The weight on my chest is suffocating. I try to inhale deeply despite knowing what is coming. As my lungs fill, I am forced to stop short. A hand is gripping a balloon in my chest. The deeper I breathe the tighter it squeezes. It’s going to pop unless I stop breathing. Sip, sip, sip the air in shallow bits. The edges of my vision darken as my brain registers the lack of oxygen. Sip, sip, sip. Long slow exhale. I lean my head back and close my eyes, dizziness making it hard to focus on what I need to do to get through this. Sip, sip, sip. Slowly but surely the hand releases its grip and I can breathe normally again, but a slight pressure remains, ensuring I don’t forget it.
I realize, by way of an exhausted ache, that I have been clenching my teeth shut. I open my mouth to relax my burning jaws, exploring the left half of my face with my fingers, from my chin through my cheekbone to the temple. The sensation is dull. My flesh has that stiff, slightly numb feeling that occurs upon waking after you’ve slept on one side of your face for too long.
As I adjust myself on the couch, where I have been sitting quietly for the last hour since a random, inexplicable spell of lightheadedness, I wince as a sharp pain alights in my left arm. I rub it, just above the elbow, and follow the tendril of heat, which I imagine as an electrified wire, up into my shoulder, dissipating halfway up through my neck.
My stomach complains at me. A bowl of cookies and cream ice cream sounds so wonderful right now. I can practically hear it calling for me from the freezer. But I’m committed to avoiding caffeine and sugar, which we suspect are exacerbating my symptoms, so I redirect my attention back to the TV.
I’m not watching anything exciting. Keeping it low-key has been a focal point for me the past few weeks. Avoiding stress, confrontation, and stress where I can in a tiny house with 4 small children hasn’t been easy, but my husband, the Captain, has been immensely helpful. And though I’ve been sitting on the couch and doing the least demanding of the chores, I have lost 5 pounds in two weeks. The combination of worry, constant pain/pressure, and lack of sugar and caffeine have forced my appetite into non-existence. It’s impossible to not worry when you constantly feel like you’re about to have a heart attack.
The Captain comes up from tucking the kids into bed. This will be our first chance to discuss our day with one another, and it’s something I really look forward to. As dangerous as his job as a power lineman can be, I love listening to him talk about it. Before I can ask how his day went though, he has a question of his own.
“Have your test results come back yet?”
No need to ask which results, as the only one remaining is a 24 hour adrenaline test. Between EKGs, chest xrays, CBCs, thyroid, blood pressure, and basic urine tests, everything is ship shape. As a non-smoker, rare drinker, and exercise enthusiast, I am a picture of perfect health, if you can ignore the 15 pound belt of lingering pregnancy fat and Little Debbie snack cakes around my middle.
“No,” I reply. “But, I did get a message from my Dr. today. He discussed my case with the other Drs. In his practice, and they’ve agreed that, if the test comes back normal, they should treat me for anxiety.”
“Why? You’ve never seemed overly anxious to me.”
“I don’t know… It’d be worth a shot though, wouldn’t it? If it helps.”
The conversation moved on from there, but I thought on his statement during the hours that I was unable to sleep. I thought about the stigma attached to the word ‘anxiety.’ That when someone says they are anxious we conjure up an image of a nail-biter. I used to correlate the word anxious most often with a tiny lap dog, finding itself lost among a world of giant boots and too many loud noises.
No, I’m not a hand-wringer. I’m not a worry wart. I think a lot, constantly, likely too much about too many things, but I don’t fret and thinking is something I enjoy. I am a doer. A fixer. Planner. A well thought out to-do list gives me a lady boner like few things can (you only have to glance at the white board on our fridge with the kids’ weekly schedules, our meal plan, and grocery list inked out in various colors and fonts to see that I’m speaking truth there.) I am not a timid person. My mind often speaks itself, my mouth lending volume that often exceeds what is necessary. I think of myself as bold and deliberate, a mask of self-assuredness being my most common adornment. So, no, the assumption that having an anxiety disorder likens me to a trembling Chihuahua is not the right one.
Now that I have officially been diagnosed with anxiety, I rather feel like it likens me to being perfectly human.