L: I am an anxiety blogger and stay at home mom of five kids.
R: When did did your anxiety begin?
L: My anxiety began the moment I came out of the womb. Actually no, it probably began at the very moment that my soul entered my body. As soon as my soul entered my body it said “I don’t know whats going on here, but this can’t possibly turn out good.”
R: Were you an anxious child?
L: I was anxious, very anxious. But my anxiety was different then. It takes a pretty developed brain to be able to form the thoughts that create most of the anxiety symptoms that adults deal with. Adults feel something, or think about something, then over think what they felt or thought and then think of 90 different reasons why it could mean something bad and then that spirals into all sorts of new and different anxiety symptoms.
But with young children, they don’t usually have the ability to think that deeply or form those specific anxiety spiraling thoughts so their anxiety is, to me, of the purest kind… meaning it comes straight from their emotions and it often manifests as upset stomach and a general sense of dread and mistrust and not wanting to be too far away from your “safe people”… your parents or teachers.
And that is how it was for me.
“We have been this way our entire lives, but most of us don’t even realize it until our anxiety disorder erupts and we are asked to look back at our childhood and our teen years and early twenties.”
– Lisa Scott, theworrygames.com
R: In your own words, how would you describe Anxiety?
L: Oh wow, there are about 30 different ways I could answer that question. There are so many different aspects. So I will just say the first thing that popped into my mind, and that is that its a wake up call. In the broadest sense, anxiety is a warning system that is telling you that you’ve got to stop what you are doing, take a good look at your life, and start doing things differently. It’s not pleasant, it’s flat out hell sometimes, but it’s necessary. A gentle wake up call doesn’t always work, and especially when it involves a compulsion, which I think worry is for those of us with anxiety, it can take something pretty major to shake us up and motivate us to change.
Above all else, my anxiety has been a motivator for me. It lit a fire in me from the very first panic attack and that fire is still burning to this day. I never would have been motivated to change the way I was living my life without that extreme discomfort and fear that my anxiety gave me. Its a gift really, and I think that our brains, in some way, on some level that I can’t explain, know we need that gift so they give it to us and hope we will put 2 and 2 together and get the message. But I would say more often than not… people aren’t getting the message.
R: How has your experience with anxiety evolved? Is it the same as when you were a child up until now?
L: I like how you phrase that question because that is exactly the way it happened. My anxiety “evolved”. I always say that anxiety disorders start out as a seed that we are born with, and that seed takes root and grows underneath the soil without us even knowing its there. And as children we water that seed every day with our emotions. Then as we get older we start fertilizing that seed with our thoughts. And then eventually when the circumstances are just right, usually when we hit the “Spring” of our lives, that second season where we leave home and start anew and face new stressors, that seed breaks through the soil and our anxiety disorder erupts.
And that is how it was for me.
As I became a teenager, I became more and more of a worrier. My anxiety started becoming more thought based, as well as emotionally based. I still had the general sense of dread I felt as a child but I was now starting to become more analytical and an over thinker and my anxiety started to become centered around those two magical words “What if?”. Once you start tossing those two words around inside your head it becomes a whole new ball game. You are in the major leagues now.
By the time I was in my early twenties, my negative thinking had become my ONLY way of thinking. I was always expecting the worst, and was very insecure and needy. My husband had become my new “security” after I moved out on my own and I was very dependent on him and felt like he had to be with me all the time. I would wonder what would happen to me if something ever happened to him? “What if he dies?” “What if I can’t handle it? He was a firefighter so I thought those were pretty legitimate concerns to have.. and maybe they were, just not to the extent I had them. So my husband was the center of my world… the center of my security… and then one day he had a heart attack when I was 24. He was only 34 so it was really out of the blue and a huge shock. And that was the day my little anxiety bud popped through the surface. No, it was more like it exploded through the surface, there was nothing gentle about it. I had a HUGE panic attack while driving home from the hospital, and its been one hell of a ride ever since.
I remember thinking, “You want me to take a pill that alters my brain chemistry after you have only talked to me for ten minutes?” I knew immediately that was not for me.
R: Did any health professionals explain where your Anxiety originated?
L: Well, the first doctor I went to, the day I had that huge panic attack, treated me like I was on drugs.
I went to him with what I know now are classic panic attack symptoms: racing heart, feelings of terror, unsure of what is happening to me, feeling “weird”, etc, and he never mentioned the word anxiety or panic one single time.
He just kept giving me that look that said “I think you are on drugs.” I kept saying “ Something is really wrong!” I said that over and over again but he just kept giving me that look. It really pisses me off now when I think back about it. He gave me an EKG, said it was normal and then sent me home. And that terrified me. I had no idea what was wrong with me, and the fact that the doctor gave me NO answer as to what it was, it devastated me.
I was sent home a complete and absolute wreck.
I went back to see a different medical doctor a month or so later and he just wanted to prescribe me medication. And I said “For what?”, and then he drew on the paper I was sitting on, a diagram of some kind with arrows and different brain parts and names of chemicals in my brain and tried telling me I had some kind of lack of something in my brain that the drug would help me out with. And I remember thinking, “You want me to take a pill that alters my brain chemistry after you have only talked to me for ten minutes?” I knew immediately that was not for me. I have respect for everybody’s choices as to how to treat their own anxiety, but I personally will never believe there is anything wrong with my brain. My brain is amazing and I thank God for it because I’m not sure a lesser brain would have been able to put up with listening to me worry constantly for the last 43 years.
R: Do family members have Anxiety?
L: I have a sister with anxiety issues, and an aunt. But my anxiety issues are much more severe than theirs are. I had a grandpa who was a serious alcoholic and I don’t remember much about him, but I have always suspected that he may have drank to deal with anxiety issues as well as PTSD issues from World War II.
R: Anxiety can result from a difficult childhood. Did you experience trauma as a child?
L: Well, I think trauma is a relative term when it comes to mental health. Every person has their own level of sensitivity and their own stress threshold. Would the “average” person who lived my childhood have considered it traumatic? I don’t think so. But I was so sensitive that there were things that felt very traumatic to me, that most people probably wouldn’t even remember later on, after they became adults.
For example, my mother went away for a trip with her friends for four days when I was 6 and left me alone with my dad. My dad was a great guy, would never hurt me…but I felt abandoned by my mom. I couldn’t understand why she was leaving me, why she wouldn’t take me with her, and I was terrified that something would happen and she wouldn’t come back. I remember so vividly how sick I felt inside for those four days. And I never said a word to anybody. I just wanted to be a good girl, so I kept quiet and then she came home and life moved on and nobody ever knew.
But do I think events like that contributed to my anxiety disorder? You know, I don’t know. I don’t think so. I think that with my personality, the anxiety disorder was going to happen at some point in my life or another. I mentioned a stress threshold earlier, and when you have a low stress threshold, as I and most of us with anxiety disorders do, and you are sensitive and you are a negative thinker and a chronic worrier, its just a matter of time before the right set of circumstances creates that “perfect storm” and sets the full eruption of the disorder into motion. But I don’t want to give the impression that I am saying that because you are more sensitive to stress, that means you are “weak”. I never want to give that impression because anxiety has nothing to do with weakness. Sometimes we give the impression of weakness but that’s because we don’t believe we are strong, not because we aren’t strong.
“Too much time in your head, alone with yourself, changes your perception of the world and you start looking at it as an outsider looking in instead of a participant.”
I will say though, that I have often wondered, if I had a different type of upbringing, if that would have staved things off a bit longer or maybe altogether. My parents were not overly affectionate and not ones to be overly concerned with making me feel secure in the world. I wonder if they had been affectionate and showered me with hugs and love and given me a sense of security, if I still would have gone through all this. But I still think I would have. I think with my personality, all that extra love and protection probably would have created an even stronger dependency on them and made my life even harder when it was time for me to head out on my own and probably made my anxiety problems even worse. So in a way I’m grateful for the way I was brought up.
R: People with anxiety often experience restless sleep, muscle tension and poor concentration. Do these ring a bell with you?
L: Well, once I get to sleep, its not restless at all! Its prior to getting to sleep where that comes into play. Its very hard to get my mind into “shut down” mode.
Muscle tension, absolutely. I am a VERY tense person – always have to keep my “shell” intact. And you know this just dawned on me….I was just telling my husband the other day that my whole life I have been prone to muscle aches and cramps, leg cramps especially, and now I am thinking that its probably because of the way I carry myself. I always knew that was a factor in my neck and shoulder issues, but I never thought about it affecting my other muscles. I probably should have put those two things together before now!
But muscle tension is something I have to work on, on a continual basis. My “default setting” is “tense” and I have to constantly remind myself to loosen up and relax because that tension is such a big contributor to anxiety. I make sure to do relaxation exercises and take hot baths frequently.
Concentration has never been a problem for me. Aside from the day to day household stuff, I rarely do anything that doesn’t interest me. And if I am interested in something I can become completely absorbed in it and don’t even notice my kids running around yelling.
I have trained myself to be an optimistic pessimist.
R: How does Anxiety affect your normal day?
L: Its always there. It’s not at the forefront like it used to be, but its always in the back of my mind. My natural tendencies are towards the negative and I am still a worrier and a pessimist. But I have trained myself to be an optimistic pessimist. So I am in control of my anxiety, but its a constant inner dialogue of “What if this happens?” then “I will be fine?” then “But what if I’m not fine?” then “But I will be fine, I can handle anything.”
Its just an automatic thought process that happens now. And I’m okay with that. The most important thing is that I know what my anxiety is. I know why its there, and I know its there to help me, not hurt me. I work with my anxiety instead of fighting it. I listen to what it has to say, I take it into consideration, and I decide if it has a valid argument. It can be hard sometimes to know what is “real” anxiety, as in a normal concern, and what is just “me worrying over nothing.” But I’ve gotten to know myself pretty well over the years so usually its pretty easy to figure out.
R: When you wake, is it immediately present?
L: No, but it used to be. I used to get terrible “morning dread”. I learned its just a bad thinking habit though, and fortunately I was able to break it.
R: When you go to sleep is it still there?
L: Once I get to sleep, I sleep great. But getting to sleep is another story. My brain and my mind are happiest when they are active and on guard. They don’t like to let me relax and get too comfortable in my surroundings. I have control issues.
Plus, I have a huge fear of death. That is my “big one”, aside from something happening to my kids. And that fear is always worse at night, as soon as the sun goes down, and my brain senses that fear, I think, and keeps me restless and alert and ready for battle, so to speak. So that complicates things, but I am a night owl so it all works out.
R: Have you found any positive aspects of Anxiety?
L: Oh I could go on and on about the positive aspects of my anxiety. I am literally the Poster Girl Pollyanna for an anxiety disorder. It’s interesting really because my anxiety is pretty much the only thing I do have a positive attitude about! Everything else, I am Poster Girl Pessimist. I’m always working on that, but its probably never going to change. I am who I am.
But I have nothing but positive things to say about anxiety. I will never speak badly of it or say I am trying to kill it or conquer it. I love my anxiety. It has been my greatest friend… always looking out for me. I think back to the girl I was before my anxiety disorder erupted and I feel such pity for her. She was so fragile and helpless. She had no fight in her….no spirit. She didn’t think she could do anything for herself. She thought she wasn’t good enough. She thought she had to be “perfect” all the time and please everybody she came into contact with. I am so far removed from that girl that it is like she is a different person. I have completely changed and become stronger and self reliant. I know nothing can break me. I know I can handle the worst of the worst and somehow, some way I will get through it. And nobody loves me more than I love me, I can tell you that. 20 years ago, i would never EVER have imagine being this person that I am now. And without my anxiety, I would never have been forced to find her.
Well, I did try marijuana once, but it gave me a panic attack and I ended up calling the police on myself to come save me
I also come from a family that is full of drug and alcohol addiction. I never once tried drugs because I was too scared and I have my anxious personality to thank for that. I know without a doubt I would have gotten hooked if I tried. Well, I did try marijuana once, but it gave me a panic attack and I ended up calling the police on myself to come save me, so there probably wasn’t any danger of me getting hooked on that, but with the harder drugs, you never know and I am just grateful for my anxiety for making me too scared to ever try it. I know some people turn TO drugs to escape anxiety, but for me, it was the opposite and I‘m glad for that.
R: If you had the option to lose your anxiety would you?
L: Not for a million dollars. And I mean that sincerely. You could offer me a check right now to have it be removed forever, and there is no way I would take it. I AM my anxiety. It is a product of my personality, and if it were gone, I would no longer be myself. And I love myself and I think I am worth way more than a million dollars. Maybe five million…..okay no, just kidding. You can’t sell your soul.
R: Do friends or colleagues notice?
L: I am a stay at home mom now but when my anxiety was at its worst, I hid it for the most part. I think I may have had a panic attack at work one time, but other than that, I just planted a smile on my face and white knuckled my way through my day.
“having social anxiety makes it really hard to make new friends”
R: Does it affect your relationship with them?
L: Honestly, I can’t even really say I have any close friends right now. My life has changed so much since having so many kids in a short amount of time and I have lost touch with them all and having social anxiety makes it really hard to make new friends even if I had the time. But back before my kids, no, it never really affected my friendships. I just hid it from everybody. I never talked about it because deep down, I felt like nobody really cared and they would just see me as a whiner. I’ve never been one to talk about my problems. It feels really weird answering questions about myself in this interview because nobody ever asks me questions about myself… and I hear a lot of people with anxiety say the same thing. We are usually the listeners, helping everybody else with their problems, and I guess there is just something about our personalities, that says “You don’t need to ask about me. I’m fine.” Probably because we are giving off that people pleasing vibe and planting fake smiles on our faces all day long.
R: Do you think your life would be different without anxiety?
L: Yes, it would be much sadder, much harder. Much less exciting. There is a new imaginary drama in my life every other day! I am never bored.
R: Passing the worry games onto children. Have you considered this or are you working to prevent this?
L: Absolutely. I think about it every day. I see my personality traits in my kids. That sensitivity, that intelligence, that overthinking that introversion. All my kids but one have that same sensitivity and I am very concerned that they will grow up and develop an anxiety disorder. Not because I think anxiety is bad, but because I am afraid that it won’t “click” in their minds the way it has with me and they won’t see it as the gift that I see it as. So we talk about it a lot. I am very open and matter of fact about my anxiety and I am educating them all the time and teaching them not to waste their time on overthinking and overanalyzing and to be positive thinkers and believe in their own abilities. My kids all have great self esteem. We are that family standing in front of the mirror giving ourselves hugs saying “I love myself.” My 12 year old doesn’t love that so much, but the other kids really get into it and we are silly about it and have fun with it. I refuse to allow anxiety to be taken seriously in my home.
R: How does having Anxiety affect you as a mother?
L: I am definitely the most overprotective mother I know. And I don’t apologize for that. My kids are everything to me, and even though I know that most of my concerns are irrational, I’m not taking any chances. What is that they call it… a helicopter mom, alway hovering? That’s me. It used to be much worse and I have definitely improved, especially now that my kids are older.
I have to be careful and make sure that I also teach them self reliance, I don’t want them becoming too dependant on me or thinking they need their mom to keep them safe in the world So its a balancing act but so far I think I am doing okay. My kids are always saying “You need to trust me mom….just trust me. It will be okay”. But it’s hard. I have had quite a few events in my life happen that have shown me that the world can’t always be trusted and that is always in the back of my mind.
R: Juliane Moore said “now that I have children I don’t have time for that rubbish anymore” speaking of her OCD. Did you find that becoming a mother increased or reduced your anxious tendencies?
L: I get what Juliane Moore is saying because I do believe that finding a new focus for your thoughts can be a great help with OCD urges. Since I have started my blog, my OCD compulsions have decreased dramatically. My mind just doesn’t have the time to “wander” like it used to. But I would say that becoming a mother has definitely increased my anxiety tendencies. The safety of my kids is at the heart of my OCD symptoms, which I developed after I lost twins at three months of pregnancy. I blamed myself for their loss, and subconsciously, and consciously I suppose, developed this need to make sure nothing bad ever happened to one of my kids. My postpartum periods were some of the worst times of my life. It is one thing to have your fears centred around your own safety. But when your fears centre around the safety of your kids, especially your helpless little newborns who are dependent on you for everything, it makes it 10 times harder to stop your checking compulsions. If I stood up to my compulsion to go check on the baby every 10 minutes, and then the baby died of SIDS in that 10 minutes….then it will be all my fault. I would be a bad mom. So I have to make that sacrifice and do it. You take on almost a martyr role. It must be done and you don’t trust anybody else to do it so you make the sacrifice of your own happiness for your kids safety. I still have issues with OCD and my kids safety and my youngest are almost 5 now. But you know, the subconscious is very smart. When you are a compulsive worrier, your subconscious is going to find a way to feed that addiction. My subconscious knows I have outsmarted it on every other brand of worry there is, I’ve got them all pretty much mastered. But make it about my kids? that’s one it knows I have a hard time standing up to.
R: Have you officially been diagnosed by a health professional?
L: I don’t think “officially”. I saw a nice counsellor once who talked in a general sense about anxiety, but mostly I have just diagnosed myself.
R: Have you sought treatment?
L: I sought reassurance. I sought answers. But not treatment. First I sought reassurance that I wasn’t crazy. That was first and foremost. That same nice counsellor I mentioned before made me very certain that I wasn’t crazy and once I knew that, it was game on.
If I wasn’t crazy, I knew there must be another answer, and I was going to find it. And I spent the next year or two of my life looking for that answer. And I found it. If there is one thing that helped me recover from anxiety more than anything else, it was my determination. You have got to have determination and drive if you want your life back. And you have to WANT to know the “Why?” and the “How?” of all this.
You have to use that analytical mind that got you into this mess, to now get you OUT of this mess.
R: Did any treatments work?
L: I never really tried any official “treatments”.
R: Have you been to therapy for Anxiety and did it work?
L: I went a couple times and it felt great to vent, but it never did much for me. I always felt I could handle it better on my own. But had I not been able to control it on my own, I absolutely would have gone back to therapy and tried again.
R: How do you best manage it? (medication, meditation, yoga, alternative medicines, or something else)
L: Positive thinking, first and foremost. I do daily muscle relaxation and I try not to take on too much at one time, although that is hard with five kids. I also have to make a point to do things that get me out of my head. People with anxiety are very centered on their own thoughts and we have to do things that put our focus elsewhere from time to time. We are pretty fascinated with the inner workings of our own mind….we need to get over that.
R: Do you feel like you’re in control?
L: Yes…some days are better than others. But for the most part, I do. And that is a good feeling. I would say that it probably took me about 2 years before I considered myself “recovered” at least as much as I feel I ever can “recover”, because remember that anxiety will always be a part of my life. But over the course of that 2 year recovery, I was growing as a person, growing into who I am now.
R: Do you tell friends, family and colleagues that you have anxiety?
L: My family definitely knows…I have never kept it a secret from them. I never talked about it at work, back when I was working. I always kept it hidden. I was always about keeping up the appearance of being “together” and “perfect” all the time. But that is the great thing about maturing and getting to know anxiety and understanding why its there….I am proud of my anxiety now. I will talk about it with anybody. I don’t really see too many people these days outside of my own house, but when I do go out and am around other people, I feel zero shame. I have a terrible elevator phobia, and the first thing I do when I get on an elevator is announce my phobia to everybody already in there and tell them that if it gets stuck, they are going to witness a display of panic the likes of which they have never seen. And people are so nice about it. They almost always laugh and have a sense of humor about it, which I love. You gotta have a sense of humor if you have anxiety. A lot of it really is ridiculous and its okay to acknowledge that and have a laugh every now and then.
“Embrace your personality traits, embrace your quirks, embrace all the wonderful “weirdness” that makes you YOU. Stop trying to fit in and be like everybody else. Stop talking down about yourself and telling yourself you are weak. Love yourself more than any person on this Earth could ever possibly love you, and give the gift of yourself to the world.”
R: Do you know others with anxiety?
L: Yes, I do know a few people with anxiety. A few friends have it and I know a few very smart children who have anxiety.
In that time, I have visited and become a member of a LOT of anxiety related support groups, message boards, and forums. For the most part it has been a really positive experience. I have met some of the nicest people and have received so much encouragement and support. When I get into my bad anxiety spirals, it is really helpful to come on-line and “hang out” with people who get what I am going through, because there isn’t really anybody in my “real world” who understands.
R: How do you educate yourself on management and resources? Do you read specific blogs, magazines or news articles?
L: I read everything I can get my hands on about anxiety. I have this huge desire to know every single thing I can on the subject and that has been a huge factor in my recovery. It helped desensitize me to the idea of anxiety, it has taken the mystery out of it for me and made it “friendly”. It has helped take the fear away. A lot of people say they can’t read about anxiety because it is a trigger for them, but I never had that issue. I knew that knowledge was my way out. I hungered for it. I would sit in bed at the beginning of my anxiety disorder, surrounded by books and my highlighter and I would take notes. That was my power. It was the only power I had. Books saved me. No doubt about that.
R: Can you recommend any books on anxiety?
L: Claire Weeks “Hope and Help for Your Nerves” is the best of the best anxiety books out there and I recommend it to anybody living with anxiety or who has a loved one with anxiety.
“maybe if people could see anxiety portrayed as something besides miserable and hopeless, they wouldn’t feel so miserable and hopeless about having anxiety”
R: Or seen any movies?
L: I can’t think of any anxiety related movies that have inspired me. I would love to watch a good anxiety related comedy where the main character had anxiety. I laugh at things I can relate to, I’ve always been able to laugh at myself and my situations. Plus I think anxiety is not portrayed the right way in our society. It is portrayed as a bad thing and its all gloom and doom, and the thing about anxiety is that its NOT bad. It is actually there to help us. It’s a GOOD thing. It may not always feel so good, and I get that. But maybe if people could see anxiety portrayed as something besides miserable and hopeless, they wouldn’t feel so miserable and hopeless about having anxiety. I don’t know, maybe the anxiety world isn’t ready for that yet. Maybe someday.
R: What are your plans for the future?
L: I would love to go back to school someday and become a psychologist or find some career in mental health of some kind. But that is a whole lot of school and I don’t know if its in the cards for me. Right now my kids are my future for the next 10 years or so at least.
R: What are your plans for the future for your Anxiety?
L: I only hope that we continue to get along as well as we are getting along now. We seem to have worked out a mutual understanding and I hope it stays that way. But you never know with anxiety. Just when you think you have it figured out, it pulls the rug out from under you and says “I bet you didn’t see that coming did ya?” I’m not scared though. I say bring it on.
R: Thanks, Lisa
Lisa is the author of theworrygames.com, a personal blog that details her experience with anxiety and offers helpful tips and links.
Lisa tweets about anxiety and life @TheWorryGames
Rodger Hoefel in conversation with Lisa Scott
Photography by Amy Davis of Everyday Inspirations Photography