Stigma Fighters: Jessica Cobb

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Stigma Fighters: Jessica Cobb

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.

By | 2015-03-10T14:35:22+00:00 March 10th, 2015|Categories: Anxiety, Panic, Stigma Fighters|10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. Ashley Alteman March 10, 2015 at 2:52 pm - Reply

    anxiety is no joke. over the years you learn a few ways to wind yourself back down but it is tough. very tough. however, perfectly human 🙂

  2. Jenny Kanevsky March 10, 2015 at 3:11 pm - Reply

    Come on in the water’s fine. There’s a lot of us in here, we’ll keep you good company.

  3. Courtney Keesee March 10, 2015 at 3:31 pm - Reply

    I found the way you described it to be perfect. Especially the “A hand gripping a balloon in my chest.” yes, yes, a million times yes. I can relate do much and it can be so hard to describe.

  4. Whitney Lang Fleming March 10, 2015 at 6:09 pm - Reply

    The beginning of this, wow. I actually felt physically uncomfortable with you. And yes, perfectly human sums it up.

  5. Helen White March 10, 2015 at 11:07 pm - Reply

    Scarily relevant given the panic attacks that crippled me over the last week. My psychiatrist told me today to practice my deep breathing techniques (really…). An excellent read, shared on the SFDU FaceBook.

  6. PParada March 14, 2015 at 1:22 pm - Reply

    Hi Jessica. You are not alone. I know how hard it is to have anxiety specially due to the stigma. I know it is hard to ignore people but you should think it is they who should admire us. We are the fighters, we are the ones struggling every day to overcome this illness. We are the ones to be proud of not them. Bear this in mind. What doesnt kill you will make you stronger and you will realize how evil people can be but that will teach you things. Wish you the best and a big hug to you. You will get better!

  7. Sybil Watters March 16, 2015 at 11:24 am - Reply

    It is certainly an odd journey. And every time I get some part of it under control, I get “symptom shifting”. People always tell me how laid back I am. If they only knew my heart is generally on the fast track out of my chest for no apparent reason…..I, too am the picture of physical health- except the almond in my brain (amygdala) is a bit off! 🙂 I’m with you if you ever need anything 🙂 I wrote an article about my journey as well: http://www.sugarfreeearcandy.com/moresugarfreeearcandy/2014/12/22/abuse-ptsd-and-religion

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