2020 has been a big year for me. It’s been filled with personal milestones; I turned 30. We bought our first house. I became a New Zealander. These should be happy things, but this year I’ve also experienced another first: anxiety so strong that physical symptoms manifested.

I’ve always had a bit of anxiety in my life. When I was a kid, I liked to sing. This somehow turned into singing in public; at events, in competitions, for funerals. I’m not sure I was ever “comfortable” with this, as I’m a natural introvert, but I put on a brave face and did it anyway. I always heard you should do the thing you’re scared of, especially if you’re scared of it, so that you can grow. And I didn’t want to disappoint anyone, people expected me to be there, my parents paid for vocal lessons and competition entries and how could I tell the grieving family member of the nearly departed “person who heard me sing at church that one time and never forgot it” that no, I actually really dislike performing in public, not to mention my ever growing internal conflict with god/religion?

Then came high school. I was awkward and silent, probably saying 5 words aloud the entire four years. I was scared and wanted to be invisible. Then on the very last day of school, those who knew I could sing asked me to, and I got up on stage and sang/played piano in front of hundreds of my peers for graduation assembly. No matter the amount of fear beforehand, I’ve always been able to suck it up and just do it, and feel this intoxicating rush of relief as soon as it’s over.

Until this year.

I suppose in the past, I was anxious about things that were short lived and would eventually pass. Now I’m anxious about things that aren’t so temporary anymore, and I got stuck in a frightening cycle of panic.

I’m worried for my family in the US. My parents, my brother, my grandma, my uncle, my friends. I can’t accept the thought that it could be years until I can safely see them again and who knows what else could happen in that time. I’m worried that I bought the wrong house and I’m stuck here. I loved where I was living before, the house and the neighbourhood, and it’s like a mini culture shock to leave and start over again with the added weight of a mortgage and knowing there’s no turning back. I’m worried that I won’t be able to travel again, and all these photos floating on screens all over my house become painful memories of what I had and loved and won’t have again.

I hate that I so easily let external factors affect me so much. I’ve been reading a book that says a lot of anxiety stems from losing trust in your inner self. My partner has pointed out many times that I shouldn’t always need to ask his opinion before doing things. I’ve just been a little ball of ever increasing stress and anxiety.

First it was lightheaded spells. Unexplainable dizziness from eating/drinking hot things, or was it my posture, maybe sitting at an angle, or in front of screen for too long? What about these supplements I started taking recently, am I having a reaction? My heart is racing, I’m scared. Come to think of it I’ve been shallow breathing for a while now, when did that start? Okay, no supplements. Watch what I eat. Less dizziness. Whew. Wait, there’s a pain in my chest. It’s coming through my back. Still shallow breathing. Finally go out and see a friend and get food, random dizzy spell again while eating. Fatty food, is it my gallbladder? I could be dying from a number of things according to this article. Cut out all fat and basically eat bananas and sandwhiches which I can’t finish. It hurts to eat and my appetite is gone. Feeling really scared now. Doctor reassures me that my bloodwork is fine, my abdominal ultrasound is fine, and two doses of acid reflux prescription per day is for me. After 4 days I can finally finish a sandwich. After two weeks I can eat real things again.

I really don’t appreciate my over active brain sometimes. And while this has been terrible, I know it’s helped me learn more about myself.

So here I am, still a little afraid to return to normal routine, but mostly fine again, with my newly discovered awareness of the power of anxiety. And with this knowledge, I will move forward by:

  • Doing a little exercise each day until I’m back in a routine (rowing machine, walk, gym)
  • Finishing my book “The Wisdom of Anxiety” by Sheryl Paul (thanks Uncle Rob)
  • Removing social media and news from my life (I cannot take it)
  • Having more voice/in-person communication with family and friends (texts aren’t good enough)
  • Being more positive, all this sadness has made me a nihilist (say a positive thing once a day)
  • Accepting that I cannot control everything, and that I will be okay anyway.