Wednesday, January 17, 2018


In a turn toward a more serious topic, I have been contemplating writing this blog post for over a year.  I felt like it could be both therapeutic for me and possibly helpful to someone out there who might be experiencing something similar.  Let's delve into the fun topic of anxiety/depression.

My first experience with anxiety happened in 2007 while in China to adopt Elli.  I was soooo excited to finally get my arms around the sweet girl I had fallen in love with from across the world!  I quite honestly had much more excitement than nervousness and felt much peace about our decision.  I packed her suitcase meticulously, prepared everything I needed for Taylor, Parker and Jesi to stay with grandparents, and felt ready for this giant change in our lives.  But I must admit, with all of the preparation that went into that trip, I was very short on sleep as I got onto that airplane.  Landing in Beijing found me thrilled, excited, nervous yet peaceful, and completely EXHAUSTED.  I was grateful that we would have 2-3 days to recover from jet lag before we met our Elli.  But much to my dismay, I couldn't sleep!  And knowing how much I needed that sleep just left me trying harder to sleep and more frustrated when I couldn't.  Over the next 48 hours, I began to experience some very uncomfortable symptoms.   I felt as if adrenaline was coursing through my body at alarming speed, causing actual pain in my arms and legs.  My heart felt like it was pounding in my chest and in my throat.  I felt tingly all over, and would feel strangely removed from reality-- almost an out-of-body feeling that was extremely disconcerting.  But the worst part was the feeling of impending doom.  I seriously considered that I was dying, and even went through all of the thought processes of "how are they going to get my body to America?"  "What are my kids going to do without their mommy?"  These thoughts only worsened the physical symptoms I was experiencing, until I finally told Jeremy, "I need to be in the hospital."

After being admitted and talking about my symptoms, the doctors kept asking me questions about stress, and inside I was like, "Are you kidding me?  Something very wrong is going on and they are thinking it is just stress?"  My heart rate was very high, and they hooked me up to an IV.  In the meantime, flies were buzzing all around me, I was laying on a soiled sheet, and the man in the bed a couple feet away from me kept turning over in my direction to cough up blood all over the floor, which was sporadically "mopped" up by a dirty mop in the corner of the room.  Jeremy finally turned to me and said, "I don't care what is going on, being here in this hospital is only going to hurt you."  He carried me out, with the guide holding the IV machine I was still hooked up to.  

Back in the hotel, I laid in bed and thought I was probably going to die right there.  I know that sounds so dramatic, but it's how I felt at the time.  Jeremy finally got hold of our doctor in Tennessee.  After describing my symptoms to him over the phone, he told Jeremy that is sounded like I was having an anxiety attack.  He suggested trying to find a benzo until he could figure out how to get some medication to me.   Thankfully, another couple that we were traveling with had a prescription for Xanax and gave me one.  I remember thinking that there was NO WAY it was going to work, because this couldn't be a panic attack.  I was EXCITED about the adoption, not panicked!  My personality is easy going!  I was a laid back person and peaceful about bringing Elli into our family.  Why in the world would I be having a panic attack?

And yet, 30 minutes after taking the Xanax, my symptoms began to dissipate and I drifted into a peaceful sleep.  What. In. The. World?

Later that day, I felt the symptoms start to creep back and took another pill.  Magic.  And lucky for me, this was only repeated a few times before I was completely myself again.

Why do I start with this story?  Because for whatever LAME reason, I was completely embarrassed about the whole situation.  In fact, it took years for me to ever even admit what had happened.  We told the story about being in the hospital, but I was happy to let people assume I had had food poisoning or something of the sort.  Because why would someone LIKE ME (insert snort!) ever land in the hospital with something like anxiety?  And a panic attack?  Isn't that just something you can talk yourself out of?  Just calm down and take some deep breaths, right?  (;  Plus, it didn't fit my personality to have anxiety.  HAHAHA.

I did learn from that experience to have so much compassion and empathy for people dealing with anxiety, but I still didn't have an understanding of just how debilitating and awful it could be-- because mine was very short lived.  I did have a handful of other times in the coming years where (usually preceded by little sleep) I would feel symptoms coming on and take one of my magic pills I now ALWAYS carried with me.   

Insert 2016.  Various events in my life were such that I began to notice more often the symptoms of anxiety.  It was never a full blown panic attack like I had in China, but it was miserable and uncomfortable and disconcerting.  I finally, reluctantly went to my doctor and tearfully told him I needed some help.  He was so gentle and kind and gave me a prescription to help both my anxiety and also the depression that I found mixing in as I dealt with the effects of the anxiety.  Except the medication backfired.  It just made everything worse.  Over the course of the next few months, I delved into a full-blown battle with anxiety.  I tried four different medications before finding one that helped.  It was tricky, because medications take a long time to work and so it can take a very long time to figure out what works best with your body.  In the meantime, I tried supplements and exercise and therapy and basically anything I read about.   Even then, I found myself in the ER twice during that time.

Through it all, the very few people that knew what was going on would tell me, "It will get better!  You will get better!"  And I tried desperately to believe them.  It was LIFE-SAVING to have a mom, sister and best friends who had also dealt with anxiety and knew the right things to say and do to help me through a day.  My sweet mom came up several times to help.  My cute friends would come over and clean my house while I laid in bed and cried.  My sister would pick up the phone every day and listen to me cry over and over and over.  Having them understand was the most important part of my healing.  I remember telling Jeremy that I would do anything to just have the flu-- desperately wanting him to understand how awful of a thing anxiety is.  But even though he was helpful and caring, I NEEDED people who knew how to empathize because of experience.  And I realized how sad it was that there are people who go through this alone.  I cannot imagine doing so!  I literally don't know how I could have survived it.  I'm so grateful that I had women close to me that understood and were there for me, because at the time, I didn't talk to anyone else about it.  Most people had no idea of what I was going through privately.  Somehow in public I was able to hide it all. And thinking of the thousands (millions?) of people who do go through this alone made me realize that it's so important to TALK ABOUT IT!  Mental illness is nothing to be embarrassed about or ashamed about.  In fact, it should illicit the most tender feelings of compassion in people, because it is devastatingly hard.

I remember so many breakthroughs during the worst times of struggle.  One of those times will likely sound silly if I try to explain it, but it was profound to me.  During especially difficult moments, my mom taught me to take walks.  Walks around the block were too much for me (I didn't want to run into anybody I would have to talk to, I didn't know when I would break down and need to go inside-- plus I was usually barefoot and in my jammies!)  So I would walk around the sidewalk in the backyard.  My neighbors probably thought I was crazy.  Over and over I would circle it-- sometimes locking arms with my mom or Jeremy, other times by myself.  One time I found myself walking particularly fast, like I was trying to run from the anxiety.  I literally felt Satan creeping into my thoughts and I was trying desperately to escape him.  After fast-walking for 15 minutes or so, I had the simplest impression.  It was to stop, turn around, and walk the other way.  I did it, and I felt powerful for the first time.  It was like walking straight into the anxiety, straight into the negativity, and straight into my fears.  I started talking out loud.  I said, "You're not going to win.  This is just anxiety.  This is not me."  Over and over I would repeat those words, walking in the "direction" of the anxiety.  It was empowering.  I cried and cried.  Of course, it didn't solve it-- but in the moment it gave me hope. Therapy helped me tremendously.  There are definitely techniques and habits that can help in a battle against anxiety/depression.  But it usually takes more.  It takes a combination of many things to fight it effectively.   And it's sill a battle I continue to fight, although thankfully, I have found the right combination to keep it to a manageable battle.

Everyone who struggles with anxiety has a different experience.  There are so many symptoms, and everyone has a different combination with varied intensities.  There are some sites that lists hundreds of symptoms of anxiety.  Many of these symptoms can also be symptoms of something more serious, the thought of which causes more anxiety and the process becomes quite cyclical.  Also, medications often have side effects which can add to symptoms.  Over the course of a year, I found myself having MRIs, an endoscopy, and countless blood tests.  A very non-comprehensive list of some of my symptoms were/are as follows:

brain fog
numbness and tingling in hands, feet and face
debilitating vertigo
chest pain
heart palpitations
back and neck pain
shortness of breath
burning skin
cold skin
feeling like you're going crazy
inability to sleep
extreme exhaustion
fear of impending doom
pulsing in ear
ringing in ear
muscle spasms
lump in throat feeling
body and brain zaps
feeling cold to the bone
feeling wrong/different/strange
pins and needles feeling
loss of appetite
increase in appetite
shooting pains in body
TMJ (isn't that weird it's associated with anxiety?)
dry mouth
feeling afraid
feeling hopeless
difficulty thinking
emotions feeling wrong
blurred vision

My purpose in sharing this???

PLEASE, if you have anxiety/depression, know that you are not alone!  As everyone kept telling me, it can get better!  There is a combination of solutions that can work for you.  

Don't be embarrassed or ashamed or self-conscious of your anxiety/depression!  So many people understand.  So many people empathize.  It is not an indicator of your strength or abilities.  

If people do judge you, let it go.  They simply don't understand and that's ok.  I was so worried to admit that I struggled with anxiety because I felt people would automatically think I brought it on myself, specifically by having so many children.  Haha. (Incidentally, I am 1,000% happy with that facet of my life). I've now realized that people have to understand that the number of children one has is not proportional to anxiety. Single people have anxiety. People with NO kids have anxiety.  People with 1-2 kids have anxiety.  People from every walk of life have anxiety.  People who are capable, happy, successful, spiritual--they can all struggle with anxiety.  It can hit anyone.  It doesn't care what kind of temperament or personality you have.  And it's mean!  It often creeps in when you are already going tough things like addictions, struggles with kids, health issues, death, marital problems, employment issues... there are so many stresses that can trigger anxiety/depression.  And then sometimes, there is no apparent trigger at all!  In fact, much of the time my anxiety flares up at the happiest, most peaceful moments of my life.  Anxiety and depression are completely unpredictable, and IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT!

Finally, if someone you love struggles with anxiety/depression, just LOVE them!  Have as much compassion as you can muster, even though we know it's extremely difficult for you, too!  Anxiety can leave heavy burdens on loved ones.  Know that it can get better.  Know that you are appreciated and noticed, even if it doesn't feel like it.  And there is one, GOD, who always notices and is there for you, too!

I want to close by sharing this talk by Jeffrey R. Holland and encourage you to watch it if you haven't.  You don't have to be a member of the LDS faith to glean something from it. 

The more open we can all be with our struggles, the more we can bless each other!   


This was the public me during some of the hardest months.  A good reminder that we can't always see someone's struggles by the way they look/act in public.   Everyone is fighting a battle.  

Incidentally, the meds that ended up helping me most also contributed to a lot of weight gain.  And I'm telling you, I'd be the 25 lbs heavier I am now than deal with severe anxiety any day!!!