Paddling like Hell


At a small dinner party very recently, a friend said to me, “You know, one day I was really struggling with an anxiety/panic attack in church and I looked over at you.  You were so calm and collected and seemed to be so in control.”  She told her husband, “I want to be like Ann.”

At that point, feeling in “safe” company, I explained that I had just been hospitalized the weekend before with what I thought was a heart attack.  Over a period of a week or so after my discharge I underwent every cardiac test ever devised (or so it seemed).  Pronounced completely clear of any cardiac problems, that left one diagnosis – my heart was fine, but I was batshit crazy.  My BP had been close to and over 200 for a couple of weeks, felt chest tightening, racing heart, massive headache.

Those symptoms, I learned, are also symptoms of an anxiety/panic attack.  My preferred “Presentation to the Public” is of a woman totally in charge, able to conquer any task I am asked to take on – and many that I volunteer for without being asked.  I’m not a particularly good delegater because I can do it better than anyone else.  Not only leading programs, but loading the dishwasher!

Going nowhere

I have EXPECTATIONS that people will step up and devote their whole life to my project.  Expectations lead to disappointment and sends me into a frenzy of activity/stress.  I don’t let people find their own way to run something, because….um, what if it wasn’t as good, or didn’t make as much money, or meet a goal set by someone other than me?

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What my stomach felt like during an anxiety attack

Well, friends, that is no way to live.  I lived a self-imposed stressful life, letting go of all the creative activities I used to love. Sit down and read a book?  Are you kidding?  I should be up writing emails, reports, spreadsheets.  Work on my watercolor technique (if I can even call it that)?  Oh, no.  There’s committee work to do.  Not anymore. The resignation letters and calls were sent immediately with a huge sigh of relief.

I learned the hard way that this way of living with constant self-imposed pressure is extremely unhealthy.  In the old days, they called an episode like mine a “nervous breakdown.”  Now it’s an anxiety/panic attack, or disorder, if it goes on a while.

The anxiety spiral is really hard to break.  I can never tell when something will bring me back to my bed, curled in a ball, sobbing.  BUT, come to find out, I AM NOT the only woman in my circle of friends to go through this.  As I started telling a few people, guess what?  They have been through the same thing, or their best friend has, or a close relative.  What a relief to know that I am not a solo batshit crazy person.

There must be others out there!

Anxiety attacks can be triggered by a sudden death (my friend’s recent suicide which I conveniently stuffed into a file), or the grief for a sister who died four years ago.  FOUR years ago?  Get over it, already, I told myself.

My spiral is by no means over.  I am working with my doctors and therapist to find the right mix of meds (since blood pressure issues continually dog me, that is important to get back under control) and counseling to learn how to deal with this.  Tamp it down now.  Make it go away. Fix it.  Immediately.  That’s what I want.  It’s not what will happen.  I know this in my head, but the rest of my body isn’t there yet.

My circle of friends has drawn close and it has been the best medicine (well, maybe a little Xanax, too!).  I thank God that the right women friends have been put in my path, to surround me with support and love. I thank God that I found the right partner in marriage who, engineer-minded as he is, is doing his best to be present for me.  NOW, when he offers to do the dishes I actually say Yes, please.

New dishwashing captain on left.

I have two daughters who have opened up and told me that this issue comes up in their circles, too. I can’t imagine how many women out there are suffering with anxiety spiral and are too embarrassed to talk about it, or even consider therapy/medication.

I feel vulnerable sharing this, but I also want women to know that some of us who look so in control, who want to run every project, be over-the-top organized, and have a finger in every damn blueberry pie are, like the duck, paddling like hell underneath.

So why the serene beach photos interspersed in this blog.  Because that was the start of my healing process – a weekend at the beach with NOTHING to do.  It was a test.  I passed.  Happy ending, right?  Not quite.  I still have good days and bad days and soon I hope the bad days will dwindle.

Tranquility is out there.

In my first blog post I said I wish I had People.  Actually, I do have people.  They are called friends and family.

Peace to all of you.