By Melanie Mitchell-Wexler
I suppose at a certain age you start to reflect back on your life and wonder how you got to where you are today.
For me, that has come at 44, and looking back I realized there was one constant that has remained with me: I have always suffered from anxiety.
Now back in the 70’s and 80’s when I was growing up, this was not a “hot topic”, and if it was (or even if there was a name to it), I was not aware.
Yes, today I announce it from the rooftop that I suffer from anxiety!
I truly hate that word “suffering” as it only conjures up negative images and allow people to feel sorry for you; however, it is the best word to use when you realize you have this disease (yes, I called it a disease, for those that believe you can “snap out of it”); it is the cause of a lot of loss in relationships and opportunities.
This past August I was in Honduras on a Mission trip, of all places, when I got hit hard with a major anxiety attack. Think slammed against a wall, but it didn’t cause me to die, and I could feel every ounce of pain in my body.
I truly haven’t gone through a major anxiety attack like that in ages – the one that causes you to become frozen and even though you are still breathing and moving, you just see everything swirling around you. The thing about anxiety (a.k.a the enemy) is it doesn’t really care too much about the right time or place. In fact, it likes to hit you hard when you least expect it!
I know now that there was a lot happening in my life, but honestly, everything up to until that moment was going great and any stressors I was dealt were being handled.
Eventually, one thing led to another, and that one moment in time spiraled out of control which led me to come back to the states in a full-blown depression. This does not work well for a full-time single mom who is responsible for a 15-year-old daughter with a super busy school schedule, sports, theatre. And to top it all off, I was slated to start a new job two days after arriving back home!
But through this entire experience, I learned three major things:
- People really don’t know what anxiety is like or how it can impact an individual.
- I have come to learn there are so many that suffer from this yet are ashamed or afraid to say they do or to discuss it in public.
- Lastly, I came out of the darkness with some amazing insights, goals, and clear direction for my life. And yes, at 44, there is still hope you can serve your life’s purpose and follow your life’s passions.
Truthfully, I have so much to say about all three of those points, but for now, let’s start with “What I Wish You Knew”.
First, anxiety and depression are on the opposite ends of the emotion spectrum disorder. It is common for anxiety to lead to depression, and having both play out at the same time can play a real doozy on your brain!
So what is it “I Wish You Knew” exactly?
To the best of my ability, I hope the below snapshots give you an idea of what it is like to suffer from anxiety, and for those that do not understand, walk away with a better understanding of what your family member, spouse, significant other, best friend, co-worker or just that person that you can never seem able to connect with goes through in any given moment.
And for those that do suffer, I hope that this piece does justice to what it is like, but more importantly, I hope you realize you are not alone. See all of those above people I just listed, I would bet you $1,000 that more than one person in your life has anxiety and you don’t realize it.
So here it goes:
- It’s a vicious cycle. It literally drains you of all your energy, but at night, even when you feel exhausted and your mind should be resting, you lie awake worrying about everything beyond your control. There is no shut off switch.
- You live your life on a roller coaster but are never allowed to get off the ride. The anxiety is the ride up the hill, the constant wondering what’s on the other side. Will my seatbelt hold me? Will the tracks fail? Why is it creaking and shifting and would everyone just stop screaming? It’s all rushing and then if it gets bad enough you enter a free fall. This fall is so hard and so fast and rips you from side to side and turns you upside down. It doesn’t stop. It just keeps going. Around and around and around.
- You are the master of faking it all of the time. You continue to show up in your daily life and appear to be fine and able to function and capable of finishing all tasks. Reality: you are at the most vulnerable state that just wants to go lock yourself away in a room so that you protect everyone and yourself from the ugly monster that can rear its ugly head any given moment.
- It’s like walking in a fog where your emotions are meaningless. You are thrown into an unpredictable state of mind, terrified to take a step forward because you can’t see in front of you and incapable of making the simplest of decisions.
- It is a constant reminder that you can’t do anything right, even though you are faking it (the voices in your head still tell you that you are failing).
- Your life is just one big paradox: you feel both overwhelmed and then nothing at all; you are exhausted but high strung, and you are lonely but can’t bear the thought of being around others. But anxiety does give you one constant in that it tells your mind that no one else cares about you or needs to know what is happening.
- You worry all the time. You stress over every single detail, every single minute of your day, and yet you sometimes don’t even care.
- You pull away and isolate yourself from everyone. It is the definition of emptiness.
- No matter what you accomplish, it will never be good enough for your inner critic. The fear of being such a failure impacts your thoughts, decisions, and actions.
- You truly become frozen in time. You sit there, frozen, unable to move, or speak, but yet you see everything going on around you. You just wait in that moment for someone to turn the switch off so that you can be “normal” again.
I know that you can go days, weeks and months with the enemy kept at bay. These are those times that you don’t even give it any thought in your head, but you still hope and pray that it stays far away.
When it does start to inch its way toward you and wraps its arms around you, all you can do is put one foot in front of the other and focus on just getting by.
As I sit here, in a new year with a new outlook on my life, I know that those few months were some of the darkest I had faced in quite some time. I saw the enemy attempting to rear its ugly head again in November, but that time I stood up and fought (and fought hard).
Anxiety is that annoying person that constantly lingers around wanting your time and attention.
For me, I vowed to create my own personal resurgence in 2018, and that is what I am determined to do. I am going to fight. If I don’t fight, it will overtake me. I’m not allowing this to take my dreams away from me and it is from there that I have found my motivation and strength.
This disease will not define me, and one day it will be a partner that I will be happy to part ways from.
Melanie Mitchell-Wexler is a Career & Life Coach. She spent 16 years in the recruiting and staffing industry running million-dollar branches for corporations where she worked with clients to identify top talent and worked hand-in-hand with candidates through obtaining a job. As a coach, she utilizes her years of knowledge, skills, and talent to partner with clients who not only are looking at a new career but want direction regarding the job process, career advancement, goals, and accountability. She looks for clients that want to find their passion, succeed in setting their goals and achieving their dreams.