Those of us living with anxiety can be a bit hard on ourselves sometimes so I wanted to share a story with you in the hopes that it will help you feel a little better about your own anxiety game.
I consider myself a “veteran” in the anxiety world. I have been through the worst and come out of it and I feel as though there isn’t a whole lot out there that I can’t handle. But sometimes the universe likes to drop me down a notch or two and humble me, and apparently last week it decided I was due.
This story starts one day when I was toweling off after my shower and felt a stinging, pimple-like bump on my neck.
I didn’t think much of it.
I had just used charcoal exfoliating gloves and figured I had simply irritated my neck. I quickly forgot all about it and the day progressed as normal until about 2 am, when I happened to look in the mirror to wash my face before bed, and noticed a horizontal, zig zagging, bright red line running across my neck. It was coming directly from what was now a very noticeable but tiny bright red bump on my neck. My heart leapt out of my chest.
“No, I am not going to panic.” , I said. “I will stay calm. Maybe I just scratched my neck too hard and its a bit red and it will die down in a few minutes.” (I have very sensitive skin and it is not at all unusual to see bright red marks anywhere on my body…especially my neck.)
Deep down, I knew this wasn’t that kind of mark though.
I tried to not let myself think about the fact that this might be an infection or a toxic spider bite.. but you know how our anxious minds work…I was already picturing myself laying in the coffin while my five grieving children threw themselves on top of me, begging me not to leave them.
I quickly shook my head to clear that thought, and woke my husband up.
“Look at my neck.”, I said as I paced around the room. I could feel the panic rising up inside of me. “This is bad. It’s very bad.”
I turned on every light switch and lamp in the room so he could get a clear view of what I thought was a line of poison that was slowly creeping its way across my neck. He sat up with squinty eyes and said “What is going on?’
Me: “Look at my neck. A spider bit me and now I have a red line coming from it. You know red lines are bad.”
Husband: “What kind of spider bit you?”
Me: “I don’t know. I didn’t see it.”
Husband: “Well then how do you know a spider bit you?”
Me: “Because what ELSE could it be?? Do you see this line?? And the bright red bump??”
Husband: “Well I would hardly call that a “bump”.
I don’t know what was rising faster – my anxiety or my annoyance.
“You always get red marks and bumps on you.” he says.
Now I admit, this was true, but in the shape of a zig zag line? That had never happened before.
His expression of annoyed doubt caused me to let Google handle this one. I marched straight to the computer and typed in my symptoms half hoping it said something awful just so I could say “I told you so.”
“Look!” I said. “Right there! There is a person showing a photo of their infected bite and it has EXACTLY the same line I have. They are convinced that they were bit by a poisonous spider.”
“Well what kind of spider bit them?
I read through the post a bit.
“They don’t know.”, I replied. They didn’t see it happen either.”
My husband gave an exasperated sigh. ”
“Well what did they do about it?”, he asked.
“They went to the ER and got put on antibiotics. Wake up the kids we are going to the hospital.”
My husband, who has to be at work in 3 hours after only having been asleep for three hours, said “Wait…before we do that…let’s call the ER and see what they say.”
“WE DON”T HAVE TIME FOR THIS!”, I yelled. “It’s a red line! Red lines are bad, bad, bad! Besides, you don’t just “call” the ER. It’s the ER! They are just going to say they can’t diagnose over the phone and tell me to come in!”
He called anyway, as I was rushing around to get the kids ready, and they confirmed what I already suspected: this was something that I needed to come in and have checked out. It was true. Red lines were not a good sign.
Screw staying calm. I was in full on panic mode. My hands were shaking and my heart literally felt like it was going to climb up out of my chest and puke all over my floor.
I tried really hard to keep calm down for my kids but it didn’t work so well. My panic came out as extreme annoyance at how slow they were moving. It was like trying to wake up five sloths. I tried piecing together outfits for them from what was laying all over their floors. Inside out jeans with the underwear still attached and little wadded up sock balls was all I could find. I mentally shook my fist at the sky and made a quick mental note that if I survived, there was going to be a family meeting.
“Forget it!”, I yelled. “You are all going in your pajamas! I don’t have time for this!”
We got everybody loaded into the van and headed to the ER 20 minutes away. 20 minutes felt like an eternity at this point. I don’t exactly love the area that I live, and one of the reasons is because it is so far out-of-town, and the whole way there I was yelling:
“THIS is why I hate living where we live. We are too far from help when something goes wrong!”
“I can’t believe you went this way. You know this is the longer way.”
My poor husband stayed calm and just let me have at it while he gently shushed me to remind me about the kids who were thankfully right back to sleeping. He is some kind of saint, that man.
As we drove, I kept pulling the visor down to check my “status” and to my horror it appeared the line was inching its way closer to my artery.
“This is bad. This is very, very bad. Go faster.”, I kept repeating. I was in a complete frenzy.
All I could think was that the poison from this spider bite, or the infection or whatever it was, was going to hit my artery and I would be dead in minutes. I told my husband to call the ER and ask if I was going to make it there in time.
I was that sure I was dying.
I think by this point he was starting to get sucked into my web of panic and mayhem and he was now starting to think this could be something serious as well, so he called the ER and spoke to a nurse and asked her if we should have an ambulance meet us halfway there. I sat in the passenger seat with my heart pounding out of my chest waiting for the nurse to tell my husband how awful things were.
Instead I heard him say “Well that’s good news.”, and he hung up the phone and told me that the nurse said that even if this was something serious and my artery did become involved I would still have an hour or two to get looked at before things started getting dangerous.
That calmed me down a bit but I was still a panicky mess.
Once we got to the hospital I ran straight up to the desk and said “I am the person that called about the spider bite.”, half expecting them to rush up to me with a gurney and take me straight to the back. That was not the case.
The nurse looked up at me over her glasses and asked for my insurance information.
“My insurance information? Can’t this wait until we make sure I am going to survive?”, I thought, as I grabbed my card.
Thankfully after that things moved pretty quickly and they got me back to a room where I explained to a nurse what was going on. I was half laughing, half crying at this point trying so hard to keep calm for my kids while I had my husband look at my neck every 60 seconds to see if the line had progressed any closer to my artery. Thankfully it hadn’t. My hands were shaking so hard as the nurse drew my blood and asked me what I did for a living.
“Anxiety self-help blogger”, I said.
It was an awkward moment as he raised his eyes to look at me, just for a second, and then went back to drawing my blood.
Believe me I know that look. It was a “YOU help people with anxiety?” look. I see it every time I am falling apart during a health crisis.
“There is no cure!”, I wanted to yell at him. “One day at a time!”
But I just held it in and sat there, repeating the words “Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God.” over and over in my mind.
I was feeling light-headed, dizzy, and disoriented.
Was it the poison or the panic making me feel that way?
Finally the nurse finished and I asked him when the doctor would be in and he said he didn’t know because there were a few ahead of me.
A few ahead of me? I shouldn’t be out there waiting with the snifflers and coughers. I was a real emergency!
But I knew it was no use. I was going to have to wait.
“I will try my best not to walk up to the nurses station every five minutes in hysterics”. I told the nurse. It was my attempt at a slight bit of humor but also to plant the seed that a major scene was entirely possible. I could guarantee nothing.
With a slightly exasperated look he fake laughed and said “Okay”, and then walked away.
I spent the next 45 minutes back out in the waiting room pacing, panicking and “What if?’-ing while my now wide awake kids ran around loving the fact that they were out and about in the middle of the night. It was absolutely awful.
Finally they called me back. I was so relieved because I thought now I was finally going to get hooked up to an IV with some antibiotics or SOMETHING. I explained to the doctor what was going on and he took a look at my neck and said:
“You know, I really don’t think that is a spider bite. It looks like you may have just gotten bit by a mosquito or irritated your neck in some other way and you are having a histamine reaction.”
A mosquito? Irritation? What?
Realization hit me. The exfoliating gloves. My first hunch was right after all.
But wait. What about the pictures I saw on-line that looked just like mine – the ones posted by people who went to and ER that treated them as if they had an infection or a bit of some kind. I didn’t bring them up because I didn’t want the “Oh great…she’s a Googler.” look that we all know so well. But I let him know I wasn’t entirely convinced I was in the clear.
He could see how stressed I was so he had a second doctor come in to look at my neck, ran his finger over the line and he basically told me the same thing. He said generally if it’s an infection or a poisonous bite, then the line would be running down my neck, not across, and it would not be as superficial as mine was. He agreed that I was probably just having a reaction to the charcoal in the gloves or their rough texture.
“We will give you some medicine just in case it is a more serious reaction.”, he said.
“Well okay then.”, I thought. Now we are talking. My eyes lit up with relief and I gave him a wink and the thumbs up sign. Phew! At least even if this was a bad infection I was going to have some antibiotics in me to take care of it.
The nurse came in a few minutes later and gave me two Benadryl.
That was my medicine.
I felt a little silly as she handed me two allergy pills in a cup and a tiny glass of water and watched me down it while laying on the bed in a room surrounded by critically ill people in other rooms. And I was still concerned. What if they were wrong?
What if? What if? What if?
I asked my husband to stay home with me the next day just in case because I was afraid I was going to go home, close my eyes and not wake up. However, as it turned out, by midnight the next night, the line was completely gone, and everything turned out okay. In the end, it seems as though my quest for baby smooth skin really was what did me in.
In hindsight, do I feel bad that I wasn’t “braver and stronger” during my trip to the ER?
No! Because while I have come a long way in my life when it comes to panic and the things I react strongly too, I am not perfect. I have not “leveled up” to the point where I can see a red line across my neck and not freak out about it. I hope to be there some day – I am certainly going to strive for it, but I am not there yet and I am not going to beat myself up about it!
This is who I am. I have a nervous system with a hair-trigger combined with a controlling personality that sometimes sees panic as the only available way to DO something to stay in charge of my mortality. So sue me.
I share this story with you readers because I don’t want you feeling bad, EVER, about the way you handle situations that scare you. Forget what the rest of the people in your life think. Don’t worry about them. Its more important what YOU think and you can’t walk around thinking you are weak or defective because you have the strong reactions that you have. I don’t care whether it’s a “real” situation that scares you or whether it’s a panic attack in which the source of your intense fear isn’t so obvious. It doesn’t matter. Fear is fear is fear and you are allowed to handle your fear in whatever way you handle it.
It is true that sometimes we don’t handle things the “best” way. Sometimes we “over”-react and panic and don’t stay as calm as all the “normals” of the world would in the same situation. But that is okay. We are sensitive people with nervous systems that “react” to more than those of the average person. We respond to everything so much stronger than the average person does that it’s not even fair to ourselves to compare our reactions to theirs! Our over reactions are not even “over reactions”. They are very normal, appropriate reactions for us. They are appropriate reactions for the amount of fear we are feeling.
I have been playing the anxiety game for 20 years, readers, and I still don’t have it mastered and doubt I ever will. Anxiety is a sly one, and it knows how to worm its way into your life in some pretty tricky ways, if it thinks it is needed.
But I do learn something new all the time and that is what keeps me going.
I take something positive….a lesson of some kind…from every single bad or scary situation I find myself in and that is what helps me grow and become stronger so that the next time I find myself in a situation that really scares me, I can try to hold it together a bit better. It’s all about baby steps. You can do the same thing. The only obligation you have to yourself is to do the best you can. That’s it.
It is important that you remember that, barring any other mental health diagnosis aside from our panic disorder or GAD, we ALL have the ability to stop panicking at any time. I can’t mislead you and have you thinking that power isn’t within you because it is. That power has never left you. The problem is that when you are overly sensitized from chronic stress or acute stress, it’s not always so easy to just “do it”. I can admit that, despite my previous “tough love” posts I have written in the past. (That is one reason I am a bit grateful for those times I do go a bit wild with panic because it throws me back in the trenches and helps put me back in the mindset so many of you live with day-to-day.
Just be you and do the best you can. When you are in the middle of a situation that is terrifying you, focus on putting your “panic tools” to work.
- Try to slow down your thoughts.
- Try to distract yourself and “ground yourself” by taking note of what is around you in the room and describing to yourself the texture and appearance of those things.
- Take deep calming breaths.
- Try to relax your muscles.
And if you still don’t manage so well, so be it. You will try to do better next time. In the meantime, I don’t want to hear you “apologizing” for your panic, or making yourself feel bad about it and every time you feel yourself do even the tiniest bit “better” in a panicky situation..I want you to praise the heck out of yourself and literally pick up your hand and pat yourself on the back for it. I know how difficult it can be, and I know that if you are like most people with anxiety, there are few people in your life who will recognize what an accomplishment that is.
But I know and you know, so give yourself some credit for it.
Remember, no worries.