Anxiety: The master disguised as a monster

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The first anxiety crisis

I still remember the first time I had an anxiety crisis. Actually, when I think about it I know it really wasn’t the first time, but maybe it was the one that marked a clear frontier between the before and after. During that time, my family was going through a really difficult time. It was the night before my birthday, five minutes before midnight, and I started to feel funny. With a really dry mouth and freezing cold hands, I downstairs to have a drink. I had a huge glass of pineapple juice and went up stairs to go back to bed. The next second, boom! My world turned black. I thought I had fallen asleep and that I was having a bad dream but then I heard my mother screaming my name terrified and my brother trying to wake me up. I had fainted and lost consciousness for a few minutes.

I woke up completely disoriented and with a latent fear that it would happen again.
The next thing I remember is being in the back of my brother´s car, on the way to the emergency room in Mexico City. I remember an absolute sense of vulnerability, fear and confusion. My head was spinning. After doing several tests in the hospital, they found nothing wrong with my blood levels. So, what happened to me? How can someone be physically fine but lose consciousness just like that?

The next day, despite the recommendation to stay home, I decided to go to college and try to have a normal birthday with my friends. I was fine again. I wasn’t feeling dizzy, no nausea, just really tired from the lack of sleep from the previous night. I had two coffees as usual and kept on going with my day. Everything seemed normal until I was about to get on the subway and a wave of nausea, dizziness and a horrible pain in my neck stopped me. In my head I could hear “You’re going to faint right here, you’re alone, you’re going to faint in front of all these people. You’re in danger. You’re vulnerable. You’re going to faint.” I went out to the street and called my brother to ask him to come and pick me up as soon as possible.

From then on, the most difficult months of my life began. These episodes were repeated many times in different scenarios. In the subway, at university, at work, in the supermarket, at the bank, at my house watching something on TV. We visited at least five doctors, including a neurologist, more blood tests, more drugs, uncertainty, confusion. Until that moment I had not fainted again which was my greatest fear. But living like that was complete torture. It was impossible for me to go out, walk alone, get on the subway or just have a normal day. I was terrified. I isolated myself and there were days when I couldn’t leave the house or my bed. I did the minimum to graduate from college and nothing else.

Two months later on a family holiday, I hit rock bottom. I fainted twice again and my biggest fear was coming to life. I started a path of deep introspection in search of answers. After trying at least 10 different medications against the symptoms that tortured me, I decided to stop for a second and go deeper. “There must be something I am not seeing”, I thought. How can I go from being completely well to being completely sick in a matter of seconds? I started to observe myself. I began to listen myself carefully to find out what was causing this. The coffee didn’t help me. The crowds either.  Heights.  Airplanes. Trains. Negative emotions.  My thoughts. Yes, bingo!  My thoughts.

The name I was looking for was "anxiety"

One day, I searched on the internet: “physical pain caused by our emotions” and there it was, “Anxiety: causes and symptoms”. Oh, wow! Me, the most “calm” person on the planet, suffering with anxiety crisis’ and panic attacks.

How could I have anxiety if I had been having therapy for several years? How could it be if I wasn’t crazy? I faced my own prejudices and stigmas before asking for help.
For months, I continued suffering, locked in silence in my own pain, with shame, guilt, fear and awful symptoms like nausea, dizziness, physical pain and panic of fainting anywhere, at any given time.

The path to healing

On January 14, 2013 at the peak of my anxiety crisis, I moved to Barcelona from Mexico scared of everything: the new life, the change, the plane and with awful chronic neck pain. I decided to not let anxiety win.

When I arrived in Spain I was ready to ask for help and although at first the doctors decided to prescribe drugs, a couple of months later I decided to give up on them and try a different kind of therapy to control something that at that moment seemed like a dead end.

Little by little I stopped feeling guilty and ashamed and that gave me the tools to express freely when I felt bad and anxious. Like almost all emotional and mental pains, speaking out loud and expressing yourself makes them lose their strength.

Today, my anxiety has not gone away completely. Maybe I could say that every day “this master disguised as a monster” shows up to teach me something different. The most valuable thing is that I know that if something scares me, I will have to go through it. Someone told me in one of my most critical moments: “Do it and if it scares you, do it being scared”. Anxiety taught me to trust in life and in myself.

Anxiety is the fear of being scared . The fear of losing control. Excessive fear of the future and uncertainty.

Anxiety is much more common than we imagine. It is estimated that more than 20% of people will suffer an anxiety crisis at some point in their life.

How different would my story have been and that of many others if in countries like Mexico, doctors and society were better prepared to identify conditions such as anxiety and depression? Maybe my process would have been much easier to cope with.

That’s why I think it’s very important to stop stigmatizing mental illness and start educating people about mental health.

We need to learn to share a common passion for self-growth and healthy, consistent habits that help us maintain our mental health. Similarly, if we are close to someone who suffers from anxiety or any other mental condition, we can learn to empathize with whatever they are going through without judging them. My hope is that we can achieve that change.

Remember that there is nothing to be ashamed of. People who suffer from anxiety and depression can have a completely normal life, if we receive the right help.

If you feel identified with something you have read, my advice is: ask for help, speak with someone who makes you feel safe, listen to yourself and share your story with us. We are here for you. If you would like to read more about it or do not know where to start, visit our blog post meaning of therapy and its benefits.