Anxiety's a B*tch!

I'm passionate about having a frank discussion about anxiety and opening up the dialogue. For those who suffer with it, please know that you're not alone. Think of it as your body's way of telling you that you've either over-done it or you're heading in the wrong direction.
06/25/2012 08:22 am ET Updated Aug 25, 2012

It was a warm spring day, mid-morning, and I was on my way to the hair salon. I had a very hectic past few months and had little time to myself those days -- what spare time I had, I knew I had to use wisely. So off I went to my appointment. Little did I know, this day would be a pivotal one that would leave me forever changed.

Leading up to this, I had more than my fair share of stress-inducing activities happening all at once. I had just sold my condo and was moving. My relationship of almost five years was coming to an end. I was insanely busy at work, in a job that was clearly not a good fit for me. To top it all off, I was also taking two part-time courses. I felt productive. I was working on achieving my goals. Yet, I was exhausted. It seems that many of us do this to ourselves; we take on too much because we feel that if we don't, we're not doing enough. Society leads us to believe that we should have and do it all: social obligations, family commitments, job responsibilities -- and while you're at it, you should throw in some quality extra-curricular activities to enrich your already limited spare time. Accomplish more, push harder, buy more.

I got to my appointment and started thinking about the errands I needed to run before going to an event that day. That's when it hit me. I suddenly felt a wave of nausea and my heart started racing so fast, I was convinced it was going to beat out of my chest or explode. I then questioned whether or not I was having a heart attack when I started feeling like I was about to pass out. I started sweating like a beast, took one look at myself in the mirror and I all the blood had left my face. I was certain there was something terribly wrong. Knowing that I couldn't just get up and leave (my head was covered in hair dye), I looked around the packed salon and wondered if I was about to make a big, embarrassing scene. Looking back, even this is ludicrous -- you believe you could be having a heart attack, yet you don't want to inconvenience others or draw attention to yourself. Instead, I looked at the floor to see which way I should lean to avoid sharp objects, should I hit the floor.

I managed to get through my appointment without throwing up or passing out, quickly went home and called a friend to tell her about what happened. She suggested perhaps it was a panic attack, given all that I had going on at that time. "I don't do that," I thought.

But I did. And just over a year later, sometimes I still do.

I spoke to a counselor and saw my doctor. I even took myself to the emergency room on two separate occasions, as I was so convinced that I was dying. (Make no doubt about it, anyone who's ever experienced a panic attack can attest that it's one of the scariest things you'll endure.) I came away with the confirmation that it was all stress-induced. Since then, I've made some big changes in my life and can honestly say that these attacks were a blessing in disguise. They forced me to take a good look at what I was doing with my life and question what made me feel so uneasy. I had to re-evaluate what's truly important to me and what's not.

I've never been one to keep my thoughts to myself, so I talked about it. I talked to my friends, my colleagues and my family. It was through these conversations that I realized I was far from alone -- in fact, I was in good company. Almost every person I spoke to had either experienced it themselves or knew someone who does. It affects thousands of sane, highly-functioning men and women of all ages, from all backgrounds and from any social standing (yes, even some high fallutin' types, people). Symptoms come in many forms and in varying degrees. Wondering why you suddenly have no appetite? How about that recurring upset stomach you get each morning, is it always because of something you ate? Or that intense neck pain you've been experiencing on and off for the past while -- is it simply because you need to buy a new pillow?

Or maybe your body is trying to tell you that enough is enough.

After sharing my story with others, I felt relieved yet wondered why on earth no one was talking about it. This ridiculous stigma attached to mental health issues needs to change. In my mind, suffering in silence can only lead to even more anxiety, as you're panicking about the prospect of "blowing your cover" should you have a panic attack in the presence of those you know. How exhausting.

In my subsequent columns I'm going to share helpful information and tips for battling anxiety, anecdotes from past and current sufferers, and we can have a little laugh along the way (sure, we can even do it at my expense). Although it may seem like a heavy topic, it doesn't have to be. I've had panic attacks over things that were absurd and lead me to have a bit of a chuckle when I look back.

I'm passionate about having a frank discussion about anxiety and opening up the dialogue. For those who suffer with it, please know that you're not alone. See your doctor and TALK to someone. You're normal! Think of it as your body's way of telling you that you've either over-done it or you're heading in the wrong direction.

Don't let anxiety rob you of the joy in your life. Many of us have been there -- you will get past it.

"Every little obstacle -- every fall you have -- is an opportunity." -- Dr. Wayne Dyer

For more by Nichola Petts, click here.

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