Anxiety Awareness: This is what it feels like firsthand

I’ve had an overwhelming amount of people reach out to me and ask me about anxiety and depression. But mostly anxiety. I have struggled to figure out how to talk about this topic in a constructive way but with also being real, so here is my first attempt.

I’m writing this in hopes that if you struggle with anxiety on a daily basis this will help you feel a little less “crazy” and if you know someone who struggles with anxiety then maybe you can understand it a little better.

I’m going to describe what anxiety feels like with a personal experience I had recently, because let’s be real – even though I have made a bunch of personal growth in this sector of life it doesn’t mean that it never happens to me anymore.

Many times anxiety comes out of nowhere, which is even more frustrating than understanding where it comes from, but many times there is a trigger. One of mine is food. Food has been a love hate relationship my whole life. Let me paint a picture for you.

I LOVE food. I was encouraged and actually forced to at least try everything on my plate every night at dinner or I wouldn’t be allowed to have dessert afterwards and my parents didn’t believe in making special dinners for the kids. This rule was strictly enforced in our house and after testing it out one night (which resulted in going to bed hungry) I decided that I might as well just abide by the rule. We had a garden and my parents liked to shop in the discount section at the grocery store so we ended up having quite an eclectic array of foods at all times at our house. From this, though, I gained a very broad palate and appreciation for all different flavors and types of foods.

Eating was a joy for me when I was young. I liked to go to gatherings and try what other people cooked at home. I liked potlucks and dinners with my sports teams so we could bond together and pig out on garlic bread, pasta, and fresh baked cookies from the organic farm store down the road. This was great till I started to pay attention to what my body looked like.

To make a long story short, during high school as many of us do, I started to look at other girls and envy their bodies; their height, their thinness – you name it. I wanted to be like them (even though I was never actually fat). This obsession grew as I got older, and in my 20’s I slowly developed a bit of an obsession over my body image and what I put in my body. Each year it got a little worse till one day I realized that I had a problem. I COULDN’T stop thinking about my body and what it looked like and I couldn’t stop thinking about the food that I ingested – meticulously calculating and counting calories, keeping them at a 1,200 calorie base, basic survival mode.

Here’s where the story comes in.

Recently I went to a barbecue and potluck. I was SO looking forward to this barbecue because I knew there would be great food and I couldn’t wait to see all my friends. I prepared myself mentally to just eat what I felt was comfortable and not categorize foods into “this makes me fat” and “this is allowed”, which makes me crazy. I told myself I wouldn’t calorie count and that I would just eat what I wanted and enjoy the time with my friends.

Well, it was clear in the morning that this might not be the case. I woke up a little panicky, tired, and physically not feeling well. My mind was racing and it wasn’t even 8am in the morning. I decided to go to a morning meditation class at the yoga studio I work at. This helped a little but unfortunately the monkey brain was still there even after an hour class.

At the barbecue I was in a cloud, a haze, and I was struggling to keep my head above water. I was trying to stay present but I wasn’t feeling well and I was hungry at the same time. I was pre-counting calories, trying to figure out what I would eat and what I wouldn’t.

The thoughts in my head rolled around ferociously:

“Would I eat dessert? Maybe, if it was worth it. How many days had I not eaten healthy this week? Could I just eat anything I wanted to and then compensate the next day? Did I burn enough calories in my workout that morning to make up for all the stuff I was going to eat? Maybe I could just eat salad and meat and it will be kind of healthy. If I drink enough water maybe I will just get too full on that and not want to eat.”

These were the thoughts that were going through my head.

These are the feelings: My head is spinning and I feel like I’m in the middle of a hurricane or the outer edges of a tornado. I’m swirling around uncontrollably and I can’t really see. If I was driving a car I’d be driving out of control through forests and bumpy roads with a tiny hole in my windshield to see through. The rest is covered up in dirt and mud and I can’t tell what’s going on. My body feels heavy and it can’t really move. It feels much like sleep paralysis, when you are half awake and half asleep but can’t move your body.

In a word: terrifying.

I am completely out of control but my mind knows that it’s being crazy. But I can’t stop it. I want to stop it so bad. I want to stop it SO SO badly. I try to focus on each person that I’m talking to at the barbecue but my mind is constantly counting calories and thinking about what it will do to my body and the workouts I’ll have to succumb myself to to make up for it. I’m foggy and I feel like I shrunk down into a tiny little black hole. I’m strapped down and I can’t move. I can’t really see past the blackness anymore and I’ve basically given in at this point. I’m panicking but now it’s gone too far. I guess this is just how I live now.  At this point I’ve made it through the tornado but the blackness has set in. This is either the breakdown or depression – if it lasts long enough.

Many people think that they have depression but really, they have anxiety that leads into their depression. When I discovered this about myself a whole lot of things made sense that didn’t used to make sense. This is what happened to me my whole life until I figured out how to get a handle on it.

I had this experience on Saturday but by Sunday morning I was my normal self again and restarted my day with all the positive habits that I know how to do – and I didn’t even work out to punish myself. I took the day off like I told myself I was going to.

I can now overcome these moments of anxiety within the same day or the next, but it didn’t always used to be like that. It used to turn into a black hole of depression that lasted for days and weeks and usually months.

How did I get to the point where I could turn around this fast?

I will leave that to another post, this one is long enough, so stay tuned. I tell you this story because I want you to know that I understand what you’re going through. I understand the pain, I understand the chaotic environment this creates, but I also understand how to get through to the other side.

Let me help you if you feel so inclined –

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