There is something wrong with me.
There is definitely something wrong with me. I’m different….I’m not like the other kids….I am NOT NORMAL.
That was the first line in my journal pretty much every day of my life from 13 years old to 17 years old. High school is so brutal isn’t it? It’s so hard to fit in, and it’s even harder to stand out. For an introvert like me, I just wanted to hide out at home where it was safe, but I had to go to school according to my parents, to learn and socialize.
You see, I have battled anxiety disorder pretty much my entire life. I remember when I was 13 years old, being in gym class, huffing and puffing, but not because of exercise….nope….because my heart was pounding at the thought of running, playing soccer, and being active around other kids. I have an INTENSE fear of embarrassment. Especially since my anxiety symptoms are very prominent when I’m having a panic attack. I shake all over, I can’t even stand up, my legs turn to jello and my whole world is spinning around me. I was obsessed with the fact that I was different than the other kids, and not in a good way. Looking back on it now, being so hard on myself obviously made the anxiety worse, but at the time it felt like self-sabotage was the only way to cope.
My mom was really supportive and loving. She always told me to be strong, she was the strongest person I knew. She battled anxiety her whole life and survived. I remember telling her when I was 16 that I was afraid of death. She turned to me and told me that God did not put us on this earth to be afraid of death. That was the most profound statement I had heard in my young teenage life, and I took that as a stepping stone to self-healing.
I started praying a lot and started practicing gratitude. I started exercising and eating well, and developed some nice friendships with people who were quiet like me. I finished high school and started college in a way better state of mind. I even spent a whole summer in Greece with my family without ever having a panic attack. Well, only one time, and it was because I didn’t want to get on a tiny little plane over some mountains to an island. I DID get on that plane thanks to my mom’s strength, but I was clutching my chest the whole time LOL.
When I was in college, I met my soulmate, my now husband, and I was doing really well, not too many panic attacks, I enjoyed being downtown, meeting new people and even partying a little. I hadn’t had an attack for a long time, and I thought it was over, boy was I wrong.
A couple years later, in 2007, I started working an insanely stressful job working crowd control and customer service at the airport. Let me tell you, there is NOTHING I have not seen doing crowd control. You really see the ugly side of people. You also see the anxiety and stress of people missing their flights, missing their connections, waiting in huge lineups, having all the baggage requirements, extra fees etc. A lot of the time, a disgruntled passenger will take it out on the first person they see, which is the customer service/crowd controller that is right in front of them. AKA: ME. I worked that job for 4 years, the first 2 I was pretty strong, I could take the stress. The last two years BROKE ME. In the final 2 years of working there (2010-2011) , my mom was diagnosed with cancer and I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. I would take care of my mom during the day, and then when my father would get home from work at 4 pm, I would work at the airport from 4-midnight, 4 days a week. The rest of the days, I would go to school to finish my bachelor’s degree. So naturally, the anxiety and panic attacks crept back into my life.
I soon realized I couldn’t continue working at the airport anymore if I wanted to keep my sanity. The Crohn’s was out of control, my mom was doing better, but she needed support, and I was getting married and had a wedding to plan. I don’t know if anyone else has this pattern with anxiety, but mine is always worse in the mid-mornings. Like between 10:00-12:00. On really bad days, my heart races, I get light headed, spacey, and I can’t focus on anything. When I was working at the airport, the anxiety would be exponentially worse on the days I worked, because I knew I had to face all those crowds of people every day. I was an absolute mess.
On my last day working there, I felt a sense of relief because I knew that the anxiety would improve, since I didn’t have to be in front of crowds every day. My plan was that I would be taking a break from working for a while until I could find a quiet office job. So in summer of 2011, my husband and I got married, went on our honeymoon, it was an absolute blast, and then I came home to living life alone every.single.day. Well, that was the start of my deep and dark depression. You know what I was depressed about? I was depressed about the fact that the anxiety DID NOT GO AWAY even though I stopped working. I studied anxiety for years and I was always so hard on myself, I could not swallow the concept that anxiety FOLLOWS you wherever you go. I wouldn’t get up in the morning out of bed, I wouldn’t shower, I wouldn’t leave my apartment. The only person who was able to drag me out of my mess was my mom, who would come and pick me up from my apartment and bring me back to her house and we would spend time together. I was a nervous wreck and a total mess, but I loved spending time with her so it would lift my mood.
After a while, I knew I wasn’t ready to get a job yet because I was still totally burned out, but I did realize that I needed an outlet for all my emotions, and I was getting very out of shape. So I got an elliptical machine in the apartment and started exercising every day, that really helped release the pent up emotions. Eventually, my husband and I bought our great little condo in a safe area, and I worked out a few of my issues. I saw a therapist as well, who made me realize that I was way too hard on myself, and that usually makes anxiety worse. I believe that GUILT is one of the KEY factors of anxiety, by the way.
In 2014, I got pregnant with my son. The panic attacks were pretty bad during the pregnancy, but after I had him, I finally had something (well…someone!) else to focus on other than me. So I focused on being the best mom I could be. I would take him for daily walks, to the park, across the street to the shops and slowly I learned some coping techniques for the panic. I started tapping, which is AMAZING. I did a lot of yoga and mediation, and started going out a lot more. My son expected me to be fun, so I had to live up to the task! It was great for me to become a mom. Things were going well again, but not for long.
I had a major relapse of panic and anxiety in the summer of 2016, when my mom passed away. It was the saddest and hardest time in my entire life. I didn’t know who I was anymore without my mom. She was my best friend in the whole world. The anxiety cascaded down on me like a huge waterfall. I didn’t leave the house again, I didn’t go to appointments, I didn’t see friends. In fact, I lost most of my friends when my mom passed.
I did some intensive therapy after my mom died because I knew that I needed it in order to keep going for my son. I felt like I was shattered, gutted and totally broken, but my son was 18 months old and he needed me. Grief is a very strange thing. You go through SO MANY emotions that you never had before. Dealing with all these new emotions and panic attacks were not an easy mix.
After slowly getting over the total shock, I decided I needed to do something with my brain other than taking care of my son. That I would want to work again, even though I was out of the workforce for a while (3 years). We had a lot of financial trouble and I realized in therapy that was adding to my anxiety and guilt feelings. I decided I needed to contribute to our family to feel like I was worth something. Which is silly to look back on now that I do have full time work from home. I WAS worth a lot, I was a mom. I took care of my son, cleaned, cooked all while my husband was working his 9-5. That is worth a TON. But in this day and age, one income just doesn’t cut it anymore. So I took online courses, and started working as a virtual assistant. I got my first client in the second month that I was doing my course, and then it snowballed from there. Now I work full time for a major social media influencer, and I am also a virtual assistant to a couple of incredible clients that really light me up. Working online has been the best thing for my brain. I feel like I am useful, contributing to my family and most importantly, I am BUSY. I STILL have panic attacks and anxiety, but I am on the road to recovery. Better yet, I am AWARE that recovery is not an easy road. There are bumps along the way, there are setbacks. I will tell you from years of experience, these are the things that have helped me the MOST in taking control of my anxiety and panic attacks:
- Eating healthy (clean, lots of water, lots of omega 3s)
- Keeping busy (housework and work)
- NOT FEELING GUILTY for having a bad day or a bad parenting moment
- Being patient with myself when I’m having a bad day
- Learning to say NO to things and not feel guilty
- Knowing my own limits, challenging them on my own terms
- Doing more FUN things
- Taking time for ME (getting massages has been amazing for my stress levels)
- Pushing myself to do things that scare me, but that I WANT to do
- Believing in myself
I really hope my story has encouraged anyone reading it. Understand that life happens whether you have anxiety or not, and if you do have it, let it speak to you. Let it give you clues as to what you want out of life. It could be a change of lifestyle, or tackling a large and looming problem. Something that will give you the sense of control back in your life. One of the fundamental commonalities among people who have anxiety is fearing lack of control. The moment you realize that life happens either way, and learn to let go a little, the anxiety starts feeling a little more manageable.
Ellenie is a wife and mom to one amazing and spirited little boy. She is a social media manager and virtual assistant. She has a bachelor’s degree in psychology with a special focus on generalized anxiety disorders and OCD. She has suffered from anxiety and panic attacks her whole life. Ellenie has been finding positive ways to conquer her mental battles every day and would love to share them with anyone who also suffers from an anxiety disorder. She also has Crohn’s Disease, and has written about living with its struggles and raising a young baby. Ellenie lives in Montreal, Quebec, but is planning on travelling a lot in the near future. She loves to stay active and eat healthy, a few of the key lifestyle changes that have helped her with her mental and physical health struggles.
You can find her on her website, Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook.