For some people, hearing that you have a type of mental illness will make you feel like you are “crazy”. Anxiety disorder is one of the most common mental illnesses in the U.S. and maybe here in Saint Lucia too, but it does not require rehab or being put into mental institutions like some other mental illnesses.
Years ago, while watching my favorite sitcoms on TV, I just became overwhelmed with a feeling of fear, my heart started palpitating and I was struggling to breathe, there was a terrible pain in my chest, tingling in my fingers, and dizziness. As I was alone at home, I had no idea what to do. In moments like these, your phone sometimes does not come to mind because of what you are going through. I couldn’t scream out or call for anyone for a few minutes. Then suddenly it all stopped and I was fine again. I had no idea what had happened to me but I knew that it was not normal.
The following day, I went to visit a doctor and explained what I had gone through and he said that those symptoms were normal since I was anemic. Over the next few months, I changed my eating habits and my lifestyle drastically to get myself better. In a few months my blood level was back to normal and I was not anemic anymore. However, the attacks continued at least once a month, and the doctor visits continued. Sadly, every time I went to a doctor, they would never find anything wrong with me and then finally ended up diagnosing me with anxiety disorder. They gave me drugs very similar to the well-known Valium drug but somehow, those drugs did not work, my body rejected them. What puzzled me the most about my attacks is that they would happen when I was very calm, watching TV, relaxing or worst, while I was sleeping.
Months turned into years, and the space between attacks became smaller and smaller until they happened every night religiously. My mom and my boyfriend were very understanding and tried to assist when I had attacks but there wasn’t really much they could’ve done besides trying to calm me down and talk me through it. Furthermore the attacks were no longer a five minute affair, they would last all night.
I had accepted that doctors couldn’t help, and that other persons found my situation difficult to understand so I developed my own way of dealing with the issue. Although this issue isn’t solved, over the years I’ve manage to hide the symptoms and deal with it without others knowing even when it happens right next to them. My solution was to force myself remain calm by quietly speaking to myself and praying. I pray until I fall asleep and usually am very relieved and a bit surprised when I wake up the next day feeling fine. Most nights I don’t think I will make it through but I have been blessed with an angel who ensures that I do.
Living with this disorder, might not seem serious to others but if you want to understand half of what I go through then have someone put a plastic bag over your head until you feel like you may pass out. (By the way, you shouldn’t do that, just making a point, lol).
Today, I am almost 23 years old, I live alone and I still suffer constantly. My attacks are not happening daily anymore maybe due to more changes in my lifestyle, however they occur at least twice a week and have developed more symptoms. I now get severe chest pains throughout the day, and they are sharp and sudden, like someone stuck a very long pin into my heart and pulled it out. Also I find myself with constant headaches and dizziness which can be accompanied by more chest pain. I am sometimes worried that I may get really sick and fall unconscious and no one will know until late, since my family lives over an hour away from me and I don’t have many friends around here in the city. But, I continue to trust God, and have hope that one day this struggle will end and I will live a normal, healthy life. I am constantly living in fear, fear of accidents every time I get on a vehicle, fear of drowning so I hate going into the sea, fear of being caught in the middle of a fight or danger so I avoid large crowds and big festivities, just to name a few. Living in fear feels like I’m not living a full life but I engage myself in activities that make me happy like singing, writing forming youth groups, trusting God and planning events. Those are the things that keep me strong and sane and give me will to continue fighting. I still achieve my goals and am very successful like any normal young lady and I believe my struggle has pushed me to strive even more towards success.
I decided to share my story today because I know that many other persons out there go through this and have no support and maybe are afraid to explain it for fear of being called delusional. Also, because sharing this makes me feel like a load has been lifted off my back.
I want everyone else who has this illness to know that you are not alone and no matter how mild or severe your attacks may be, you are not crazy and it is real. I hope you to find ways to help you go through it without panic and also keep it from affecting your social life, like I have.
In researching, I have found out that exercising, staying active and eating healthy can help decrease the number of times you get attacks. I hope that my story serves as an inspiration or some form of comfort to others going through the same thing.