Anxiety: How I've learned to coexist with the beast.

When I was 8-years-old I gave my parents quite a scare. I was having chest pains that felt more akin to a snake wrapping itself around my chest and back squeezing me tighter and tighter. My breath quickened, my palms started to sweat, and my vision became blurry. Not knowing what was happening my dad called 9-1-1 and an ambulance rushed me to the hospital. After a battery of tests on my heart and various other organs, they determined that I had had an anxiety attack. And thus began my life-long battle with anxiety.

The dawn of anxiety

Anxiety has been a good friend to me. It's always been there for me, came around at inopportune times, played mind games with me, teased me with an early dismissal only to come back later stronger and meaner than before. Come to think of it, my anxiety has been more like a rude houseguest than a friend. 

During my teen years, my anxiety became that rude guest that would never leave. Therapy and medication were only a band-aid, they all told me. I would have to manage it this way for the rest of my life. 

Nothing elicits the "wanna bet?" response faster in me than someone telling me how my life is going to be and that there are no other solutions. That day I quit therapy, threw away my meds, and haven't touched either one since. 

Medication and therapy work for a lot of people; they just don't work for me. My faith was never in either of them; my faith has always been in me, and through that I was able to find another way.

Calm ocean

I got better at determining what causes the anxiety and how to prevent it from escalating to the full-blown, 10-hour, panic attacks my nutty subconscious likes to throw at me every now and again. For me it's about being brutally honest with myself because some of the things that give me anxiety annoy me.

"This shouldn't give me a panic attack so I'll just pretend it's not happening."

No matter how "dumb" I think the reason is, the truth is that it really does bother me, and it's still a struggle for me to accept that. I have to acknowledge it, accept it, and then work through it. Anxiety doesn't allow for any shortcuts. It's stronger and smarter. It may go away for a little while, fooling me into a false sense of security and grand mastery, only for it come knocking again later in the biggest, most obnoxious way possible. 

I don't always immediately know why I'm having a panic attack. How could I? Panic attacks manifest because there's something below the surface that I'm not dealing with--something I've shoved aside for later (or never). I use the analogy that anxiety is like a boiling pot of water. It will keep rumbling up near the top until finally it erupts and spills over. My anxiety, being the great friend that it is, gives me several opportunities to be dealt with before an attack, begging to handled in a more civilized way, but I usually ignore it. I always think I can beat the system--that by ignoring it I'm making it relinquish its power, but that just seems to make it angry. It's Me 2.0; it knows all my tricks. The best course of action is to work through it, and ignore the fact that it feels like I'm trying to breathe underwater. 

Maine sunrise

Despite all of this I do feel like I have a leg up on my anxiety, though it's still a part of me. It no longer sends me to the hospital after multi-hour attacks, but it'll still creep in and ruin an evening here and there. Day to day I've learned that the best way to keep panic attacks at bay is to check in with myself. 

"Is there something going on in the dark underbelly of my subconscious? How can I deal with it in a healthy way?"

Depending on the day I can make those crushing attacks recede by doing yoga, going for a long walk, writing, or doing deep breathing exercises. It's not a perfect science, but I'm figuring it out.

How do you deal with anxiety? Is it easy for you to recognize the signs that something isn't right? How do you take care of yourself?