Jessica-Robinson-2-BW

Stigma Fighters : Jessica Robinson

Finding Ways to Control and Cope with Anxiety

When I was in high school, my friends and I used to tease my dad mercilessly. Whenever one of my siblings or I wanted to go out, he would ask the same set of questions: “Where are you going? Who’s going to be there? What are you going to do?” Repeatedly.

At first, it was one of those things I knew my parents had to do, but when he would ask the same questions three or four times, it became a source of amusement.

He also had this habit before going on a trip—any trip, even in town—of asking what the itinerary for the day was. It was funny to us that Dad would have to know exactly what was going on each hour of the day. Couldn’t he just go with the flow?

My dad’s quirks were always good for a laugh. He took them all in stride, smirking at our jokes, but he never changed his behavior. He continued to ask the same questions over and over and wanted an itinerary.

Later in life, I finally realized what was going on in my dad’s mind. He wasn’t asking the same questions over and over because he wasn’t listening to the answer. No, there was something else going on.

You see, my dad suffers from anxiety and panic attacks. And he was kind enough to pass those traits down to me. What he was doing by asking these questions and wondering about an itinerary was trying to cope with those feelings. He may not have realized he was doing this (or maybe he did, I don’t know because I’ve never asked), but this process was a way to cope with and control the anxiety.

I know because I do the exact same thing.

Living with anxiety and panic attacks is scary. I never know when the feelings are going to hit. I’m getting better about recognizing my triggers and dealing with the situations, but once anxiety escalates to a full-blown panic attack, there’s nothing I can do but ride it out. And these don’t often hit at opportune times.

In the past few months, I experienced a whole new level of panic attack. I had gone to my friend’s reading at the local library. It was a completely normal, low-key event with people I knew. I had my boys with me, and they decided they wanted to borrow some books. My stomach had been feeling a little wonky, and I thought it was best to go home, but they were adamant. I had to finish filling out their library cards anyway, so they perused their choices.

While they were doing that, I headed to the bathroom. When I came out, I had that all-too-familiar tingling in my stomach. I knew I was right on the edge. I talked to my friend and her husband to try to divert my attention, but it didn’t work. I ushered my kids into the Jeep and headed home.

My normal panic attacks make me feel like I’m going to have a heart attack or get so dizzy I pass out, but this one was different. There was no dizziness, no pounding heart. My intestines hurt so bad I thought they were on fire. I swore that by the time I got home, they would be burnt strings.

When I finally got home, I got sick. After that, I curled into the fetal position in my bed. The pain was so intense, I contemplated going to the hospital. If I could have uncurled myself, I probably would have.

Little by little, the pain subsided, and in about half an hour—maybe a little longer—I was left feeling exhausted and a little shaky. It was at that moment I realized I had had a new kind of panic attack.

There are so many things in this world I can’t control, and it’s frustrating and depressing to know that one of those is my own body. I hate that panic attacks or anxiety make me afraid to leave my house. I hate that I can’t do anything to stop them. To regain some of that control and to cope with the fear, I grasp onto things I can control, and that includes my schedule.

There was a time a few years ago when my panic attacks were more frequent that I would refuse to leave the house. I felt safe there. I wasn’t anxious and rarely had an attack. If I did go out, I had my day planned. The goal was to keep myself from having an attack. My plan was to stay calm.

My boys have recently become really involved with their friends, and they love to hang out at their houses. One of them lives up the street from us, and it’s not a far trip, but because I have anxiety, all the worst-case scenarios of what could happen to them while they are gone run through my mind.

I’ve become my dad. I ask them the same questions he asked me, and I make them check in with me every so often. Part of this is just being a parent and wanting to protect my kids, but the other part is to keep the voices in my head silent, to stop them from making me think something bad has happened.

The panic attacks have become less frequent, but there’s still the possibility I will have one and the anxiety is always just below the surface. I’ve gotten better about being flexible, but I’m still much more comfortable knowing what is going to happen throughout the day—it makes me happy to have an itinerary. It is now my family’s turn to tease me about the questions and the need for a schedule, but like my dad, I’m fine with it. It’s how I control and cope with my mental illness.

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Jessica-Robinson-2-BWJessica Robinson lives Wyoming with her husband, two spirited boys, two adorable corgis, a black lab named Ryder, and a rescue kitty named Alia, who happens to be the sweetest kitty in the world! She cannot say no to dessert, orange soda, or cinnamon. She loves rats and tatts and rock and roll and wants to be an alien queen when she grows up.

Jessica can be found on her blog

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