In the last couple of years I have had quite a few changes in my life. My husband is in the middle of a job transition, I am turning fifty, and I’ve started to suffer debilitating anxiety attacks while driving. I’ve viewed these as three separate situations in my life until recently. I now believe that my truth is a bit more complex than I had originally thought.
While discussing my anxiety with my mother, it came to light that she too started to suffer from panic attacks at my age. There seems to be a link between hormonal chaos and anxiety. My lucky husband! First PMS and now this! I have found numerous articles on the subject but of course my gyn/doctor says there’s no relation and suggested an antidepressant. I declined her offer, not because I believe antidepressants do not help people, but because my symptoms were quickly dismissed. I’m also the kind of person who not only sees the glass as half full, but I also see sparkles in the water. I don’t want to jump on medication as my answer without further investigation.
What do I mean by anxiety? What were my symptoms?
When driving near 60mph I started to experience shortness of breath. My heart would start to race. During extreme moments I would start to experience vertigo, thinking I would lose my vision and possibly black out. Deep breathing and slowing down would help. Taking side roads became my new normal. The anxiety progressed to non-driving moments. I would wake up, open my eyes and feel burdened. I felt like an elephant was sitting on my chest. I didn’t want to start the day. I was always so tired. The symptoms would only go away after taking a spin class and getting my energy out. It would take fifteen solid moments of aerobic exercise before my symptoms went away.
To understand my anxiety I had to understand myself.
I went back in time….
The years that I spent (six years) as a single mom were very defining and life-changing. I mustered a lot of strength to build myself up and to take care of my baby. Zak was only six months old when I got divorced. I became ultra focused on my child, supporting that child and my financial future. If I put food on the table it was because I worked. I bought a house with money I saved up by myself. I loved every single day of my life, laughing and loving my little boy and creating precious memories. I had intent and focus and a singular belief in myself. I was in control.
Then Rikard came along. I still worked and we started to have children. I couldn’t keep up with the job, the travel and the kids. Quitting my job was incredibly difficult. Co-workers were placing bets on how long it would be until I returned. I could not believe that I put my need for complete control aside and found a solid trust in my husband. My good friends in the neighborhood were shocked that I actually quit.
I was terrified but it all worked out. We became partners in life.
This year he divested the division he was running and my head started to spin. I started to develop anxiety but didn’t know why.
It seems like my answers were right in front of me all along.
My anxiety stems from a deep-seated fear from those days as a single mom and my desire to control my destiny. Not only am I relying on Rikard to find a new job but I can’t do it for him. I started to ask him if I should go back to work. I’ve done some consulting in the last couple of years and have no doubt I could financially contribute around here now that the kids are a bit older. I started to lose my mind and suggest we sell some of the things we own. I canceled contractors used for the upkeep of the home and our yard started to look like weed city. I started to get super cheap with groceries. I painted the house! I painted not because I care the least bit about a new color but because I was literally preparing to sell it. I did all the things that I could control.
Looking back now I realize how overwhelmed I was feeling. No one really understood how I felt because I kept most of it bottled up. I didn’t understand it myself. I became a bit withdrawn and started to feel so very tired. My husband was as cool as a cucumber. He wasn’t concerned one bit. What was wrong with him! Inside I think he knew everything was going to be just fine.
I started to take much better care of myself. I also started to actively support Rikard and asked if I could join him on his business trip. This was a turning point for me. Doing things as a team has always been important in our marriage. Intellectually exchanging ideas, talking about business, bouncing around ideas on strategy and people has been a very big part of our daily lives. Going with Rikard on that trip reminded us both of that partnership and we’ve started to really work together to make things happen. Thinking that I could control the situation without him is what contributed to my anxiety in the first place. Now that Rikard and I are working together as partners I feel much better. I do still experience anxiety while driving but the anxiety during the day is just about gone.
My husband was extremely confused by my fight or flight reaction to our new situation. I think he has a profound sense of relief now. It’s not about me or him, it’s about us and how we work together to handle life’s challenges. You can’t do this marriage thing separately.
Rikard is focusing on his job search and is having fun consulting. I’m taking better care of myself and focusing more on the home and the children instead of worrying about every single possible outcome.
Anxiety was a symptom of something bigger. I didn’t feel like I was in control of my life, I didn’t feel like I could impact or influence the circumstances and people around me.
I think I am recovering a bit.
I can control and impact our lives. As a team.
I wouldn’t have it any other way.
If you are suffering from depression or anxiety and can’t dig to the route of your problem, please get help. This is not a way to live. For me it was the need to recognize and embrace the partnership that has made my marriage successful. It’s about what we two accomplish together that makes our marriage work. Going into combat mode on my own was a recipe for disaster and really messed with my state-of-mind.
As for my anxiety and driving, this is a hill that I still have to climb. I know there are others that suffer with me. I no longer wake up with daily anxiety because I’ve focused on nutrition, cutting sugar, daily exercise and redirecting my focus. The driving is still a challenge, especially on highways, and it is extremely frustrating. My eye doctor said it’s part of aging but I’m not convinced. Stay tuned for further developments and feel free to comment if you experience the same or you have struggled with anxiety. I would love to hear what has worked for you!