Dealing With Crippling Anxiety?
Photo Credit: Sheila Fitzgerald/Shutterstock
The pandemic has been hard on all of us. And, with the emergence of new variants all the time, a possible end feels further and further from reality. Add to this time the normal pressures of everyday life and you have the perfect recipe for crippling anxiety.
I’ve always been able to give people the impression that I’m fairly laid-back. I try to have a healthy attitude in which I address the problems that I can head-on without stressing too much about the ones I can’t tackle just yet. But, if I’m being honest, I have always been an anxiety-riddled person. The pandemic has just brought this out of me in full force.
One of the biggest stressors in my life is the concern for my parents and their health. My mother is immunocompromised, so if she even gets a cold, she will typically develop pneumonia. I worry about a time when she becomes resistant to the antibiotics that treat her pneumonia. When that happens, what are we supposed to do? So, when a highly contagious respiratory virus started to ravage the world, my thoughts became preoccupied with my mother’s health day and night.
I worry about her taking the precautions she needs to during the pandemic. I worry about my father, who can typically be as laid-back as I am, taking it seriously. My dad has been vocal about wanting to return to normal life, including a trip to Florida that he has been looking forward to. The idea of either of them traveling to Florida, a state that continues to grapple with the virus, fills me with terror and a level of anxiety I have never known before. I worry about the idea of breakthrough infections, of waning vaccine protection over time. But, like many of my peers, I’m left worrying that my parental lectures, along with my real, fact-based fears, are not being taken seriously. I’ve spent each day for almost two years terrified I will lose my parents. I'm exhausted.
In June, I lost two family members. Neither was to COVID, but that didn’t help to soften the blow. The inability to grieve with family, compounded with an already stressful and depressed environment, has proved to be a lot to handle.
Oh, and did I mention I am planning my wedding? We delayed it a year from September 2021 to September 2022, with the hope that the world will be closer to normal by then. But that hope has been hard to maintain. I, like many others, feel as though my entire life has been put on hold. The idea of children, homeownership, or even traveling the world feels further and further from my grasp. I’m worried about building the future I’ve always wanted. Will that even be possible someday soon?
Many of us also feel like we haven’t worked our socialization muscles for over a year, and they have definitely atrophied. We have to face these new issues while still maintaining our regular lives filled with work, bills, and responsibilities.
I have written about the anxiety associated with the reentry into normal society that many of us have been facing since the deployment of the vaccines. I am so grateful to have been fortunate enough to be vaccinated, but with that relief came a whole host of surprising new social anxieties. Suddenly, I was able to go out in public again, after more than a year of being surrounded by the comforts of my own home. After a year-plus of not having to worry about maintaining my chronic illness outside of the house, I was thrust back into the world. It hasn't been a smooth transition.
Many of us also feel like we haven’t worked our socialization muscles for over a year, and they have definitely atrophied. We have to face these new issues while still maintaining our regular lives filled with work, bills, and responsibilities. Before the pandemic, I felt like I was really killing this whole work-life balance game. I was working out and eating well, building successful careers in multiple fields, and had a roaring social life, all while pursuing outside passions. Now, most days I feel like I am hanging by a very thin thread.
In April, I suffered my first panic attack during my first outing post-vaccination. I thought it was an outside incident until June. That’s when I started to suffer from panic attacks consistently. By mid-June, I was suffering from panic attacks that lasted for several days at a time. It reached a point where I couldn’t be around anyone, including my amazing fiancé. I felt like my life was over.
After spending a night shivering in self-imposed isolation despite the abnormally high temperature in my bedroom, I knew I needed help. I went to the emergency room and cried while holding my knees and rocking back and forth, begging the doctors to help me. An on-call psychiatrist prescribed me some short-term medication to help alleviate my physical symptoms. He also told me I needed to start seeing a therapist and a psychiatrist. I promptly sought treatment from both.
I’ve always taken pride in being independent, in handling my own problems without any help. I’m pretty self-aware and capable of admitting my own flaws and finding ways to work on them. I always thought I could handle any problem on my own. Until one day, I simply could not.
It took a couple of different tries before I found a psychiatrist with whom I felt comfortable. And, I have now been seeing her and my therapist for close to two months. Both have given me tools to combat my panic attacks and anxiety, but I am not out of the woods yet. I don’t feel like myself still. One of the hardest parts of this whole journey has been accepting the possibility that I may never feel like my old self again.
I have found some benefits in this journey. I have new sympathy and empathy for the people around me, especially those facing mental health issues. I have received some wonderful support and comfort from many of my dear friends. And, through therapy, I have learned things about myself that I would not have otherwise. I’m working through issues that I don’t know I would have addressed if not for this trying time.
While I would love for this to be a story of triumph, of my victory over my anxiety disorder, that just wouldn’t be the truth. I am still in the middle of my journey and I am learning to accept that there may never be an end to this fight. But maybe my story can help others who are going through similar struggles to feel less alone. Not every story has a happy ending. Not every journey ends in triumph. Success comes in the form of smaller victories for me nowadays. In just getting through each day. I’m able to handle things that I couldn’t six weeks ago. That needs to be enough for me. For now.