The first time I felt it, we were at a Friday night meal at my ex-boyfriends family’s home.
We were sitting around the table, talking, laughing and having a great time. I’ve always loved spending time with his family. Which was why it was extremely strange when suddenly I felt like I wanted to run away… Hide under the covers and stay there forever. There was a pressure in my chest and fog in my mind, that prevented my ability to think properly or focus on anything else. A small tingling at the tip of my nose, slowly spreading to the rest of my face. I excused myself to the bathroom so many times, I was surprised nobody questioned it.
The second time I felt it was a few days later. At around midnight, my ex-boyfriend and I were in bed in our sublet apartment. It started off as the same pressure and fog. But then I also felt like my whole body was simultaneously on fire and shivering. The tingling was also at the tip of my fingers and toes. I tried to close my eyes and go to sleep, but every time I did, I felt like I wouldn’t wake up. So I told my ex-boyfriend, let’s call him Bob again, that I felt like something was wrong. He took me to an emergency clinic nearby, where they did a few tests. When they were done examining me and my blood, the doctor said that there was nothing wrong with me. And when we left the clinic, most of the “symptoms” I was feeling suddenly disappeared.
After that, it was always present.
There was a constant pressure in my chest. A tightness that just wouldn’t go away no matter how many deep breaths I took. And the fog in my mind was constantly preventing me from being completely present. Making everything so much heavier and harder. I was over aware of everything, every tiny pain, ache and worry. I would get dizzy spells randomly in the middle of the day. Even while I was at work, detaching me from the current situation.
When I woke up every morning it was the first thing I thought about, that constant nagging and strain. Even when I was busy and at my most distracted… It was always there, pulsing in the back of my mind. And as the day went on it got louder and stronger, and was the worst at night. Then there were the “attacks”. When I would have a good 30 minutes of just straight up anxiety – fear of anything possible. But mostly dying and getting old. I would cry uncontrollably and would barely be able to breathe or think properly.
Looking back on it now, I’m surprised that the doctor from that night at the emergency clinic, didn’t tell me that I was having an Anxiety attack.
But I was slowly coming to that dreadful realization all on my own. And it was devastating, because I was at a point in my life where I felt so strong and independent. I’ve just completed an instructor job where I was the one helping others. Being the tough, unbreakable wall they can lean on. I was the thick-skinned, punching bag who could take the punches. To suddenly feel so weak and broken. To have that all taken away from me – was the worst thing I’ve ever had to experience. All my hard work, all those years I’ve spent on becoming that tough woman, vanished. I couldn’t accept it, because in my mind it made me feeble, it made me a lesser person.
What frustrated me most, was that I had no explanation to what triggered it and how it started. It was suddenly just there. A part of me I had no idea how to get rid of or deal with. So I called a psychologist nearby, and just completely crumbled. It was my first time talking to a specialist like that, and it made me ashamed. I didn’t even tell my family, even though I’m very close with them, or even my best friends. Bob was the only one who knew. It was also hard because I’m an introvert, and hate talking about myself and my feelings. I hate digging into my past and opening up old wounds.
My father used to say that I have a chip on my shoulder.
I was always so adamant on getting rid of that chip. And when I managed to do so on my own, it was my greatest accomplishment. I loved it, I loved knowing that I am strong enough to overcome struggles and barriers on my own. But with that anxiety, I just couldn’t, especially since I had no idea what I was up against. So for the first time in my life, I spoke about my childhood. About my fear of death and getting old. And the psychologist, an old man I might add, sat before me and listened. Then did a few exercises with me.
Due to our trip to Southeast Asia, I only had time for a handful of sessions, but I felt like they helped. They gave me tools I needed to deal with them better. I still felt that fog in my mind… But the pressure and tightness in my chest subsided, and only showed themselves when I had an attack. Which also happened less frequently than before.
While traveling in Asia, it was a constant battle between finally going on my dream trip, and the gut wrenching, bone chilling angst.
My need and desire for travel, won the battle, but the war was still going… Always present in varying intensities, unwilling to allow me to enjoy my trip to the fullest. Whether it be fretting over every disease possible. Getting in an accident. Being robbed, etc. While in the middle of a gorgeous nowhere, instead of enjoying the full moment… I was searching for all the ways out. Calculating how long it would take without paved roads or proper vehicles… And locals that couldn’t speak a word of English.
When I was active, experiencing new things, I could finally get my mind off it for a bit. Like when we went Canyoning or zip-lining. When we were trekking in the mountains or driving through gorgeous loops on a motorbike. The adrenaline together with the frequent changes of the scenes and being on the move… They helped give me some moments of solace and tranquil.
But we couldn’t regularly be on the moves, always engaging in new activities. And in those moments, where most people just enjoy doing nothing, I was going crazy. I could barely look at the other travelers lounging around, let alone do it myself. I’m not good at just relaxing all day, I need action, to feel productive. I was so used to the fulfillment. To the intensive and full schedule I had in my job. That together with the anxiety it was near impossible to let it go.
When we arrived back in Israel, instead of feeling the relief of being back in the safe zone of my home, with my family, it just got more intense and harder to hide.
The fog in my head got thicker. And when I would try to have fun moments out with my friends or family… I would feel like I was having an out-of-body experience… Watching everyone around me, muffled and blurred out, within reach, but not quite. I was still worrying about every tiny pain I felt, like something wasn’t quite right.
In the meantime, Bob and I were trying to make it work. If you’ve read my previous blog post (Extra Baggage), you know we were having trouble. I was no longer in love, or attracted. I felt suffocated and annoyed by his presence. He was doing his best and to be honest, he treated me better than I did him. I couldn’t lie to myself anymore, I couldn’t keep dealing with my failing relationship and mental health.
When I finally let him go, the fog in my brain slowly started to subside. The pressure and tightness eased up, then vanished. Until this day I still have a bit of remnants, some leftovers. Especially in these times when you have to work hard and be super creative to stay productive. To not let the walls cage in. With the constant unease of the virus lurking, afraid to get infected, and even worse – to infect others. But even so, and even with my battle-scars from my “anxiety phase”… I’ve fought through it all and came out of the other side, stronger and wiser.
I learned that it’s okay to need help. To break down sometimes and seek others comfort, it doesn’t make me fragile.
It’s okay to not always be mighty and strong. And that I shouldn’t be ashamed when I find cracks in my walls. It doesn’t make me a lesser person. On the contrary, because admitting your weaknesses and fighting to get through them, is the greatest portrayal of strength there is.
What is interesting the most to me, is the connection between mind, body and soul. There were things in my life, someone in my life who wasn’t good for me. It isn’t to say that he was bad, not at all, but he was bad for me. We didn’t fit and my body was trying to tell me, it was crying out for me to listen. To let go of my stubborn denial. And when I finally did cleanse myself of everything toxic in my life, so did my body and soul.
“No grand inquisitor has in readiness such terrible tortures as has anxiety and no spy knows how to attack more artfully the man he suspects, choosing the instant when he is weakest; Nor knows how to lay traps where he will be caught and ensnared as anxiety knows how, and no sharp-witted judge knows how to interrogate, to examine the accused, as anxiety does, which never lets him escape.”Søren Kierkegaard
stay safe, stay strong