My struggle through anxiety and grief
Updated: Apr 1, 2019
Have you ever had a conversation not go as planned, so you run through it in your head a few times over. That’s my life all of the time, except I relive conversations from last year or five years ago on repeat. If you’ve talked to me once, I’ve talked to you 50 times! This is probably the strongest of my anxiety symptoms. It starts the spiraling that leads to the others, if I’m not taking care of myself, or my stress levels aren’t under control.
Most people have a triggering moment or a traumatic event that they can point to where everything went awry, and I have one of those, but this conversation spinning has been going on since my earliest memories – maybe even the playground.
Mental health difficulties have troubled my family as long as I can remember. My grandmother used to joke each morning, “I can’t make Paw Paw’s eggs without my Xanax.” I think she was serious but scared to say so. My dad struggled with anxiety, depression and what presented as PTSD, but no one would admit that then, following years of service as a police officer. He never sought care though – God forbid! He turned to the bottle. Drinking from morning until night to dull the pain. And ultimately, it took his life from cirrhosis.
At just 24, the loss of my dad shook me to my core. Not only was I dealing with the horrifying grief of losing my only parent, but this event in my life thrust me into full-blown serve anxiety disorder. (I later found out I would have eventually wound up with this anyway, but a traumatic event will bring it on years earlier.) I went from conversation spinning and “mild” symptoms that I thought were normal – they were not – to waking up in the middle of the night, pulse racing as if I was running a marathon, panic attacks out of nowhere, inability to function at work and loss of an ability to attend social functions with friends. My anxiety got to a point where I couldn’t even go to the gym, and I put on 30 pounds.
Growing up, I loved to compete in pageants. I had loved everything about them, and my dad had loved to support me in my prep. He always glowed with pride no matter how I did. Once he was gone, this was something that was easy to quit. I had graduated school into the real world, and the anxiety was debilitating, to be honest. There was no way I was going to be standing on a stage under bright lights in front of all those people without my dad in the audience.
Eventually, I finally got the care I needed. I ultimately found a physician who explained to me that my brain functioned differently than most people, but that it was still normal. I’ll never forget when he showed me the symptoms that I had written in a textbook and said, “See you’re in a textbook. You’re normal.”
I had to figure out what my normal was through trying different medications, and I still see my doctor regularly. I also now know that working out with cardio classes keeps my mind clear by burning off the stressors. Mental illness isn’t something you “get well” from. It’s something we figure out what works for now and manage as we go.
This year, I’ve gotten to a point with my mental wellness that I’ve finally felt comfortable and confident enough to get back into pageantry. After nearly 15 years, I competed in a state competition again and placed First Runner-up! Standing there that night, I realized that he was there with me helping me with my “nerves.” And, I felt proud of myself for how far I’d come.
Since that night, I’ve realized how my story can help others. I wasn’t able to walk into a workout class alone not that long ago, and here I was standing on a stage in a swimsuit and heels winning First Runner-up!
Here’s the thing: I’m not expecting you to go enter a pageant, but you totally should if you want to. I loved pageants and competed throughout a large portion of my life. I’m saying that if I can do this again, then you can find your way to do what you may need to do be it a presentation you have to for work, going to that workout class or even something as simple as going to a grocery store for your family. I understand how hard all of those can be!
Mental Health Resources
If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health issues, don’t suffer in silence! There are free and affordable resources to help you get through these times. Here are just few options for you below:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255): Trained crisis workers are available to talk 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Your confidential, toll-free call goes to the nearest crisis center in the Lifeline national network.
Some federal agencies offer resources for identifying practitioners and assistance in finding low cost health services. These include:
Health Resources and Services Administration works to improve access to health care. The website has information on finding affordable healthcare, including health centers that offer care on a sliding fee scale.
Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has information on its website about benefits and eligibility for its programs and how to enroll.
Mental Health and Addiction Insurance Help from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services offers resources to help answer questions about insurance coverage for mental health care.
Service members and Veterans have unique needs. https://www.mentalhealth.gov/get-help/veterans provides for their specific needs.
National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) offers peer-to-peer support groups in most locations. This in-person group experience provides the opportunity for mutual support and positive impact. You can experience compassion and reinforcement from people who relate to your experiences.