Late one night in May, I found myself screaming into my pillow. It was one of those screams that comes from the deepest parts of you. It’s one you never want to make. No one heard me, but it was still embarrassing.
I thought to myself, how did I get to this point?
I had so much pent up frustration and couldn’t quiet my mind or sleep.
A couple of months earlier, I added hours at my job at the Bangor Daily News, which meant I was finally employed full time — a dream of mine. After waking up at 4 a.m. five days per week to work two part-time jobs, feeling exhausted and run down for months, things seemed to be turning around.
I would have a better income, insurance and would be staying in Bangor — the place where I grew up and loved — longer. Little did I know that about a month later, a battle would be raging inside my head, forcing me to question everything I had worked for.
Part of my new job at the Bangor Daily News was joining the customer service desk. I would assist with phone calls, emails, online chats, take care of system errors, payments and digital subscriptions. Although it was a lot of work, I was able to learn fast. But as I got better in my position, mentally and physically, I started to feel a lot worse.
Starting in late April, I became obsessive with hypothetical events that I was convinced could possibly happen at my work: being fired from my job, getting yelled at, and having a subscriber come after me, in person or via email, because I messed up on some customer service issue. If something happened on a Friday afternoon, I’d have a horrible weekend. It got to a point where I couldn’t enjoy myself or any of the activities I loved to do. Those anxious thoughts would always creep back into my head when I least expected it.
If the mental anguish wasn’t enough, I also experienced jaw clenching, gastrointestinal issues, restless legs, headaches and back, neck and even wrist pain. I was speaking on the phone with an angry customer one day over a credit card issue and broke out in hives. My emotions also went completely awry, as I found myself on the verge of tears almost daily when I would get home from work.
I didn’t know what was wrong with me.
After about three months, I decided to get some professional help and started researching local therapists to see if I could get some help. I found a woman I liked and scheduled an appointment, happy that there was some possibility I could start feeling better. After my first or second visit with her in July, she diagnosed me with General Anxiety Disorder, and that’s when my focus on my mental health began.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is characterized by persistent and excessive worry, can get worse over time and is accompanied by myriad symptoms.
The National Institute of Mental Health provides a list of symptoms for GAD including restlessness, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, irritability, muscle tension, difficulty controlling feelings of worry and sleeping problems, all of which I experienced before my diagnosis and still do at times.
It’s true that by adding customer service to my other duties at the Bangor Daily, it had exacerbated some underlying anxiety I already had. I come from a long line of anxious women. It felt like I was marked from the start, it just took 24 years to fully materialize. I was grateful that I finally had a full-time job, and I loved my job, what was there to worry about?
I realize how fortunate I am that my anxiety isn’t worse. I don’t have panic attacks. I’m not afraid to go out in public by myself. I can get out of my bed in the morning. But to have a looming fear at all times can be pretty debilitating and affected every aspect of my life, from social to personal. The best way I could describe how I felt was that I wanted my brain to be separate from my body and to escape my thoughts.
Everyone’s mental health journey is different, and there are multiple ways to manage it. Anxiety and Depression Association of America and my therapist gave me several tips — some of which I had already been doing but have made a priority in my life.
Think positive thoughts
I’ve found this is one of the hardest habits to change. Basically, in times of “crisis,” I try to give myself a personal pep talk. What I also try to do is to build other people up. When you have a hand in building someone’s confidence or are around those who are happy as well, it really changes your attitude. I also love making people laugh, so if I can get someone to crack up, that immediately changes my mood.
Keep a journal
Over Christmas, I started reading Michelle Obama’s book “Becoming” and found that she kept a journal occasionally, so I decided to try it. It wasn’t until I started writing, that I was able to process my thoughts and anxieties. I determined that my anxiety was caused by my need for perfection and my fear of being judged by others. I couldn’t really pinpoint that until I started journaling. It is also good to have some of my thoughts written down so I could relay them to my therapist at a later time.
Talk to someone
Therapy isn’t for everyone. You’re basically pouring your soul to a stranger, and it’s expensive. I started going once a week until I felt better enough to go every other week and then once a month. Getting together with friends and talking can be just as beneficial. I have a dear friend who I see about once a month for drinks, and we can talk to each other about basically anything. Talking it out and expressing myself to someone when I’m feeling really bogged down has significantly improved my anxiety. I just feel so much better and in a sense liberated from my thoughts after I go.
Fortunately, I made exercise a priority about six years ago, so it is really helpful that this was already a part of my life. I try to go to Zumba, Irish Step Dancing, yoga and group workout classes throughout the week. Exercising releases endorphins (which make you happy), takes you away from your thoughts and forces you to focus on your breath and movements. In the spring and summer, my favorite activity is to go walking at Mount Hope Cemetery. There are a lot of beautiful ponds, trees and wildlife and serves as a form of walking meditation as well.
Medication does not work for everybody, and you have to be super careful when taking them. You have to look at the benefits and side effects, costs, interactions, etc. Taking medication singlehandedly has been essential in my mental health journey. My doctor prescribed me Zoloft at the lowest dose, and I experienced little to no side effects. But it is important to work on other managing techniques as medication alone may not help. Both my therapist and my doctor believed that being on medication would slow my mind down just enough so I could do some more holistic therapies such as meditation and yoga. Within weeks I was feeling so much better.
I’ve been working on managing my anxiety for 10 months now. Once I come home, I feel relaxed. I can go to my yoga classes and not feel like I’m about to run out in a panic, and can talk to customers on the phone without having a physical reaction to it.
I still have a lot to work on. But dealing with it is one of the best decisions I made in 2018. My anxiety hasn’t gone away completely, it never will. But at least I know how to live with it.
This story was originally published in Bangor Metro’s March 2019 issue. To subscribe to the magazine, click here.