If you have anxiety, I’m sure you’ve heard, "you are not alone." And even though it's true, you can't help but feel alone because people don't share the nitty gritty of what anxiety and panic actually looks like. Get ready, because I'm going to share it all!
A few years ago, a therapist of mine told me that it’d be helpful if I shared my “crazy” thoughts and fears with people. At the time, I thought, why the heck would I do that? People will think that I’m crazy! Guess what? It was some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten. If you have anxiety, I’m sure you’re cringing at the idea of this. Yup, I get it. But once I began sharing my thoughts and fears, these things began to have less power over me.
Reducing (and eliminating) anxiety and panic is not as tough as your brain wants you to think it is.
I’m a firm believer that your thoughts control your feelings. And guess what, you are the maker of your own thoughts! If you work to eliminate the unhealthy, unproductive, and negative thoughts and fears, you’ll reduce anxiety and panic (and even eliminate it)!
I’ve experienced many challenging things along my anxiety journey, but worrying about pooping my pants for years seems like the best place to start!
A few years ago, I took my therapist's advice and I sat my husband down and told him that I needed to tell him a fear I had for a long time. I should be able to tell my husband anything, right? Chances are, you don’t intentionally share the most embarrassing moments with your significant other, you just hope they didn’t see it, hear it, or experience it with you. Well anyway, it went something like this:
Me: You know how I hate being in situations or places where I feel like I’m not in control, and how the feeling of not being in control causes me to feel anxious?
Me: And when I get anxious I feel physically sick...
Me: Well you know how I hate riding in cars with people, especially when I’m not driving? (because of the control thing)
Me: I worry that if I have a panic attack and feel sick and I experience the physical symptoms, I’ll have to go to the bathroom and I won’t be able to get to a bathroom quickly enough… Or I’ll be too embarrassed to even tell someone that I need to pull over because I have to go to the bathroom.
Adam: “Oh, I’ve definitely shit myself in a car.”
Of course we both started laughing, and I couldn’t believe that he had just told me that he has pooped his pants in a car before!
I had never pooped my pants in a car, but this was one of the things that I worried about, a lot. So much so that I avoided riding in cars with people, going on trips that meant I had to be in a car for a long period of time, and tried to find any excuse to be the driver so that I at least felt like I had some control in the event that my worst fear actually came true.
To give you a little bit of background, any time I felt anxious, I’d typically experience nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting. This is common! It’s really just our body’s normal reaction to fear.
So how did it feel to share this? SO GOOD! By just saying one of my biggest fears out loud, it felt like I had released it.
And in this moment, I heard my therapist say, I told you so (even though she would never actually say that, not to my face anyway). =)
My therapist would often ask me to play out the worst case scenario. I HATED this exercise. Saying my fears out loud was uncomfortable, but to admit that the worst case scenario would only be embarrassing or uncomfortable (like me pooping my pants), was a tough realization. But it helped me to process and accept that I was actually capable of working through it. And like my husband, I’m sure plenty of people have pooped their pants in the car!
What I’m saying is, your worst fears played out, has happened to someone (maybe even to you!). The tough part is, you don’t know those people and they don’t know you. You can't hear their thoughts and know their fears and vice versa.
There is a lot of truth to the whole you’re not alone statement, because you are definitely not alone. You have never been alone and you never will be.
This is why I am writing this, to prove to you that you’re not alone, and to tell more of the story than just “I have anxiety.” I want you to get to the point I’m currently at, where you’re able and wanting to share all of these really difficult and embarrassing truths of what anxiety is. I admire people that talk about their anxiety, but I admire people most when they actually talk about what drives their anxiety because that is the stuff that helps people.
Aside from this one fear, my journey with anxiety has been much more difficult and scary than me worrying about pooping my pants!
I remember feeling overly anxious as a young child, more so than just the typical anxieties. And I experienced my first panic attack when I was 14-years-old. At this time, my parents had divorced, and although their marriage was toxic and I wanted it to end, the effects that I felt when it actually ended were rough.
After my first panic attack, the what-if’s started. What if I have another panic attack? What if I just freak out in front of people and I can’t hide it and nobody knows what to do to help me? What if nobody can help me?
Then it got worse. I entered a toxic relationship and the panic attacks spiraled out of control. The worst panic attack landed me in the trauma unit in the emergency department. I was at work (I worked at a hospital at the time, thank goodness), and a wave of panic came over me so strong that I was sure I was going to die. I ran to the bathroom and experienced what it was like when your body is in true fight-or-flight response. Not to get too graphic, but my body began to empty everything it had in it.
I remember lying on the floor of the bathroom, with my vision and hearing fading in and out, hoping that someone would come looking for me (but also hoping no one found me like that). Thankfully, a co-worker was brave enough to barge into the bathroom to see if I was in there. He got help immediately and I remember being picked up off of the bathroom floor and being wheeled to the trauma unit.
This happened a couple of more times. Every time I felt even a little bit anxious, my brain began to race with worry and anticipation. At this point, I had trained my brain to be fearful of the worst panic attack that I had ever experienced, and I had mastered the what-if game. What if I have a really bad panic attack again and I’m by myself? What if I start experiencing the physical symptoms (diarrhea, vomiting, loss of vision/hearing)? What if I pass out? What if I can’t work through it?
During one of these episodes, I remember breaking down and telling my mom that I wanted to die so that I didn’t have to experience panic anymore. This brings tears to my eyes even now. Having a daughter of my own now, I can’t even imagine how my mom felt hearing me say those words. But that’s truly how I felt.
Anxiety had left me feeling absolutely hopeless. I began to withdraw completely from life. I made any excuse I could think of to not go to school. I stopped hanging out with my friends. I rarely left the house for fear that I would experience a panic attack anywhere but my own home.
Then the what-if’s turned into me worrying about how anxiety would continue to shape my life. What if I can’t function in my everyday life anymore because of panic disorder? What if I have panic disorder my entire life? What if I can’t do this anymore? What if I just give up?
Thankfully, I have learned so many tools that I use on a daily basis to help me create new pathways in my brain that ultimately destroy the old ones. I have come so far, and I will never go back to living a life of anxiety and panic.
I have accomplished so much, and have done things I never imagined I’d do.
Leave my house without worrying about experiencing a panic attack
Drive in cars
Fly on an airplane
Have a successful career
Have a child
Live life peacefully and joyfully
All of this stuff was hard, so hard, but I was capable, AND SO ARE YOU.
Give yourself credit for your accomplishments (big and small), and don’t beat yourself up over your “crazy” thoughts and fears.
The fears you have took time to create and it’ll take time to eliminate those fears.
Anxiety has made me one tough cookie, and there’s nothing to be ashamed of, even though I still worry about pooping my pants from time to time!