January Warrior – Kaylie

January Warrior – Kaylie

Hello! We took a break last month but we are back with Warrior of the Month!

This month we have miss Kaylie. Kaylie reached out to me on Instagram a few months ago wanting to be a part of my Warrior of the Month, and of course I said yes! After reading her story, I’m so happy to share it with everyone. Anxiety is becoming more and more common and I’m happy to be sharing a story that revolves all around GAD.

I’ve always been an anxious person. Growing up there were so many things that would cause me to worry; weather was a big trigger for me and I would often hyperventilate and hide in our basement with a few of my favourite belongings when we would get a thunderstorm. I would worry about everything and anything and I attribute this to watching my mom worry about everything and anything. I found comfort in biting my nails to the point where they would bleed and become numb, and I would snuggle my favourite stuffed rabbit. I still do both of these things today even though I’m almost twenty-five, but they are coping mechanisms that I’ve known my whole life. As I got older my worry about weather slowly went away but that was quickly replaced by newer and bigger worries.

 

Before I go any further into my life as someone who lives with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and how that became more than just regular old anxiety, it’s important that I talk about the difference between the feeling of anxiety and an anxiety disorder. The feeling of anxiety is completely normal and something we all experience in our daily lives. Whether that is feeling anxious about a job interview, to getting married, to having your first child, anxiety is normal but there comes a point when it becomes abnormal. “The term ‘anxiety disorder’ refers to specific psychiatric disorders that involve extreme fear or worry, and includes generalized anxiety disorder (GAD),  panic disorder and panic attacks, agoraphobia, social anxiety disorder, selective mutism, separation anxiety, and specific phobias” (Understand the Facts, n.d). Okay, so now that we know that there is a difference between anxiety and an anxiety disorder, I’m going to focus on what generalized anxiety disorder is and how it affects my daily life.

 

“Generalized anxiety disorder is excessive worry around a number of everyday problems for more than six months. This anxiety is often far greater than expected—for example, intense anxiety over a minor concern. Many people experience physical symptoms too, including muscle tension and sleep problems” (Anxiety Disorders, 2016). I can pinpoint the exact time when my GAD began, even though it wasn’t diagnosed until January of 2019. In 2014 I had many stressors occurring in my day to day life that forced me to recognize that life truly is hard sometimes. I was in the middle of my first year of university when my mom was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, my paternal grandpa had passed away literally days later, and then my boyfriend at the time admitted to being emotionally involved with another woman. All of these stressors happened within days of each other and I had no idea how to deal with all of these things at once. I was also busy with university and work that I didn’t have a chance to truly process all that was happening around me, and naturally I bottled up the feelings I was dealing with. I continued about my life but struggled with feelings of intense worry, chest pains and heart palpitations, mood swings, muscle tension, and panic attacks. I dealt with all of this on my own and hid it from the people in my life who were close to me. To be completely honest, I was embarrassed. How could I go about life unhappy and be worried about everything when things were so good otherwise? Let me tell you why: mental illness does not care about your socioeconomic status, or the colour of your skin, or your gender, or how wonderful your life is or isn’t. Mental illness is just an illness and it attacks our brains in the same way that bronchitis attacks your lungs.

 

Fast forward a couple years to the summer of 2017. At this point (and for three years) I was living with this unbearable anxiety that I kept trying to push further and further away from my surface. I would feel all of these intense physical symptoms but I never went to the doctor for them because again, I was embarrassed. In the summer of 2017 I had to deal with the attempted suicide of my youngest sister along with the death of my maternal-grandma, who was such an important person in my life. The anxiety continued to get worse and I felt as though I was walking on eggshells around my own home in anticipation of my sister committing suicide which is no way to go about your days. Around the same time I experienced my first (of many) ovarian cyst ruptures and with my mom’s background with ovarian cancer, I was naturally quite concerned.

 

Now, let’s take a look at the summer of 2018: the height of my anxiety. Colin was in Quebec for four months of training for his new job and I had to plan a wedding with him being far away, we found out that he had to move to a new town for work, I had to get laparoscopic surgery and then move literally two days later, and then Colin’s paternal grandma passed away. I was living in a new town where I barely knew anyone and I was unable to leave the house because I had just had surgery. I was isolated (big time) and my anxiety began manifesting itself in new ways. I would constantly be feeling around my body looking for lumps and I was afraid to go to bed because I was convinced that I was going to die in my sleep. Every time we got into the car to make the trip back to our hometown I would have visions of dying. I remember breaking down and telling Colin that I was thinking about death constantly, and that I was scared about getting married because the person that I was for the past twenty-four years was no longer who I was today and I was going to have to learn to live with an entirely new identity. (This is something people don’t talk about when you get married, the ugly thoughts. Getting married is a huge deal and if you’re freaking out because you will no longer be who you once were, just know that it’s totally normal and it does go away).

 

I talked to Colin about the panic attacks, the heavy feeling in my chest, the heart palpitations, being unable to sleep, (and that I was sleeping too much), my muscle tension, my never-ending sadness, and my debilitating, intense and constant thoughts of excessive worry that really made no sense. Finally, it all came out. Five years of holding in all of this built-up anxiety that my body couldn’t handle anymore. Colin helped me get the help I needed and I went to see my doctor and blurted out all of the things I was going through. He wanted to see me again a few months later to see how things were going and to try some online Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) which is something that I really enjoy doing. Colin and I decided to move me back to our home town because we thought it would be best while I learned to cope with my anxiety and while it did work for a while it didn’t change my anxiety.

 

Colin and I returned to my doctor’s office in January of this year and I talked to him about my symptoms as I knew something was wrong and that that these feelings of worry shouldn’t be as intense as they are. I told him straight-up that I felt crazy. We chatted and decided that it was best to put me on medication to help alleviate the symptoms of my anxiety as well as continuing the online CBT. I was prescribed Escitalopram Oxalate (Cipralex) 10mg and was told it would take about a month to begin working and to watch for any serious side effects. About a month later, I noticed (out of the blue) that it had been three days since I had heart palpitations and a panic attack even though I was still dealing with my anxiety. I continued to take my medication until I noticed a severe drop in my anxiety and began experiencing all of the symptoms all over again. I made an appointment with my doctor and while I handled the medication well, we decided to up my dose to 20mg, and it was at this time that I was given a formal diagnosis of Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Finally, I had an answer to what was going on in my brain and I could begin healing and learning how to cope with this illness.

 

Lastly, I wanted to touch on a topic that may be sensitive but I felt like sharing my opinion would be beneficial. There are a lot of posts out there today that talk about “high-functioning” mental illnesses. Straight-up, I don’t believe in this at all. I am not “high-functioning” because I’m able to live a somewhat normal life and hold down a job despite my mental illness; I’m able to function because I can afford the medication I need to thrive, I have access to various methods of therapy, I have an amazing support system, and I have various ways to cope with my mental illness. Sure, it may appear that I’m “high-functioning” because I’m married, leave the house, and can hold down a job, but when it comes down to it, I’m not “high-functioning” at all. I’m learning to live alongside my anxiety instead of letting it consume my entire life and I think that’s the difference between being able to function and not function. I go through periods of time that can last for weeks where I cry for no reason, have panic attacks for no reason, and I’m not able leave my bed because I’m so sick and tired of battling my own thoughts every single day. Living with a mental illness has vastly changed my life and how I focus on things. It’s a huge reason that I turned to Intuitive Eating and joyful movement in my life because they are not anxiety provoking and I can focus on different aspects of my life. I’m not ashamed of having GAD; in fact, I embrace it because it is a part of who I am. Maybe one day I won’t need medication to thrive and I’ll be able to go about life just dealing with everyday anxiety, but until then I’m going to let my GAD come along for the ride and live my life despite of it.

 

Thank you so much Kaylie for sharing your story with me and my readers. Anxiety is one of the hardest parts of my mental illness and one of the hardest to address. I truly commend you for seeking the help you needed and doing what was best for you. That can be really tough to do so I’m so glad you’ve taken those steps.

Until next month…

 

References

Anxiety Disorders. (2016, February 28). Retrieved August 2, 2019, from https://cmha.ca/documents/anxiety-disorders

  1. (2016, March 14). Normal Anxiety Vs Anxiety Disorder [Cartoon]. Retrieved August 2, 2019, from https://twitter.com/mpowerminds/status/709612686791864320

Understand the Facts. (n.d.). Retrieved August 2, 2019, from https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety

Resources

https://www.camh.ca/-/media/files/guides-and-publications/anxiety-guide-en.pdf?la=en&hash=DEEF0BBD7FC131D116F13D4DFF609D93B726C210

https://www.camh.ca/en/health-info/mental-health-101

https://www.camh.ca/en/health-info/mental-illness-and-addiction-index/generalized-anxiety-disorder

https://maps.anxietycanada.com/courses/my-anxiety-plan-map-for-adults/

http://www.crisisservicescanada.ca/

https://adaa.org/living-with-anxiety/ask-and-learn/resources

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