When My Doctor Said My Anxiety Was Just A Virus

Woman shadow behind translucent mirror.

There’s a stigma attached to those who have to be on medication to get through their day. I, for one, am tired of keeping this secret.

I remember my first panic attack. I was in my workplace, in a meeting, and suddenly, I couldn’t concentrate on what was being said. An overwhelming feeling of fear gripped me. I needed to get out of the room…quick! I called my GP, made an appointment, and was put on antibiotics. “It’s a virus,” I was told.

After a few days, I felt better. A few weeks later, I again experienced the same overwhelming fear. My head seemed to buzz louder than the person talking to me. And it was all I could do to stay seated. It took me an excruciating number of minutes (two? three?) to make my escape from the situation. Again, I called my GP. Again, I was put on antibiotics.

The third time this happened, I went to my GP and insisted that it was a panic attack. He didn’t know my background. He didn’t know the history of violence in my past, nor that I likely had suffered from Caretaker Burnout three years earlier when my mom was very ill, and I put my life on hold to care for her. My life at that time included a full-time job (where I’d recently received a promotion), two college classes in the evenings, a teenage daughter, and all the rest of what my “life” entailed (a spouse, two grown sons, extended family members, holidays, eating, sleeping, etc.).

Among the many hats I wore (spouse, mother, daughter, aunt, niece, friend, employee, part-time student), two new lovely hats were added to my repertoire—hats labeled Mother-in-Law and Grandmother. It was my honor and pleasure to swoop in and help out for a week when my grandson was born and get to know my son’s new wife better—a woman who is now my second daughter. (This feat involved airplanes, a hotel, and car rental because they lived out-of-state.)

Ironically, I’d also been writing a book for two years, which included interviews and polling 200 women in my “spare time.” I was on a mission to deliver an important message to my own daughter (through my writing); a message about the pressures women face, and that it’s OK to be ourselves and ignore society’s pressures.

After my initial three panic attacks, I finally was prescribed anti-anxiety medication that calmed my nerves. And I’m still on it today.

There’s a stigma attached to those who have to be on medication to get through their day. I, for one, am tired of keeping this secret. And I’m ready to shout it to the world…I have an anxiety disorder! And I need my medication to get through each day (for now…perhaps forever).

What my anxiety disorder has pushed me to do is to research the many ways that I can help myself feel better, besides my medication. I understand that physical exercise is extremely important to my well-being. It is something I’ve done all my life, and perhaps it’s what got me through the years when I was violent with myself, when I pushed myself beyond my limits, times I said yes when I should have said no.

I’ve learned that my panic is a warning bell in my head that communicates to my brain that my needs are not being met. You see, I am really good at ignoring my own needs. I will tend to others because that’s how I am programmed. But when it comes to my own needs, I ignore them until my body starts to shut down.

It feels good to help others when we can. But it’s crucial to put ourselves on our own priority list.

Everywhere I look, I see people who are anxious. Genetics figures into our ability to cope with the demanding world in which we live. Our experiences also figure into the equation; such as our traumas, big and small, and the support network we’ve built to catch us when we fall. Learning coping mechanisms for this ever-changing world—one that seems more hectic by the day—is important. Diaphragmatic breathing can be practiced at 2 or 3-minute intervals throughout the day. Meditation can be as short as a 10-minute interlude. And remember that caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco actually increase tension, according to Dr. Margaret Wehrenberg.

As we spin like tops, let’s remember that all tops eventually stop. How fast do you want to spin through your lifetime?

Whoever you are, whatever your past, please know that you are not alone in suffering with anxiety. There are many others like you and me. And there are coping mechanisms that we can teach ourselves, and that we can model for others.

Let’s all place an order of “gentle,” with a side of “forgiveness,” and hold the “judgment.” For ourselves and others. It’s OK to be you, imperfect you.

Other Links: