My Lifelong Anxiety Journey and What I've Learned From It

redefining after 50 self-care Jul 20, 2020
Lifelong anxiety journey

Anxiety has been a part of my world and my being pretty much ever since I can remember from age 5-58 and counting. The CDC identifies several types of anxiety in children including fear of being away from parents, specific phobias such as spiders or heights, social anxiety, and worry about future events or general anxiety.

I had every one of these as a kid. I had and have plenty of reason for this – partly having to do with genetics and anxiety running in the family along with dealing with a chaotic and unpredictable environment growing up. Deadly combo.

The anxiety has ebbed and flowed depending on where I was in my life journey. I do a fair job of managing it now, but it has never gone away and I suspect it never will.

And I know that I am not alone in this struggle.

Effects of Anxiety

Any of us who have ever suffered with it, are well aware of the effects on every aspect of our physical and emotional being. The headaches and stomach aches. The dry mouth or overly salivating if we get nauseous. Increased heart rate. Sweating. The list goes on.

For many of us, the general anxiety can turn into a full fledged panic attack. And the dread of experiencing any of these symptoms can interfere with our enjoyment of most everything.

Today, I woke up feeling randomly anxious. I believe it’s the result of an impending physical – going to the doctor is somewhat of a phobia because I, like many, have tremendous fear and dread about what I might be told about my health. It doesn’t matter that I’m healthy and have had no issues or complaints. This time, it’s going to be the worst news. At least in my anxious brain.

I am a 58 year old woman and should just be able to know better and deal. I sat down and reflected on how anxiety has affected me through the years. It’s been different and more or less intense, depending on what was happening in my life at the time.

My Anxiety as a Child Ages 5-15...

Was a constant occurrence everywhere I was. CONSTANT. I always felt nauseous and was always afraid that I would throw up in public (which, of course, never happened). I was worried and afraid when my parents would leave. The discomfort of being in a place that was not easy to leave started early and has stuck with me through the years. It contributed significantly to the sudden fear of flying which hit me seemingly from out of nowhere at 13.

The hardest part as a kid was dealing with all of this internally and not telling anyone. I needed to step up and be in control at my mother’s house and I needed to protect my father from knowing what was going on there so he wouldn’t worry about me.

And anyone who knows me today, knows that I am a control freak. I have a need to control every aspect of every single social situation. I am more aware of it and more likely to realize and accept that I can’t control other people. But, it’s still my go to until I have a little sit down and chat with myself.

As a Teen Ages 15-19….

As I became older, the control piece became more of an issue. However, I also was able to control more things with my increased independence and ability to drive.

The need to always be able to leave a room easily was still with me big time. I had constant anxiety in high school because of it. But again, I kept it hidden and managed it internally.

Ages 20-Mid 30s…

I lived an entire lifetime between the ages of 19 and 38. I got married at 19, had my two sons between the ages of 19 and 22, became a widow at the age of 24, and remarried at 28.

During my first marriage and early widowhood, my anxiety was at a minimum. I was so happy and content being an at home mom to my sons. It was all I wanted. Life was relaxed (as relaxed as it could be as a young twenties with two littles). And I was in control of my household. When I became a widow, I had to step up – my babies were relying on me. I was able to remain home with them and take care of them and myself.

After I met and married my second husband, my general anxiety was manageable, but I began to suffer from panic attacks. It was a common occurrence that I would need to leave a restaurant in the middle of a meal or leave an event before it was over. It became old for my husband at the time and I don’t blame him. He liked to be on the go – to travel, go out to eat, go to parties, etc. and this was wearing on him.

At this point, I did seek the help of a professional counselor and attended a support group for others suffering from anxiety. I found that all to be very helpful.

My need for control continued and this also affected my relationship.

Late 30s to Mid 40s….

This was another time of turmoil for me but also growth. My boys were grown and in college. I got my Master’s Degree as well as my BCBA licensure. My husband and I divorced.

My anxiety and need to control during this time was still pretty strong. However, during this time I became more open about my anxiety to friends and family. Which, interestingly enough, took away much of the power of the anxiety.

And I’ve not looked back.

Late 40s To Now…

Today I am happily married to a man who embraces me and my flaws and we are able to laugh when I’m starting to try to control a situation over which I have no control. He’s laid back and chill which helps temper my tendency towards the exact opposite.

What I’ve noticed with my anxiety now as I’m getting older is that it’s manifesting itself more as a a fear of the future. Life is so good right now. We are working, family is around, we have each other. We have our health. It’s too good so something bad has to happen. I’m often just waiting for the “other shoe to drop.”

And this robs me of joy. I have to constantly remind myself to live in the present. And my husband reminds me always that there is no other shoe.

So many faces and sides to this damn anxiety.

Takeaway Tips from my Journey

  1. The biggest takeaway is that there is no shame in having anxiety. The minute I started telling people about it, was when it lost its power over me. And, I discovered in the process that many of my friends knew exactly what I was talking about since they, too, suffered from some level of anxiety. Hiding it all of those years made it so much worse.
  2. Don’t be afraid to seek counseling. Going to talk to someone during the time where I was having consistent panic attacks really helped. And talking to others who were dealing with the same issue was a game changer for me. It validated me, made me feel less alone, and took away the power of the anxiety.
  3. Keep a journal. Feel the feelings. Sometime we are anxious for no apparent reason but if we sit down, look within, and write, we can usually figure it out. Sitting and writing about it is cathartic. It can help us identify what the issue is, get it out in the open, and again, remove some of its power.
  4. The worst thing you can do when you’re feeling anxious is to tell yourself to stop it and try to make yourself stop thinking about whatever it is that is making you anxious. This absolutely does NOT work. EVER. Instead, I use a technique that I learned from Mel Robbins which utilizes what she calls an anchor thought. I have a vision that counteracts what I’m anxious about and I focus and go there in my head.

An example: I get very anxious about going to the doctor and hearing bad news. So, when I feel that happening, I picture myself sitting on my deck with my husband after the visit enjoying a glass of wine feeling happy and relieved because the appointment is done and I was fine. I see the trees and hear the birds and picture us laughing at how silly I was (again) for being so anxious for NOTHING!

The beauty of this technique is that it’s impossible to be anxious about hearing bad news and picturing yourself being relieved because you got good news simultaneously. It takes practice but it works! 

I know that my anxiety will always be a part of who I am. It’s gotten me to where I am today. Which is a pretty great place!

I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m grateful for it. And I won’t let it define me ever again. But, I have a self awareness and level of confidence that I likely would not have had without it.