This is not a post about Reno or exploring. This is a really personal post that's been a long time coming but one that I hope you can benefit from.
May 1, 2004 started out like an average Saturday for me. I was 18 years old at the time, and struggling to find my way as an adult. A month earlier, I began auxiliary pioneering with the goal to begin as a regular pioneer in September 2004. The previous fall, I had started taking business classes at the local community college in an attempt to prepare for some sort of career. I had no clue what I wanted to do, only that I wanted to work a normal 9-5 office job. At this time, I was almost a year out of high school and not currently employed anywhere. It was a time of weird transition and not really knowing how to function as a brand-new adult out in the world. I hated the small town I lived in and had big dreams of moving to the beach in California and marrying the gorgeous man of my dreams in a beach wedding and having 4 babies, all by the age of 30.
Instead, I was a shy, semi-awkward teenadult with lots of fears and insecurities. I lived at home with my parents and 11-year-old sister. This particular Saturday, I was at home with my dad and sister. My mom was out with friends in Portland. I was upstairs in my room and I remember feeling bored, unmotivated and just…lost. I was chewing a big wad of bubble gum. Then I swallowed part of my gum, either by accident or on purpose, I can’t remember. But I immediately felt a funny feeling in my throat like something was stuck there. I panicked.
(Here I must digress…I’ve always been terrified of choking sensations. When I was a kid, I stuffed a bunch of grapes in my mouth on a car ride and quietly started choking to death on them. I was discovered by my parents as my lips were turning purple. They quickly pulled the car over and Dad took me out, flipped me upside down and beat on my back until the grapes came tumbling out. I don’t remember this incident thankfully, but I’m sure it burned itself into my little psyche.
Because of this, as I grew up, I always ate really slowly and always had to have water or something to drink when I ate, to help wash the food down smoothly. I was also always afraid of things like getting kidnapped or home invasions, which I suppose are normal fears, but I was hyper-aware of those possibilities and always erred on the side of caution in my everyday life. One vivid memory I do have of my otherwise happy childhood was nightly asking my parents as they put me to bed, “Is anything going to happen to me tonight?” and them always reassuring me that I was going to be okay. My heart breaks for the little girl who was genuinely scared that her happy-go-lucky, peaceful little world could be destroyed.)
Anyway, I soon realized I wasn’t choking but that instead I had a weird sort of sensation now in my throat, kind of like an uncomfortable lump that wouldn’t go away. I let the scary feelings stew and escalate into finally what could be considered a prolonged panic attack. I knew something wasn’t right, but I wasn’t sure if it was really serious or not. That night, I made my mom drive me to the emergency room of the hospital which was only a mile and a half away from our house. We sat in the parking lot for a while. In case something bad really did happen to me, I felt safe here knowing that medical help was right at my fingertips. I can’t recall if we went into the waiting room or not, but it’s possible that we did. I had never felt so weird or scared in my entire life. I desperately did not want to die but felt like that was now a real possibility since I had never had such feelings of dread before. This prolonged anxiety continued for the next few days and then lasted the entire summer. There wasn’t a day when I didn’t wake up concerned about my throat and the lump that seemed to be there, never subsiding. I thought at one point that perhaps I had throat cancer. I remember pacing around our large backyard in anxious circles, unable to calm down and just wanting to be outside in fresh air.
That summer was horrible. I was afraid to go anywhere or do anything because panic was always present with me. I was frightened daily by my chronic physical symptoms. My biggest fear was that whatever throat sensation I had was going to suddenly morph into a tight, closed-off throat which would deprive me of air. I spent most of the summer at home, suffering through these insanely scary feelings. What I thought would last a day or two turned into a horrible burden that I carried around everywhere. Then sometime near the end of summer, it slowly subsided. I found that when I was distracted from myself, that my fear and panic subsided as well, and sometimes I would catch myself realizing that my throat was no longer tight or had a lump, but it felt completely normal. But anxiety, like a vicious parasite, needs a host. So it just morphed into different symptoms. Soon, the throat symptoms were replaced by a tightness in my chest and a feeling like I couldn’t get enough air. (Conveniently, my throat now felt completely normal all the time). These new chest symptoms lasted for a few months as well, and seemed to also lessen when I was distracted or otherwise busy. The scary physical sensations eventually began to subside, but the feelings and emotions they created became my new normal. I woke up every single day with anxiety being the first thing on my mind. Hoping and praying that I could make it through the day without a panic attack. Hoping and praying that my body would be nice to me and not scare me with a tight throat, shortness of breath, or tight chest. Some days were good, and others were very, very bad.
Meanwhile, September came around and I began regular pioneering as planned, although not with the circumstances I had planned. It really helped that I was distracted and busy in the ministry. Then in October, I got a job at Pier 1 Imports which reaffirmed how much I loved candles, throw pillows, and home furnishings. It also reaffirmed that I hated working retail and the schedule of nights and weekends that inevitably came with it. But I got to shop while I worked and envision the kind of environment I wanted to create in my own home. I spent most of my paychecks on decorating my room. It was absolutely perfect and looked like something out of a Pier 1 catalog. I was so proud!
In October 2005, I started paralegal school and for the next 4 ½ years or so, my anxiety took a back burner to the rest of my life. It rarely surfaced and I was feeling pretty good. I had a direction in life, I was young, thin, beautiful and smart, and felt like I had a pretty good life. I met Blake in 2008, married him 8 months later, and enjoyed the happy new direction my life was taking. But all too soon, anxiety found me again, and this time it was much worse.
This time I became agoraphobic, afraid to leave the house because that’s when I would have panic attacks – especially when riding in cars. Previously, I had loved to drive. Road trips were fun, and me and my cute silver Jetta went all over the place. I happily drove 2 hours each way to visit Blake almost every weekend while we dated. At the time, I also had a job which was a 45 minute commute from my house. So I drove a LOT.
And then one day, riding in cars and driving was no longer tolerable to me. I just wanted to stay at home where I felt relaxed and safe. I had to quit pioneering because I just couldn’t stand to be in a car longer than was absolutely necessary. Where we lived at the time, much of our territory was rural, which meant spending most service days…yep, you guessed it – IN THE CAR. When my grandpa passed away in California in August 2010, there was no way I could handle the drive down for the memorial, so I had to fly down. Blake and I had the goal of serving at Bethel, which now was the furthest thing from my mind. We were still young newlyweds, and this definitely had not been something either of us had foreseen happening. I could barely function, and now I was crushing my husband’s goals as well. I got so down on myself. Bethel surely didn’t want an anxiety-ridden nut, and I didn’t want to live there anymore either. It took everything I had just to make it through each day without a panic attack. This time I went on medicine for my anxiety, which seemed to help. But I no longer enjoyed car rides, which severely limited my life and made it difficult to function like a “normal” person.
Flash forward to July 2014. My parents and sister were already living here in Reno and Blake and I were preparing to move down as well. But there was no way I could handle that 11 hour drive by myself in one of our cars while Blake drove the moving van which towed our second car. So my dear mom had to fly to Oregon to help me make the drive down, which she did splendidly. She is also experienced with anxiety, so it helped having her around.
After we moved to Reno, my life started blossoming so much more. This was finally home for us. We started meeting so many new people and making lots of new friends. We also LOVED that the sun shines 300+ days a year here! I had never suffered from seasonal depression in Oregon, but I would definitely call it some sort of seasonal “blues” that I had. We lived in a part of the state where it was often overcast and rainy, and this just made me kind of…blahhhh.
Anyway, soon after moving to Reno, I was feeling so good that I decided to ask my doctor about weaning myself off of my anxiety medicine. I also received therapy for my anxiety, which helped me with controlling my thoughts. I thought I had put anxiety behind me for good. But it turns out that the medicine I was weaning off of can have some intense withdrawal symptoms, which I definitely got, when my anxiety came back with a vengeance one summer day in June 2017 on the way home from a convention in Sacramento. Blake and I were driving back with my family, and that was one of the longest rides of my life. I could not calm down no matter what I did. I was so scared and upset that I barely ate for the next week. I lost 15 lbs in a matter of days.
This picture of my sister and I was taken somewhere near Truckee on the way home from that convention. You can't tell by my smile, but I am having the mother of all panic attacks in this picture.
Finally, I was able to get back on a different medicine, which has been working pretty well for me. For the most part, I know my triggers and am able to work with them to be a functioning, usually happy adult. I still struggle with anxiety at times, and I don’t know if I will ever really enjoy long car rides again, but that is fine. I love flying and I feel my happiest when I’m at Disneyland, and fortunately there is a nice JetBlue Reno to Long Beach flight that I’m a regular on.
Anxiety does not exist when I am in Disneyland or its vicinity - in this case, a shuttle on the way to Disneyland!
In January 2018, when I heard my dad’s doctor diagnose him with cancer and tell him that he was going to die, I had to step outside the room and freak out. My anxiety came back full force. I was prepared to have it back as a daily horror. But the very next day, I woke up with a calmness I have never since experienced. It didn’t take long for me to feel the healing power of prayer and realize how drawing closer to my heavenly Father would help me cope. That was an amazing learning experience in itself and discussed in more detail in one of my first posts on this blog.
I wanted to share this deeply personal experience with the hope that it can help you or someone you love. The crazy feelings you may have are actually not crazy, and they are real. But you can overcome them and not let anxiety hold you back from living. There is a light at the end of the anxiety tunnel, and it is not always an oncoming train. What has helped me keep anxiety at bay is keeping a busy schedule so I don’t have time to sit and reflect and let my thoughts carry me away to a dark and scary place. Also avoiding large amounts of caffeine and getting regular cardio exercise to purposely get myself out of breath is a good thing. When shortness of breath becomes something that is beneficial to you, and not an imminent sign of death, it’s a good thing. And endorphins always help. Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. And happy people just don’t kill – oh wait….nevermind.
But it’s not all unicorns and rainbows when you bounce back from something severe like panic attacks and anxiety. I’ve learned that no matter how hard I train myself, I default to think the worst and you know what, I’m prepared for it! Whatever life throws at me (which has been some scary stuff), I have the tools I need to not only cope but thrive. You CAN win over anxiety – and this doesn’t mean that it goes away forever. It just means that when it comes around, it’s like a passing cloud overhead…you may see it, notice it, but then you just continue going about your day, forgetting it’s there. And soon it passes.