Tuesday, October 10, 2017

World Mental Health Day - My Secret Struggle with Anxiety


Rock Bottom

Since starting college in Miami in 2006, I have flown nearly 100,000 miles. Throughout school I regularly flew between Florida and New Jersey at Thanksgiving, Christmas, and sometimes Spring Break. After graduating, I started dating Ross and we began travelling together regularly at our birthdays and randomly during the year. We have traveled to Atlanta, Chicago, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Orlando, Honolulu, Cancun, Istanbul, the Bahamas, and Punta Cana. I love travelling, packing up, turning off my phone, getting some good nights of rest without the dog pushing me out of the bed, and seeing new places.

My excitement to travel slowly transitioned to fear, starting in May, when I woke up having nightmares before our flight to Nassau. I was wide awake at 4 AM, sick to my stomach until my parents came to drive us to the airport. Once I was at the airport and through the lines of checking my bag and security, I was good.

Fast forward to July when we traveled to Florida with my in-laws. Same shit, only worse. Once we were at the airport, I wasn't better. I was nervous, couldn't turn off my brain and had my first panic attack during take off. We landed in Ft. Meyers and with tears in my eyes I apologized to Ross for having a "bat shit crazy wife". Ross hugged me, told me he loved me and gently suggested talking to someone. The idea of relaxing was blown as I spent the entire weak in fear of our flight home. Of course, there was terrible weather all up and down the east coast the night we flew home, which made for a bumpy ride for the plane and my brain. Several tears and a few weeks later I was at the doctor's office.

Taking Back my Life

My doctor and I talked about the anxiety and panic that I had been feeling both with regards to travelling and the rest of the time. We talked about my chronic eye pain (which has been going on since December 2015, a month before I was planning to dive deep into my architecture licensure exams). We talked about my fear of failure, how I strive for perfection and how my brain just never turns off.

I walked out of that appointment with a prescription for Zoloft feeling empowered, not embarrassed. I had the courage to talk about these issues and take back control of my life. Together my doctor and I had made a plan and before me stood the ultimate test. With my next destination set for the small island of Molokai in Hawaii, I had not 2, but 7 flights ahead. 

One Week in Molokai

6 long weeks later we were off to Molokai. I couldn't help but wonder...
  • What if my medication didn't work?
  • What would happen if I had a panic attack on flight #1, how wold I make it to Hawaii and back?
  • Would there be a grey cloud over the vacation if I experienced anxiety while travelling?
We decided to book our travel with a 1 night layover in Honolulu, followed by 7 nights in Molokai. We finished packing on Thursday night after work and set our alarms for Friday morning. I had packed everything I thought I might need if anxiety struck...
  • Noise-cancelling headphones to block out plane sounds
  • Tablet with my movie collection at the ready
  • Calming essential oil
  • Gum to quell my grinding teeth
  • Pretzels for an upset stomach
  • Tums & Imodium for an upset stomach
  • Gatorade Powder for on the go
  • Zzzquil if I just can't
  • Eye mask if I use that Zzzquil
I woke up to my alarm...not early, not sick to my stomach. What a relief. We were off to the airport and Hawaii-bound. 18 hours later we were in Honolulu and the following day we connected to Molokai. I did it! 7 flights, 0 panic attacks.

I am grateful to be back in control of my life. The temporary fear of travel has been replaced with excitement, thanks to a tiny green pill. I feel empowered. I still grind my teeth and fight mild eye pain and pressure. My initial fears of a foggy brain were unfounded and opting for medication was ultimately worth it for me. Looking back now, it seems so obvious...I was nose-diving in my own self-induced spiral, but in July I was too deep down to see. My only regret is not opening up and asking for help sooner.

What is my Point?

My brain is just as much a part of body as the parts that everyone can see. Just because it goes unseen, doesn't mean that the way it's feeling should go untreated or unspoken. I am lucky to be surrounded by family and friends who don't judge mental health and talk about it openly.

Globally, there are more than 260 million people battling some form of anxiety and hundreds of millions with other mental health disorders. On this World Mental Health Day, feel empowered yourself to seek help. Talk to friends, family and of course, your doctors. Check TWLOHA for a list of local resources or text TWLOHA to 741-741 to text with a trained counselor via the Crisis Text Line.