Anxiety & Panic With Autoimmunity
At the height of my anxiety, I went to the hospital in the middle of a huge snowstorm. The EMT’s had to shovel the snow out my driveway just to get me. After finding out nothing was wrong with me, I called an Uber and they cancelled the request because they got stuck. My mother and little brother dug their way out of the neighborhood to come get me…….
Anxiety Starts Out Subtle
In the beginning stages of my anxiety, I thought I was having heart problems. My body overreacted to stress. Small events such as a cop turning his sirens on behind activated my fight or flight mode and made my heart THUMP. When I say thump, I mean “I feel like I might have to pull over while I clutch my chest” thump. The type of thump where your hearts beats, you feel the pulsations move through your body and you feel a second heartbeat in your head. I’ve had my fair share of high stress inducing environments so losing the ability to keep my cool worried me.
My echocardiogram came back mostly normal but it showed slight thickening of the right side. The cardiologist ordered me a referral for an MRI with contrast but I was strongly opposed to introducing gadolinium into my body so I refused. A holter monitor test that measure the heart rhythm for 24 hours came back normal.
With the heart test results coming back fairly normal, it was the earliest sign of mild paranoia. I carried on, focusing on my health. However I could never shake the feeling that something was wrong with me. Obviously I’m a diagnosed autoimmune patient so something is wrong with me, but it always felt like there were still missing pieces to the story.
The progression of my disease turned me into a hypersensitive person. Your body fluctuates on a daily basis and every basic fluctuation became a cause for concern. I was too attuned to changes in my body and my senses. Changes in light, temperature, and vibrations in a room or building triggered my anxiety without me realizing it.
Anxiety is an incessant state of unease. Like you’re hiding from something or someone looming around the corner that is out to get you.
Anxiety Is A Monster
On the surface, I know I may worry about some things from time to time but who doesn’t? Based on my personal experience, I believe anxiety is silent, deep and subconscious. Anxiety is the monster underneath your bed keeping you up at night. You’re too afraid to confront it. You ask somebody else to check for you and they see nothing under the bed. You feel better and finally settle down enough to sleep. The next night everything is fine, but once again the monster is out to get you. You ask for help once again and the same thing happens. Now you feel like the boy who keeps crying wolf and both you and others begin to question your sanity.
You begin to live in constant fear and you no longer recognize when you are thinking irrationally. The anxiety monster feeds on your worries. As all your worries, both subconscious and conscious cascade upon another, anxiety unleashes its final attack, a panic attack. After unleashing this attack, anxiety recharges and hits you with another. Each time it gets you, you worry more and it recharges even faster.
This is it. Is what I would think to myself as the feeling of impending doom swallowed me. Panic attacks are a powerful force. One moment you’re fine and the next you feel like you are about to die and cannot do anything about it. All the symptoms are real. You clutch your tight chest with your numb fingers as your heart pounds. Your grip on reality slips away as you feel like you are fading away. Death feels imminent but you never die. It’s a nightmare you want to wake up from but you never wake up. You want to escape by sleeping but your thoughts are too loud.
It’s paralyzing. In that instance of panic, nothing else matters. It’s like your body catching fire and you’re looking for where you can stop, drop and roll. It strikes at inconvenient times such as at work or school. You may try to fight through it but you cannot maintain focus when it feels like your life is at stake.
I remember one of the first times it happened. I felt a sensation that I can only describe as sudden heat rushing through my body from the bottom up.
My mother is in the medical field and she told me from the beginning that I was experiencing anxiety. She was the one who told me there was no monster underneath the bed. My brain rejected accepting that as truth. I believed I was too mentally strong for that. I had no idea that autoimmunity striking me at a time in my life where I felt invincible would damage me at a subconscious level.
Without realizing it, I became a hypochondriac. If you want to create a living nightmare with only two ingredients, all you need is chronic illness and anxiety. I was constantly on edge because I knew I was no longer invincible.
How could I trust my own body when it already betrayed me once?
We all know how hard it is to regain trust once you’ve lost it. I questioned my body like an insecure lover questions their partner. The fear of a new physical problem blindsiding me, blindsided my mentality.
I checked my blood pressure often because there is a risk of renal crisis for patients with diffuse scleroderma. My doctors told me if it was consistently high over a long period of time, my kidneys could be in trouble.
My brain only registered the keywords “high blood pressure”and “kidney failure” and ran with it. Low blood pressure (90/60) was the norm for me so even normal (120/80) seemed high to me. All I know is as anxiety kicked up, I would check my blood pressure and see ridiculous numbers and panic would follow shortly after.
When the doctor prescribed me prozac, I knew it was time to tackle my issues head on. I ran several different tests to rule out any reasonable concerns. I thank my mother and doctors for cooperating with my concerns. The various medical tests put my mind at ease. However, anxiety continued to haunt me. The turning point came at the climax.
The Final Straw
At the height of my anxiety, I went to the hospital in the middle of a snowstorm. The EMT’s had to shovel out my driveway. After finding out nothing was wrong with me, I called an Uber and they cancelled the request because they got stuck. My mother and little brother had to dig their way through the snow to pick me up. We got stuck coming into the neighborhood. As they shoveled what they could, I drifted down the snowy road until reaching the garage. I felt like Vin Diesel in the Fast & Furious maneuvering the car like that. As embarrassed as I was that day, we all laughed about it the same day. It became a story to remember and a lesson.
From that day forth, I stopped running from the anxiety monster. It was still there but it subsided as I exercised my mind the same way I exercise my body. I finally realized that there really is no monster underneath the bed.
The same day as my snowstorm hospital fiasco, I made a conscious decision. After so many days of living on edge, fixated on my own demise, I chose to rise up and reclaim my life. I had enough of various medical tests trying to find some new issue that wasn’t there.
Proactivity is good but I put the energy in the wrong place. I let go of my weaknesses and focused my energy on my strengths. When anxiety hit me again, I reminded myself, “This feeling is familiar. I know it is uncomfortable, but I will maintain my composure and soon it will subside.” No more full blown panic attacks. I learned what triggered my feelings of anxiety and gained control.
Today, I worry from time to time like any other human being, but it is not anxiety.
Have you ever suffered from anxiety? It’s easy to turn to destructive behaviors such as the excessive use of psychoactive drugs or alcohol in search of an escape but here is a bullet list of a few healthier alternatives that might work for you.
- Practice Meditation– Meditating helps to calm the mind and helps you become self-aware to discover the source of your anxiety so you may tackle it head on. Most importantly, it teaches you to focus on the present and accept it. Worrying about the future causes anxiety.
- Exercise- Sitting still not your thing? Get moving! Physical activity is an overlooked natural part of the human experience that is to easy to lack in modern society. Exercise relieves stress and releases feel good chemicals in the body. One 30 minute–1 hour session of exercise can positively affect you for days so imagine exercising regularly? I highly recommend Yoga as a combination of meditation and exercise.
- Retreat- Meditation is a mental retreat but if possible take a physical retreat. For my Spring Break that year, I went to a place called OHI . Even if it’s just taking a day off from work and staying home or traveling to a stress free location for the weekend (such as a close friend or family’s house), shutting off your phone and relaxing, getting away can do wonders for your mentality. Find
- Change Your Diet- Healthy eating can help balance your hormones and other physical factors that may create mental and emotional imbalances.
- Self-Awareness- Relating back to meditation, learning who you are, what you want, and how to take control of your life is essential for a good life. You must become more than your automatic reactions to your circumstances.
- Talk About It- Talk to someone you trust. Living in your head can create delusional realities for yourself and this will increase your anxiety and lead to mental breakdowns. Sharing your thoughts with someone you feel connected to can help you clear your mind and see things clearly enough to move onward.
- Find Inspiration- If you’re reading this, I hope this may have helped. Building internal strength to overcome strong forces such as anxiety is no easy task. But humans have been doing it for eons. Find people in your life, watch inspirational speeches and stories on youtube, and don’t be afraid to talk to people. Even if they can’t offer help, you’d be surprised how talking or thinking out loud may lead to a self-realization and help put you on a path to a balanced mental state.