My Mental health journey…Let’s talk about Anxiety

Anxiety is a condition that I didn’t want to admit that I had. In fact, I didn’t know that I had anxiety until I started talking about my symptoms with my therapist during my first therapy session.

According to The Centre for Clinical Interventions worksheet What is Anxiety?, “The experience of anxiety is very similar to the experience of fear-the main difference is that anxiety occurs in the absence of real danger. That is, the individual may think that they are in danger but the reality is they are not.”

According to Mayo Clinic, there are two different kinds of factors that can cause anxiety. Those factors can either be external such as being worried about grades at school, work,  or relationships. Some of the factors can be internal such as having genetic links from other close family members who have similar mental health issues and physical symptoms from the misuse of drugs that are either illegal or prescription, etc.

I know that there are several factors that can influence me to have anxiety. I have close family members that either had or have mental health issues, my mother unexpectedly died of a heart attack when I was 16, when I was in high school and college I worried about my academic performance, and now I have anxiety about trying to get my business started.

I remember the first time I had an anxiety attack. It was after my mother died. I was struggling with grief. I was sitting in my rocking chair at my grandparent’s house, and I was thinking about my mother’s sudden passing. I remember taking deep breaths without realizing it. My grandpa asked if I was okay. I responded that I was probably just tired. I struggled with sleeping that night. I remember waking up very early in the morning. I needed a drink of water, so I went into the kitchen and got a drink. While I was drinking, I remember feeling like I couldn’t breathe. My breathing started to increase and I started having chest pains. I started to panic. I had a fear that I was going to die. I remember crying out. This was one of my first of many panic attacks.  After that major panic attack, I had several stomach aches. My grandparents took me to several doctor appointments to try to find out what was causing all the issues. In October of 2005, I had a kidney infection and several viral infections. After those cleared up, I still had issues with my stomach. The doctors stated that it was due to stress and anxiety, and they suggested that I try therapy.

I had such painful anxiety and panic attack symptoms that I took the doctor’s advice. I went to an outpatient trauma therapist.  Because I was still in high school, I saw the therapist during the school day. We talked about the loss of my mother and other events, from my childhood, that affected me. I felt like the therapist was pushing me to talk about things that I did not want to talk about, so I stopped the sessions. I buried myself into my studies. Even though this helped push my anxiety aside I still had symptoms.

I still have physical and mental symptoms of anxiety. According to Anxiety and Depression Association of America-Understand the Facts Symptoms, some symptoms of anxiety may include the following: “…Sweating, Trembling or shaking, nausea or abdominal distress, chills or heat sensations, etc.”

When I have anxiety some of my main symptoms are headaches, tight muscles, stomach cramps, and shortness of breath. I constantly have negative thoughts during this time period. I feel that nothing good will come out of my problems.

To help me cope with my anxiety and negative thoughts I use the following self-care techniques:

  • I challenge my negative thoughts to become positive ones. Here is an example, last weekend my cable for my hard drive went out. I kept thinking that my business would fail even before I launch it. Then my friend reminded me that she, my business coach or caseworker may have copies of my work. I have learned that sometimes lost work can lead to even better work.
  • I write in my journal. Writing for me isn’t just for my profession, I write for personal reasons too. I can just let my feelings fall onto the page. By the time I finish writing I feel more relaxed. I can see what the main problem is and how I can fix it.
  • I can take a warm bath with my favorite bath salts or bath bombs. I love the smell of lavender. The warmth of the water helps with my achy muscles.  The bath makes me tired. After I get into my PJ’s I go to sleep. I wake up with a relaxed body and a fresh mindset.
  • I can call a friend. When I am in a deep attack and I can’t get a hold of myself I call a friend. Usually a quick chat about the problem(s) and finding solutions to those problem(s) calm me down.

These are just some self-care techniques that work for me, and they may not work for everyone. Everyone is different when it comes to managing their anxiety.

I did not learn these coping skills on my own. In 2015 I checked myself into outpatient therapy. My therapist helped me start a list on how to deal with my anxiety and depression. I have read many other blogs that deal with mental health and I find some of their suggestions to be helpful.

Do you struggle with anxiety? What coping skills do you use to help? Tell me in the comments below.

Author’s Disclaimer: I am not a medical or mental health professional. If you are having problems with either your physical or mental health please seek proper medical care from a health care professional. I am just sharing my own experiences so you know you are not alone.

My first therapy appointment and finding a therapist

I paced back and forth in my kitchen as I shook while holding onto the landline. I dialed my nurse practitioner’s office. “Hello, this is Florida Blue Medical Center, how may I help you today?” the receptionist answered. “This is Amanda. I had an appointment last week, and I am calling to find out why I haven’t heard anything from the counseling center that my nurse practitioner had given a referral too.”

While I waited for a response I started to pace even faster in my kitchen. I was eager to hear back from the counseling center that my nurse practitioner had given the referral to, so I could start to get treatment for my anxiety and depression. However, the weeks flew by and I had heard nothing from the counseling center. Come to find out my phone number was given incorrectly to the center. I had to call the counseling center and explain that I wanted an appointment with a therapist that offered cognitive behavioral therapy. I remember the receptionist asking me if I knew what kind of therapy that I was asking for and how I thought I would benefit from it. I remember saying that cognitive behavioral therapy was a way to change my thinking from a negative outlook in life to a more positive one; and I felt that I would benefit from it because I thought it would lessen my symptoms I was feeling from my anxiety and depression. To better understand what the definition of cognitive behavioral therapy is according to Psychology Today, cognitive behavioral therapy is, “Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of psychotherapy that treats problems and boosts happiness by modifying dysfunctional emotions, behaviors, and thoughts.”

The receptionist made me an appointment. A week went by and I found myself waiting in the waiting room. Soon a woman called me back to a large office. I sat down, and she asked me what my problems were. Like a gushing water fall I began to spill out how sore and sad I was. The woman stopped me and asked if I wanted medication or therapy for my anxiety and depression. I answered, “No medication; I want therapy.” Come to find out someone had listed me to talk to a psychiatrist and that I was wanting medication instead of therapy. She took me back to the front desk, and checked on the availability of their therapists. There were no appointments available until November. She canceled my insurance process, and gave me back my co-pay. She then handed me a list of therapists in the area.

I felt disappointed that I was not able to get help, and that my friend had to drive all the way to downtown Pensacola and back to my home.

Over the next few days I looked at the list that was provided. I knew there were a few concerns that I had when it came to picking out my new therapist. 1. How far away was the office from my house? Since I use paratransit, I needed the office to be in city limits. I also needed the office to offer appointments during the times that the paratransit ran. 2. Did the therapist take my insurance?  The list did not state which provider took my insurance, and I had a fear of getting a bill that I could not pay, so I wanted to be sure that my new therapist took my insurance. 3. Was my therapist female? I had worked with female therapists in the past and some of my depression and anxiety issues, I felt, were connected to my period. Because of this I felt that I would be uncomfortable talking to a male therapist. A few therapists I had to cross off the list right away because the office was too far away from my house. From there I was down to three candidates. The first one I called the office and found out that the therapist was already full and was not taking new patients. That left me with two more to check out. The first one did not work on depression and anxiety which is what I needed.  I called the last one on my list. I was very lucky. I found out that the office was somewhat close to my home and offered appointments in times that worked for me, the therapist took my insurance, she offered cognitive behavior therapy for anxiety and depression, and she was female.

I was able to make my appointment fairly quickly, and I was able to see a picture of what my therapist looked like and a little bit more about her background on the office website. This helped lessen the anxiety I had before the first appointment.

I am glad that I did not give up on finding a therapist. 😊

Author’s note: I am not a medical professional. I am just sharing my own personal experiences. If you are concerned about your physical or mental health please seek proper medical care.

 

The symptoms I felt before going into Therapy

I can clearly remember the pain that I felt before going into therapy. These symptoms were both physical and emotional. The physical signs I had were a rash on my belly, arm and behind my ear. I had tried all different kinds of over the counter creams and lotions. Some of the creams only helped a little bit. It never went away. I kept scratching which made the rash worse. I was under a lot of stress because my dog, Noodles, died in March. On top of that, I was in a temporary job that I did not care for because their was a lack of public transportation and accommodations.

I had wide spread body pain. I hurt all over my body. The only thing that helped some was a hot bath, which also made my rash hurt.

When it came to the emotional pain, I had waves of sadness and hopelessness. I had very little motivation, and I was crying a lot. Since I was having so many problems my family and friends encouraged me to see a doctor and to get a referral to see a therapist.

It took me a year to get the courage to make a doctor appointment. The reason I did not want to go was a fear of getting a bill that I could not afford.  While I sat in the waiting room, I was shaking. I feared that my rash was uncurable. However, my biggest fear was the stigma that went along with getting help for mental health.

When I actually got into the exam room my anxiety went even higher. I felt like I was either going to throw up or start crying. When the nurse came in I started spilling out all of my problems from the pain from my rash to the pain I was having from the heartbreaking past I was feeling. The nurse was caring. She sat down and listened to me. She let me get all of my nervousness out of my system before she even did the exam.

She asked me some questions about my health and gave me a simple exam. Before I left her office, she gave me a prescription for my rash and a referral for counseling. She gave me some strategies to help me cope and to start feeling better on my own until my first appointment.

When I left the office, I felt good that I had reached out for help. I just had to wait a few days before I would be getting a phone call for my first appointment.

Author’s note: I am not a medical professional. I am just sharing my own personal experiences. If you are concerned about your physical or mental health please seek proper medical care.

Mental Health Series: Let’s kick it off during Mental Health Awareness Week

Mental health is important to me. I have learned through volunteering for SANE: Changing Mental Health for Good that Mental Health Awareness week is celebrated May 13 through May 19th. I feel passionate about mental health, and I decided to start a series on my blog and YouTube channel dedicated to mental health. I want to share some of my mental health journey with you. I hope that opening up about my health will get more people talking about their own mental health and about the resources that are available to help in healing and to sustain wellness. I have had a range of mental health issues such as low-grade depression, anxiety, panic attacks, stress, and Body Dysmorphic Disorder.

I learned through therapy that my self-esteem and wellbeing could improve through the use of different coping techniques and positive self-talk. It took a lot of hard work and time, however I am now a happier and much healthier person because of it.

I hope that you enjoy this series. I feel ready to be open on each topic I discuss.   Together we can talk about these topics down in the comments and I hope that this helps others in their own journey.

I am no longer afraid or ashamed to talk about my mental health journey. I find it very beneficial and healing.  Here’s to a new series and to Mental Health Awareness Week!