By Megan Carter
This time last year, I didn’t think I’d live to see another spring. It’s true. Let me explain. The years after I had my last child, Karson, were plagued by migraine headaches. I suffered at least 14 days out of every month with them. Finally, in 2017, I went to a neurologist for the problem. I was prescribed a drug called Topamax. To my delight, after just one week of the medicine, the migraines stopped. What I soon found is that what replaced those migraines was far worse!
I was sitting in my office one Friday afternoon, when all of a sudden my heart started pounding. I began to sweat. I could not catch my breath. I felt as though my tongue was swelling up. I went to the bathroom and splashed water on my face. I recovered, but over the weekend, this would happen 3 more times. I attributed the symptoms to the medicine, and quickly stopped taking it.
After 3 ER visits, where they ran multiple tests and could not find anything wrong with me, a doctor at the Lanier County ER held me by the hand and said “mama, your labs, EKG, and Cat Scans look better than mine. You said you work full time, you’re in school, and you take care of 3 boys by yourself. Honey you have anxiety.”
“Anxietyyyyyy???” I thought. There had to be a mistake. I felt that I was too mentally tough to suffer from such a disorder. Then, all at once, memories of past anxiety attacks rushed to my brain. The first one happened when I was 5. I had won the honor of “Thanksgiving Princess” at my school. I’d earned the most feathers, and had the most bedazzled vest. This honor would allow me to take center stage at the Thanksgiving program and say “Welcome to the festivities!” to all of the kindergarten classes and our parents. When my time came, my mouth felt numb. I began to sweat and my vision got blurry. I couldn’t utter one word. My teacher, Mrs. Killgo came to my rescue and shouted my lines for me.
This would happen a few more times over the next few years. When I had to bring my mom home a report card with B’s on it (that was a no no). When I had to balance work and college and was overwhelmed. When I was moved to a different department in the hospital where I work and it was obvious that my boss disliked me…the anxiety was always there. But it had only happened sporadically so I attributed it to not eating enough, or having too much caffeine. Yes, the Topamax exacerbated the condition, but I
begin to understand that the anxiety was always there.
Now if you have anxiety and you’re on meds for it—good for you. Do whatever you have to do to be well. As for me, I saw medication as part of the issue, so I chose to combat mine naturally. How? It took a while, but these strategies helped me, and hopefully I can help some of you.
- Know your triggers. For me, it’s being overwhelmed. I no longer feel guilty about turning down dinners, family gatherings, or other events. I know how much I can handle, and that’s all I put on my plate.
- Breathe. During an anxiety attack, it feels as if you are dying. I literally was in the ER asking the doctor one morning “Am I dying? Please don’t let me die, I have young children.” Find breathing techniques that help you settle down. I like to breathe in for one, out for two, in for three, out for four, and so on up to the count of 10.
- Exercise. Getting your heart pumping fights against the improper triggering of your fight or flight response that causes anxiety attacks. It also calms you down by releasing endorphins into your blood stream that can stop the anxiety effect.
- Talk yourself down. I was so afraid of nightfall, because that’s when most of my attacks would come. Because I was so afraid of nightfall, I started napping from 4-7 in the afternoons, and staying up all night so that I wouldn’t “die in my sleep” I know that sounds crazy, but that’s how I felt. Once I realized it was anxiety, when I felt those feelings coming I’d say to myself, “You know what this is. You will not die from an anxiety attack. It’s happening, and it will be over soon. Just get through this.”
- Be open and honest with others about your condition. At first, I was ashamed of this diagnosis, but now, I have no issue telling people about it. I’ve gotten so much advice from others and that has truly helped.
Anxiety sucks. There’s no denying that. Today, I am so much better than I was this time last year. My attacks have pretty much subsided. When I feel the anxiousness rear it’s ugly head, I’ve gotten pretty good at stopping it in its tracks by using my techniques. So while anxiety is a part of me, it no longer consumes my life.