by Melanie Higgins

I had all the typical life stressors of a married working mom. One spring I had a birth control device implanted that apparently threw my hormones and mental well-being out of whack. I switched to part-time work that summer because it allowed for a bit more rest and less stress. But when I returned to work full-time in the fall, I began having odd flashes of fear. And when people around me felt sick, I did, too.

These incidents were brief, but I knew they weren’t normal. I started to worry more about my family becoming sick. I recognized that my fear was irrational and this concerned me. One October day my husband reported that he had an upset stomach. I was completely overcome with fear, worry, and anxiety. I felt sick to my stomach and couldn’t eat.

I sought help immediately and I was diagnosed with general anxiety disorder, or GAD. I began taking medications, started counseling right away, and went to my mom for support. I was afraid to be alone, I wanted to stay in bed, and I remember wanting to go to the hospital because I felt so completely helpless and overwhelmed. I always had someone with me. I was unable to work. I had the birth control device removed, and within two weeks I made great improvement, but was nowhere near back to normal. I had no appetite and lost weight.

Every day was hard, but I went through the motions of my normal life. After a month of not working, I returned part-time for two months, then eventually back to full-time. I explored various relaxation techniques, including craniosacral therapy, massage, relaxing music, breathing exercises, and meditation to slow down my mind and stop my thoughts from racing to worry, dread, and fear.

I continued counseling and switched to a more relaxing, gentle style of yoga. I began exploring the lifestyle of ayurveda [a traditional, natural system of medicine in India] and started making lifestyle changes to overcome my anxiety.

Nearly a year after my big breakdown, I felt fairly normal again. But I still feared the anxiety. I was afraid that if someone became sick, I would have another bad anxiety attack. Finally, a wonderful breakthrough: When my son got sick, I did not have an anxiety attack. I felt so relieved, as if a weight that I didn’t even know existed had been lifted. I was no longer afraid of the anxiety, and it felt great!

Today I feel stronger because I no longer worry about anxiety, and I know that I can rely on a number of successful coping strategies. My new lifestyle of yoga, meditation, breathing exercises, walking, relaxing music, a diet roughly based on ayurveda (I’m still learning), and the avoidance of stressful or overstimulating situations has brought peace to my mind. I have let go of negative feelings and I don’t get upset as easily as I used to.

I will stay on my current medications a bit longer and continue counseling, but less frequently. I know there is a chance of experiencing anxiety in the future, but I will be able to face my challenges with strength rather than fear.

"I was afraid that if someone became sick, I would have another bad anxiety attack. "