark times can go miles in helping them overcome it.
Have you ever experienced similar reactions to anxiety? What helped you through it?