[HALEY] Here at #Robinfuns, we like to goof off and go on wild adventures, but the biggest adventures are the often ones you face every day. And they aren’t always “fun.” That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be talked about. Today we’re gonna talk about something that is a big part of Neil and my lives: anxiety.
Everyone has experienced some level of anxiety at some point in their life. But sometimes anxiety can grow from a small nagging in the back our your stomach into a monster that wreaks havoc on your whole world. More recently, anxiety disorders have become the most common mental illness in the United States – affecting 18% of the population. That’s a lot of (severely) anxious people walking around our fair country! Two of those are me and Neil.
I was diagnosed with anxiety-induced insomnia in middle school when a doctor prescribed me a super low Xanax prescription which I was too afraid to take. I tried melatonin, 5-HTP, warm milk at night, calming music, and going to bed super earlier since it took me 2-3 hours to fall asleep each night. Nothing seemed to work. My anxiety pretty much controlled my life from 8th grade through college until I finally had enough of it. I had tried to control my life so much and for so long and all it was doing was making me sick (AKA an eating disorder that I’d love to talk about more, but is not the subject of this post). So I decided to cast all my anxieties on God, truly, deeply and desperately (1 Peter 5:7). It was my sophomore year of college and I’ve been working toward healing every since. It’s not always easy – I still have anxious thoughts and I’ve never truly beaten my insomnia – but my anxiety doesn’t control my life anymore. While more than a decade of anxiety sucks, I wouldn’t change it for the world. Not only did I learn a lot about myself, but it prepared me for partnering with Neil on his own anxiety journey.
[NEIL] My first struggles with anxiety and panic attacks came during my freshman year of college when I was sent to the hospital after I started having heart palpitations. The heart palpitations were very scary for me. I had never had them before. I was born with a heart defect that was corrected with surgery shortly after birth, so I was worried something was seriously wrong with me. At the hospital, it was quickly discovered that I was simply suffering extreme dehydration. They hooked me up to fluids and kept me overnight.
The next day I was released with the advice to stay hydrated. Although I was given a clean bill of health, I started to get very anxious. Any feeling similar to those I experienced that night of dehydration made me panic. I became hypersensitive to my body and environment. I would notice every time my heart rate increased and any little pain in my leg, head, stomach etc. I would become uncomfortable in loud environments like movies, concerts, or small spaces. Then I would overanalyze all these sensations. Worry would set in and I would start to freak out, which led to hyperventilating and palpitations. Then a feeling of doom would join the panic party. I became weary of anything that allowed me to feel my heart beat or increase my breathing. I stopped exercising. Walking to class became daunting. Stairs became a challenge. I didn’t even like feeling my heart beat laying down in bed, so many nights were spent trying to fall asleep sitting up.
Seeking comfort became my new goal. I would find comfort in my safe spaces and restful activities like watching movies or playing video games. My dorm was safe to me. My parent’s house was another. Escaping to these safe spaces kept me isolated. I would skip class if I felt anxious. I would spend most nights in my dorm instead of experiencing my new life in college. I would go home most weekends. My grades started to slip, and I began to distance myself from friends. And with every moment of panic, I became more and more sure something was wrong with me. My Mum and I visited a cardiologist in College Station who gave me an event monitor to record when I felt like my heart was not functioning correctly. All the results came back positive – there was nothing wrong. I visited my regular cardiologist after that Spring semester, and again, nothing was wrong. Clean bill of health. It was starting to sink in that all my fears, all my worry and panic, were exactly that.
Throughout that summer the anxiety and the panic slowly started to fade, but many of the rituals around seeking comfort and safety remained. I still wasn’t exercising. I still was isolating myself. During my sophomore fall semester, I started to put myself out there more. I started working. I made new friends. I dove back into my school work. I spent more time in College Station instead of escaping home on the weekends. By the end of that school year, my concern and fear of exercising had passed. It was a slow process, but the anxiety was gone.
My life continued anxiety- and panic-free for years. Rarely did an anxious thought run through my head. I thought I would never have any anxiety or panic ever again. But that’s not how anxiety operates. It can come and go throughout our lives. Sometimes at random. I found that out the hard way this past January. It all started with a random panic attack while at a birthday lunch for Haley and her twin sister. It came out of nowhere. I felt a sea of doom wash over me. Chills. Shakes. Heart racing. Weak and dizzy. Then my hands and face started to go tingly. It was unlike anything I had ever felt. I was certain there was something seriously wrong with me. I insisted on seeking medical care. We pulled into a clinic where they informed me they didn’t have the equipment to do a full 360 review but the vitals they could gather were all normal. Knowing that information, things started getting better and my symptoms returned to normal. It was the most intense panic attack I’ve ever experienced. By the evening I felt much better, but in the days and weeks ahead, the anxiety, panic, and hypersensitivity I knew from college had returned. I would become anxious about everything from my health, work, travel, etc. Being on guard for the next panic become my normal posture. Sometimes panic would come out of nowhere. Other times a variety of triggers would set me off. Exercise, loud noises, closed in spaces, caffeine, showers, mornings, the list of triggers could really go on and on. I started to form obsessive behaviors like checking my pulse and rituals for going to sleep and walking into work. From late January through February every day felt like a battle. What anxiety would I encounter today?
[HALEY] Neil’s anxiety has been really hard for me to watch. While having experienced anxiety myself, it was nothing like his hourly debilitating panic. What began as something I thought he’d just “get over” soon became this big monster taking over our lives. From panicked phone calls at work to nightly breakdowns before bed, anxiety was becoming unbearable – and not just for Neil. We finally decided that this was bigger than us and we needed help. In February, Neil started seeing a therapist that our pastor recommended and we started developing coping strategies and positive mantras Neil could do throughout the day. Oh, and lots and lots of praying happened. Lots and LOTS of praying. It’s now the end of April, month four, and Neil has been improving daily. He’s growing in confidence and dependence on God – and we’re learning how to support each other through this process. He still experiences anxiety, but it is no longer overwhelming. Praise the Lord.
Neil’s battle with anxiety isn’t over. And it might never be. Neil and I both know that we might deal with anxiety on some level for the rest of our lives. I tell him all the time that our goal is not to never be anxious, but to be prepared to handle anxiety better when it rears its ugly head. We know that what’s most important is to trust that God will see us through even the scariest seasons. We try to take it day by day and support each other as best we can.
Have you ever struggled with anxiety? We’d love to know about fellow worriers.