Hi I’m Hilarie and I’m a control freak, perfectionist, hypochondriac, anxiety disorder, and panic attack having person.
Wow. That may sound like a funny “I know how to pick fun at myself” sort of comment, but the truth is, it’s all too true. And, I’ve only told a handful of people about that side of myself that I try very hard to hide. In fact, I’ve been hiding it since I was in elementary school.
Let me explain. My first memory of a panic attack is when I was 8 years old, but I’m pretty sure I was having them before that age. I remember lying in bed with overwhelming repetitive thoughts of death. Running through my head like a ticker at the bottom of my favorite television program were the words… “You are going to die. Your family is going to die. Your friends will die. Everyone you know and don’t know will die at any moment and there is nothing you can do about it.”
I remember trying desperately to shake the thoughts or think about something else…anything else. I reminded myself that the next night was family night at Dairy Queen, that I’d get to go to the library after lunch at school, and that my best friend and I had plans to start a new secret club at recess, but nothing could shake the “death ticker” scrolling through my mind.
By the time I started sweating and my heart was pounding in my ears I started yelling for my Mom. My Mom sat with me, held me, and told me repeatedly that everything was going to be okay, no one was dying, to keep taking deep breaths and calm down. I eventually broke into a cold sweat, cried, and began to calm down. This episode became a routine that I grew to hate, but learned to deal with….and years letter learned was a panic attack.
At some point, I learned to handle them without having to call for help from my Mom or Dad. For a couple years in my early twenties I stopped having panic attacks all together. Or so I thought. They returned with a vengeance, and Fiance began to take the roll of holding me and loving me until the panic attack passed.
For many years I ignored the fact that I was suffering. Once the panic was over, I could forget it ever happened. The fact that I was suffering with high anxiety went unknown because A) I’d always lived with it and knew no different, and B) I didn’t tell anyone about the crazy panic stricken thoughts I often had.
By the time I grew up a little, realized I was different, and learned about anxiety disorders I went through years of denial. This is where my “perfectionist” side kicks into action. I am not a perfectionist in every aspect of my life (just watch me attempt to cook), but I used to be a perfectionist about my body, and how people perceived me. I also used to be desperate to fit in, basically go unnoticed. No one who knows me recently would believe this, but I was painfully shy growing up and NEVER wanted to stand out.
Okay, I’ve gone off topic now…where was I? Oh yes… perfection. I live to please. I am a yes person, and I want to make everyone happy and proud of me, not necessarily a bad quality. Because I was so determined to be the “perfect” daughter, student, sister, friend, employee, etc…I did not want to disappoint anyone by letting them know my secrets. Most notably, I didn’t want to disappoint myself. There was no way I was going to admit I had a problem, a flaw, or most terrifying…something I had no control over.
That’s right…one more great personality trait. I’m a control freak. Sometimes, this is great: I tend to move up my career quickly because of my tendency to take control of situations. I get things done, and I do them well. I have great grades. I eat healthy. I workout. I make an effort to stay in touch with people. Basically, anything I can have control over, I will master. The problem is things I have no control over.
See, I have tried very hard to “control” my life…my schooling, my career, my home, my Health. So when something comes up (…sickness….) that I have not control over, I do not know how to deal.
Now let’s discuss hypochondria. For me this is what ties everything together. I have a severe fear of dying, therefore; any little symptom becomes a life-threatening disease in my mind. My OCD then takes over and I have a constant stream of thoughts telling me I have some terrible disease. I get even more upset and obsessed because I, of course, have no control over these thoughts or the sickness. My anxiety progresses, and will eventually lead to a panic attack.
Now, that I’m all growed up and forcing myself to face my faults, I’ve taken many many steps to change things. I have prayed, meditated, relaxed, gotten extra sleep, researched, stuck to a strict workout regimen and diet, etc. etc. These things helped and would often lessen my anxiety, but nothing would fully “cure” me.
Two years ago, I had a major breakdown. The doctor told me my blood pressure was a little high. Now, I tried reminding myself that I was (at the time) working over 70 hours a week, getting an average of 4 hours of sleep a night, teaching a class full of underprivileged children, coaching dance and drama, tutoring, taking dance classes, and preparing to move to Albania… all of which would make my blood pressure “a little high”. “Nothing is seriously wrong with me, I am just stressed and need to chill”…I tried telling myself. However, from the moment I left the doctor I freaked out.
For days, I could do nothing but dwell over the thought that I was going to die of a heart attack at any moment. I could focus on nothing, I could not sleep, I could only hear my heart pounding and imagine the world without me in it. This all ended in a massive panic attack, lots of nausea, and 2 days of missed work…. I know it’s all very dramatic.
Fiance (who is always amazingly supportive and very understanding) managed to convince me to go to a doctor (my biggest fear). As soon as I stepped in the office I started telling the doctor about my problem. Before I could get out the words “I am a little nervous…” I started crying like a baby.
I think the relief of admitting my fears and concerns was so overwhelming and relieving at once that all I could do was cry. This doctor, whose name is Candy, was so wonderful to me. She told me I was not crazy, that I’m not alone, and that I can get help.
The problem with this appointment is that she suggested I go on medication.
Uh what? Medication?? Like a crazy person?!? Was this doctor seriously telling me I needed to take pills to think like a normal human??? I was humiliated and horrified! Only crazy people take medication like this! I am an educated, self-sufficient, successful, well adjusted, woman!
I told Peter about the nerve of this “doctor” prescribing me medication! I fully expected him to tell me that was nuts and I do not need to take medication. See a psychiatrist maybe, do more yoga, sure, but not take a filthy pill. Well, Peter shocked me…
He agreed…. With the doctor.
My response? “Great. So I am crazy? So crazy, in fact, that the love of my life thinks I should be medicated. I am a crazy person!”
Peter’s response? “Yes, you are crazy. Only a crazy person eats an entire jar of peanut butter in one sitting. Only a crazy person wears 4 inch heels when they teach for 8 hours a day. Only a crazy person drinks coffee on their way to work, and then stops at Starbucks to buy more coffee. Medicine isn’t going to help you stop being crazy. But, it will help you stop being sick. It will help you feel like yourself again. Just like a diabetic needs insulin, you may need some medicine, and there is nothing wrong with that, or with you…besides your coffee addiction.”
Well, maybe, since he put it that way. He gets me all to well.
I decided to confide with a friend at work. Which must have been fate.
Guess what? This friend, has a daughter, about my age, who suffers from the exact same problems…since she was a very little girl!!! In fact, she had been recently diagnosed and medicated. I decided to talk with both of them about everything I’d been going through, feeling, thinking, and get their opinions.
I could not believe I had someone I could talk to who truly understood how I felt, who could relate to my pain, be sympathetic, and tell me honestly that it WILL get better, and nothing is wrong with taking medication. I will forever be grateful to both of these amazing ladies.
I started the medication that night.
Best decision I ever made. Even better than when I dipped Oreo’s in peanut butter for the first time. For the first time in a long time, I could think clearly. I could think positively. I could listen to someone talk about a disease without breaking out in a hot sweat. I NEVER imagined I would feel this relief.
I decided to share this in my blog for a couple reasons.
If ANYONE else is going through anything similar I want them to know that they are not alone, they are not crazy, and that there is hope. I hope that my stories will encourage others to face their fears, seek help, and turn their lives around. I also hope that telling you about my secrets will be a healing process for myself. It’s a relief to share my secrets, and I just want to be as open and honest as possible, not only with you, but with myself.
I know I just shared way too much about myself, but I’m not even finished! From here on out I’ll share with you about mine and Fiance’s new life in New York, our exciting wedding plans, the ups and downs of a 400 square foot apartment, and I will continue to share how I cope and live with my positively panicked life.