Hi, my name is Ashley and I have anxiety.
I have had this post on my mind for a long time, it is just hard to open myself up so much to some of the readers of this blog. My hope is that I can help even one person deal with this disease. I do believe it is a disease, and it is not an easy fix. I will share some of what has worked for me, and what hasn’t. Everyone is different, and what worked for me may not work for you. Please know going into this that I do support taking medication for anxiety and depression.
I have always been a worrier. Even growing up I remember I constantly worried about my parents getting in a car wreck, or getting appendicitis, or a brain tumor. Most kids do not have such fears. My parents even took me to a child psychologist for a while when I was young. I seemed to be fine as long as I was busy, but during the breaks in college it would rear its ugly head again. I remember I would get particularly depressed heading back to college after the Christmas break. My mom never got it, she would always just tell me to snap out of it. It is hard for people who have never dealt with it to understand that it is not simply a choice of whether or not to worry.
It was also hard feeling like I was somehow being a bad Christian because I worried. The easy answer was just to pray about it because God says “do not be anxious in anything”. So then I had guilt on top of worry, and it just kept getting worse. In my case, anxiety has caused depression as well. A lot of the time I just kept my anxiety to myself, letting it eat away at me. I was too embarrassed to let anyone know what was really on my mind. Looking back, I see now that it hindered a lot of my relationships. For example, I do not like who I was while preparing for my wedding. I had to apologize and thank so many of my friends and family who put up with me!
Despite the fact that I have a minor in psychology and I was a licensed social worker… It actually took many years, and someone pointing out that it was affecting my marriage, for me to even identify myself with the diagnosis of anxiety. At that point I was stressed all of the time, angry a lot of the time, and my body felt horrible. I had aches and pains everywhere. I always had a headache. I was also even having panic attacks. I do have asthma, so I always just assumed it was really bad asthma. It turns out, they were panic attacks. I couldn’t breathe or catch my breath! That could also be a situation where my asthma triggered the anxiety or the anxiety triggered the asthma. I did visit a couple of times with my primary care doctors about this, and they actually prescribed a medication for me. The thing is, family practice doctors may not be the best source for treating psychiatric diseases. I know now that you have to ease into medications gradually. When I started taking the medication they prescribed at the full dose I felt like I was in a fog and my anxiety was actually getting worse! It is a known side-effect, but I was completely oblivious at the time. I felt like I was going crazy. At this point Chad was also very skeptical of psychiatric medications, so I stopped the medication and attempted to deal with my anxiety on my own again.
Unfortunately, anxiety is a vicious cycle. I also didn’t realize how destructive anxiety is to your body! It causes symptoms that can make you worry that you have something else going on, just compounding the anxiety that much more! Here is a list of the symptoms that anxiety can cause, just so you know you aren’t going crazy if you experience any of them! It can affect everything in your life. It can make daily life seem difficult, if not impossible some days. Just to be clear, I did not have the occasional worries that everyone may have. I know everyone worries about relationships or finances at one point or another. I was worrying about everything, all the time. It was pervasive. I worried if a friend didn’t text me back, I worried if someone didn’t like the meal they were served, I worried about the what ifs. All. The. Time.
I finally made the decision to seek professional help. I made an appointment with a psychiatrist who immediately prescribed a different medication, and I eased my way into a full dose. I started feeling better really quickly! I was feeling more like myself or who I was actually meant to be. Not a crazy, controlling person! I noticed, though, that I still wasn’t quite right. For me, medication alone wasn’t going to cut it. I also started to see a professional counselor. I went off of the recommendation of my psychiatrist. Here is where things get interesting, and you have to be your own advocate. All counselors are not equal, nor do they all use the same methods. It was NOT a good fit between myself and this counselor. I was actually dreading my appointments and started having more anxiety! I finally decided to quit seeing him, only to have him harass me with phone calls for a month. I understand he was looking out for the interests of his client, but like I said it was not a good fit for me.
I managed for a while with medication alone, but about the time we started building our house in Lubbock and trying to get pregnant, I recognized that my anxiety had the potential to spiral out of control again. I decided that I wanted to seek a counselor who could offer a Christian perspective as well. As I mentioned before, I struggled with the guilt that God tells us not to worry. Fortunately, my dad works for a faith based hospital and he was able to get me a list of counselors relatively easily! I actually just picked a name on the list randomly (or maybe as God had intended all along), and it was a perfect match! She had the perspective that you have to try each other out, and it has to be a good fit for both of you. We hit it off instantly. She was exactly what I needed. She also said what I needed to hear. She had even gone through infertility herself, which was just an added bonus.
Around this time I also decided to change psychiatrists. I needed one who would really listen to my symptoms, instead of just handing me a prescription. Someone in my family was also seeing a psychiatrist and having great success, so I made an appointment with that one. Let me tell you what a difference it makes to have both a psychiatrist and a psychologist on your team who you feel like respect you and support you! I felt like a completely new person! I had serious concerns with side effects of medications, but I also wanted to control my symptoms. I am finally on the right medication at the right dose. I am not pretending that it was easy to get to that sweet spot, but when you have the right medical professionals working with you, it will happen! I will not get into my specific medication or dose on here, but if you have any questions feel free to email me and I will privately discuss it. There are always side effects and consequences, but you have to weigh out your options. My counselor was also very supportive of me taking medication, and we often discussed the pros and cons.
As I said, anxiety is a cycle. I have ebbs and flows. I went through a period where I did not feel the need to see the counselor much. I was able to maintain status quo with just the help of medication until I found out I was pregnant. Things got tricky again all of a sudden. I made the decision to stop taking my medication for the safety of my baby. Ultimately, that was a bad decision for me. I started having horrible anxiety attacks, and I was constantly worrying about the pregnancy. I felt like my worrying was going to do more harm to the pregnancy than taking the medication would, so I switched to a medication that was deemed safer for pregnancy. My counselor was very supportive this whole time, and we had lengthy conversations about the risks and benefits; though, that particular medication ended up not being a good fit for me and did not help much at all. From all of my research and conversations with my doctor and husband, I decided to stop all medication again around 20 weeks pregnant. The effects of medication, from what is documented, seem to occur during the lung development. I started having horrible anxiety again, and to this day I wonder if my constant worrying ended up causing the early delivery. My doctors have assured me that anxiety is not known to cause placenta problems; however, if we are blessed enough to get pregnant again, I would seriously consider taking my medication the whole pregnancy. I want to be able to enjoy being pregnant, instead of being filled with fear and worry the whole time. I do know that maybe I was just already being a protective mother and that maybe I instinctively knew something was wrong, yet I can’t help but beat myself up sometimes (something a lot of preemie moms deal with). I did have the foresight to ask to be put back on medication immediately after the delivery knowing that the stress of the NICU would compound my anxiety and any post partum depression that might arise.
I currently feel like I am in a really good place with my anxiety. I have not felt the need to see my counselor in almost a year. I do love that she lets me pick back up where we left off, though, should the need arise. I think that once you accept the diagnosis of anxiety, you can start to learn your triggers. I know what a lot of my triggers are now. I also know when I am starting to feel anxious even without the worried thoughts. If my body starts to feel tense, or if I feel restless, I try to figure out what I might be anxious about. I have had more open conversations with my husband about when I am feeling anxious. I have also been honest with my supervisor at work to let her know that I do have anxiety and when big changes occur or are about to occur in the office, I try to keep the line of communication open. You have to be honest with those around you. It may take a while, it may even take fights and tears, but they will eventually get it. My mom knows now that I cannot turn my anxiety off like a light switch. Chad is also very understanding when I tell him something that might be a trigger for me. Eventually I may look more into the link between PCOS and anxiety. I also may experiment with the effects of diet and anxiety. Ultimately, this experience has made me a better person. I am also more empathetic because I see it now in others who may not see it in themselves yet. I just wish mental illness was not such a taboo topic to talk about. I wish everyone felt like they could be open with their coworkers and friends and family. Maybe someday we will get there, until then I am always here as a listening ear.