Welcome to the very first episode of the A Healthy Push podcast! I’m so grateful that you’re here and I can’t wait to help you along your journey to peace, joy, and freedom.
My name is Shannon Jackson and I struggled with anxiety, panic disorder, and agoraphobia for 15 years. But before I dive into my story, I want you to know that you don’t have to struggle for 15 years like I did, or even years for that matter. I struggled for so long because I didn’t have an understanding of what I was struggling with, why I was struggling, and what would help me to heal. And also because I often sabotaged my own recovery!
I’m here with you now because I want to make your journey less long and less hard. My hope is that what I share each week will help you to better understand what you’re struggling with, why you’re struggling, and to provide you with some tools that will help you to heal.
MY FIRST EXPERIENCES WITH ANXIETY
Alright, I won’t take you all the way back to 1987 when I was born, but I do want to go a ways back because my journey with anxiety started as a child. I remember feeling overly anxious as a young child, and more so than just the typical anxieties. School was always so tough for me. I hated riding the bus, field trips, recess, and socializing. Being around lots of people often led to anxiety, especially being in new places and situations. But even being in familiar places and situations often led to anxiety. I remember often feeling sick to my stomach and making up any excuse not to go to school.
Fast forward a bit to high school and this is where my journey with panic disorder and agoraphobia started. I often felt anxious when going to school, so much so that I would experience very real symptoms like nausea, lightheadedness, and dizziness. I would beg my mom to stay home on a weekly basis. And when I thought that things couldn’t get worse or harder, I had my first panic attack at a track meet in front of a ton of people.
I remember standing in front of the blocks just before the race started and I felt a tingling sensation run through my whole body. My heart started pounding fast and I felt sweaty and shaky. My vision seemed off. I had no idea what was happening and so I walked off of the line and into the bathroom where I began frantically throwing water on my face like you see in the movies. Yeah, it didn’t help… And this panic attack was just the first of hundreds, probably even thousands.
I almost didn’t graduate high school because I was short a half credit because of how many days I had missed. And college, well, it took me over 6 years to graduate with an associate's degree. Everyday things started to become really hard for me to do.
I BECAME AFRAID OF EVERYTHING
I became afraid of going to school and work. I became afraid of riding in cars. I became afraid of being too far from home. I became afraid of not being able to get into contact with my mom in case I needed help. I became afraid that what I was struggling with was something other than anxiety and that there was something seriously wrong with me. I became afraid of passing out, of losing all control, of not making it to a bathroom in time, or dying, or going crazy, and the list goes on!
But what I feared most was experiencing anxiety and panic and how it made me feel. The fear of experiencing the symptoms and panic consumed my days and all of my energy. My life started to revolve around how I could prevent myself from feeling anxious and experiencing a panic attack.
So I started to bail on plans. I started to avoid. I started to isolate. I started to convince myself that my life would always be filled with anxiety, panic, and fear.
And I did all of this in an attempt to feel safe. Little did I know at the time, all of the stuff that I was doing in an effort to keep myself safe was actually causing and reinforcing the anxiety, panic, and fear that I was experiencing day in and day out. The running, the fighting, and trying to fix it… was all making my journey even harder.
YOU AREN’T JUST AN ANXIOUS PERSON
During one of the worst panic attacks I’ve ever had, I remember my mom holding me on our bathroom floor and I looked at her and said, “I can’t do this anymore. If this is what my life is going to look like, I don’t want to do this anymore.” Being a mom now, I can’t imagine what these words must have felt like to hear.
My mom looked at me and said something really powerful, and I so desperately needed to hear it. She said, “Shannon, I can’t do this for you. You have to make the choice to recover.”
I’m sure at the time these words of wisdom were exactly what I didn’t want to hear, but she was right. I did have a choice.
So often, I had convinced myself that I was just an anxious person. I would think… This is just who I am… I’ve been this way since I was a kid… So many of your family members have struggled with this, it’s just genetic. You just have to learn how to manage it!
I would convince myself on a daily basis that I didn’t have a choice but to continue to struggle.
I want you to really hear me. You have a choice. To heck with managing anxiety! You don’t need to learn how to manage anxiety, you need to learn how to have a healthy response and relationship with it. A healthy relationship that doesn’t consist of the symptoms, panic, and fears.
And you aren’t just an anxious person. There are reasons why you are struggling with anxiety, panic disorder, or agoraphobia. What has caused, or is causing the anxiety, are things that you can heal from. You can have a healthy relationship with anxiety, and you are absolutely capable of peace.
SEEKING CONTROL IN ORDER TO FEEL SAFE
One of the biggest things that I uncovered during my recovery journey was that I was always seeking control. And the constant seeking of control was actually one of my biggest contributors of anxiety and panic.
I was always trying to control how I felt and what I thought, all in an attempt to feel safe and not feel anxious or panicky. And why was I constantly seeking control? Well, you know how I told you how I was anxious even as a young child? Well, I grew up with a parent who had really unpredictable moods and was unable to process his emotions in a healthy way. Oftentimes there was yelling, and slamming, and outbursts. There were many moments where I felt scared. And there were also many moments where I didn’t feel safe.
So what do you do as a child when you don’t feel safe? Well, your (yet to be developed) brain does its best to protect you as a small child. You typically go inward. You get quiet. You withdraw. You do your best to stay safe. You carry a fear with you that is so strong and powerful. A fear that starts making decisions for you. A fear that latches onto control as if you need it in order to survive.
From the time I was a little girl, I craved control. I didn’t want things to ever be unpredictable. I didn’t want things to be loud, or violent, or big and scary. I never wanted to feel trapped, or stuck, or unable to get out. And so I clung to control as tight as I possibly could.
With everywhere I went and with everything I did, I always tried to figure out as quickly as I could how I could have control. I’d sit close to exits, I wouldn’t go places where I knew it may be hard to get out of, or I’d simply avoid altogether. I was always working to have control over my feelings, my thoughts, my environment, my circumstances. And when the reality is that you can’t have control over all of these things all of the time (or even at all), I was constantly fighting for something that wasn’t even possible. My reality was that I was fighting myself.
OTHER REASONS WHY I STRUGGLED
The trauma that I experienced as a child wasn’t the only reason why I struggled with anxiety, panic disorder, and agoraphobia… Some other contributors were emotional and verbal abuse, a whole lot of stress and overwhelm, an unhealthy relationship with my emotions, and that one panic attack that I experienced in high school.
For you, maybe it’s also trauma but of a different kind. Maybe it was a loss, a serious illness, emotional or verbal abuse, being bullied, a divorce, sexual or physical abuse, or neglect.
Or maybe it wasn’t trauma at all. Maybe you’re struggling because of stress and overwhelm, or because of your relationship with your emotions, or because you experienced one panic attack. Yes, one panic attack can lead to a whole lot of struggling!
Whatever the reason is, I want you to know that anxiety, panic disorder, and agoraphobia is something that you can heal from. I don’t want you to believe that you’re just an anxious person like I did for years, because it will prevent you from healing and moving forward. You are capable of living a beautiful life. And you are absolutely worthy and deserving of living a beautiful life that is full of peace and joy.
DON’T GET STUCK ON WHY YOU’RE STRUGGLING
I don’t want you to get stuck on your why… why you’re struggling. You don’t need to know the why in order to heal. But what you do need is a desire to heal. You have to want to heal. And I know you’re probably like, Shannon, it’s all I want! I would do anything! I’m glad you’re here.
Because I’m here because I know that I can help you. But I want you to acknowledge something really important. There isn’t one tool or one solution that’s going to lead to healing. If someone tells you there is, run the other way! It’s truly about making the choice to recover AND consistently taking small healthy steps every single day that will get you to where you want to be. I know this probably isn’t what you want to hear, but it’s the reality. These are the steps that I will teach you.
WHERE ALL THE SMALL STEPS GOT ME
So where did all of those small steps that I took get me? Well, today I am married to an amazing and supportive man named Adam. We’ve been together for 11 years and married for 5. We have a 3-year-old daughter named Amelia and she brings me more joy than I could have ever imagined possible. I went back to college and graduated with a bachelor’s degree that only took me 2 years instead of 6. I love to hike, bike, ski, garden, and travel. For a girl that used to be scared to get in a car and be far from home, I’ve been on countless adventures in the U.S. and have even gone on a handful of adventures in different countries, including a couple of international trips with a toddler! And now, well, I never turn down anything because of anxiety!
And ya wanna know something? I’m no more special than you. I recovered because I consistently took healthy action and you are capable of this, too!
YOU ARE CAPABLE OF BEING PUSHED AND FLYING
I want to leave you with something really special. When I was working to recover, I opened up an anxiety recovery book called From Panic to Power by Lucinda Bassett. And on the first few pages of this book is a quote that goes something like this… Come to the edge, he said. We are afraid, they said. Come to the edge, he said. They came, he pushed them, and they flew.
I remember reading this and tears started pouring down my face. I thought to myself, that’s where I want to be. I want to be pushed and I want to be able to fly.
And now you might be thinking… A Healthy Push, that's why she named her platform A Healthy Push! And yes, if this is what you were thinking you’re spot on! I’m here to give you that little healthy push you need in order to fly.
And you’re here, so I’m going to take that as a sign that you’re ready and willing to do the work, and you want to fly. I sincerely hope that you join me every single week and you take the actionable steps that I’ll teach you. Because you are capable of flying and I can’t wait to see you do all of the amazing things that you’re destined to do!