Little did I know growing up, but those panic attacks, stomach aches and chest ‘heaviness’ that I felt had a name – stress and anxiety.
In high school, I knew certain situations made me feel uncomfortable. I also knew that getting a poor grade upset me on a level that it shouldn’t. But I was a successful student, athlete, community leader – so I just pushed through those feelings and kept doing.
I graduated to university with a small scholarship and worked 30 hours a week to pay the rest of my way. I was good at my jobs, I volunteered, had friends and eventually got my four year Honours History degree, cum laude, with a job in hand that paid incredibly well. But when I thought that I was late for work? It was like someone had died. The stress of exams was unbearable at times. Yet, I pushed through.
In my working career, it was much of the same. I moved around some jobs as opportunities arose. Proved myself as a good employee. Meanwhile, my personal life couldn’t be better. After meeting my husband in my early twenties, we got married and starting talking about a family. But finally, one summer, as I wouldn’t sleep or eat for a couple of days because something at work was worrying me, I knew there was a problem.
More specifically, if I was going to have children – the ultimate thing to love and worry about – I had to get these feelings of panic under control.
After speaking with my doctor, I saw a therapist.
I can’t remember how many sessions I did now. It was about 6 maybe. But they were wonderful. I went in sceptical. I had a great childhood, was a strong woman, had a wonderful husband and personal life, good job etc. So what could ‘talking’ about feelings really do? Turns out, a lot.
What therapy was able to do was open my eyes to my triggers. Situations that make me feel overwhelmed. I have trouble saying no, and take on too many tasks. I have trouble admitting if I failed at something, or if I just can’t do it. All of these awareness issues helped.
When I had my son, I quit work to become a stay at home mom. The weird thing is that while I expected my anxiety to peak, it’s been motherhood that has held a steady hand to mine. I don’t know if I’ve realized that things aren’t always perfect – I mean, kids have a way of changing plans – or if it’s the fact that I can finally enjoy success in a different way.
Unfortunately, from time to time, my panic and anxiety wins. 2 weeks ago I went through a period of 2 days with little sleep, little relief from something that was bothering me. I didn’t know how to get the thoughts out of my mind.
2 nights ago, it happened again. Something creeped in my head and wouldn’t leave. It’s an awful feeling of no control.
I don’t have any answers. I am able to guide the anxiety with awareness and time. I haven’t had to go on medication or see a therapist for a couple of years, but if it ever gets really bad again I would go back to her. (Note: if you feel like you need help, please do seek it. There’s nothing wrong with asking for help).
I will however, candidly share with you what I discovered about myself. My trigger areas. These are not clinically defined, they are defined by me and what I’ve learned but maybe you can relate.
Perfectionism gone awry
I always tried to maintain some sort of perfect image. And the definition of perfect changed depending on where in my life I was. I wanted to be a perfect daughter, perfect student, perfect wife etc. An A in school was a must, anything less was a failure. The funny thing is, this was all created by me. My parents never put that kind of pressure on my grades or success. I did. In my working life, I had to know the answer or get things right immediately. But I learned over time that everything is a learning experience, that perfectionism isn’t something anyone needs to obtain. Doing our own personal best is a far better goal.
The Principal’s Office – Avoiding conflict
This ties in to my attempt to be perfect. I don’t like conflict. I don’t like getting in trouble, or causing trouble for others. It stresses me out! The Principal’s Office situation is something I define by that feeling of ‘oh no I’m in trouble’. So, if I got good grades I wouldn’t get in trouble at school. If I did what my parents asked of me, I wouldn’t get in trouble at home. If I was the best employee, then I wouldn’t be called into my bosses office. Stress arises in this situation when I usually make something up.
For example, the end of a work day I get an email from my boss saying ‘I need to speak with you tomorrow am when you get in’. I try to find her before I leave but she’s already gone. I then would spend ALL night worried about why she wanted to see me. In reality, she probably wanted to see me to give me the latest on a project, give me credit for something or ask a very simple question. I overanalyze.
The Fraud Syndrome
I am seemingly a fairly confident person. And for the most part, I live that way. I have faith in myself, I am comfortable in the choices I make. I can be strong. But no matter how hard I work for any success I achieved (good grades, good jobs, promotions, my twitter/blog life) I sometimes (when anxiety is winning) I feel like a fraud.
As though I don’t deserve that promotion because I can’t do the job – I was just good at faking my knowledge.
As in, my blog isn’t really that good and I’m faking my writing and abilities.
If I meet somebody in real life, I will be a disappointment. I won’t be as ‘good’ as they expected.
A lot of these feelings are just not warranted. I know that. But that’s the problem with stress and anxiety. Sometimes, the unnecessary wins.
I am getting better. I really feel like I’m slowly putting myself out there. I’m cutting back on some responsibilities that I don’t have time for or aren’t making me happy. I am surrounding myself with positive people.
Even still, once and a while you may see a tweet from me like the one a couple of weeks ago – but you know what? Your responses helped so much. We can all support each other. And that’s a start.