Tuesday, October 4, 2011


I'm sitting on the ratty couch at Finn's karate class. Greta is wiggling beside me, bored, playing Angry Birds on my phone. 

My mind is racing, thinking about my more-than-full plate; it has been a stressful week.  Steve is away on a trip, gone five days now, and I'm in the final throes of negotiating an offer to sell our house. Contractors and inspectors have been traipsing through my house for days; between them and meetings with brokers, juggling our hectic schedule and working, I feel stretched beyond my limits.

I sigh, and lean my chin on my hand.  My body freezes: what's this?  The heel of my palm feels a lump in my neck. As my fingers probe deeper, feel the contours of a hard, round ball nestled just below my jawline, an icy blade of fear slices through the middle of me.

My hands start to shake, my palms sweat.  My extremities go cold with panic, and my gut clenches. I can feel myself start to shut down.

Somehow I make it until the end of Finn's class, shuffle the kids home and go through the motions of cooking dinner, doing homework, brushing teeth.  They chatter on about the usual things, oblivious to the raging sea of panic that boils within me. I can barely concentrate, my brain is paralyzed with horrible images.

I tuck them into bed, slump downstairs and curl into a ball.  I'm dying, I think.  It's got to be something awful.  The anxiety that has been dogging me since my Dad's death, flitting around the edges of my consciousness, kicks in the door and settles on me like a cold blanket.

I remain frozen in a ball, unable to fight back the fear.  A tiny, rational part of me knows my reaction is disproportionate, that I'm coming unglued, but I can't help it.   I just don't have any reserves left.

I think about all the times I have told women to face fear, to talk about it, to feel pain and not go around it.  I would do anything to go around this, to disappear from myself for a while.  A drink would do that, I think.  Just a couple of drinks to take the edge off the fear, bring me back to baseline.

Even as I think these thoughts, I know I'm not going to drink. I know what I need to do.  I pick up the phone with trembling hands and make a doctor's appointment for the following morning.  Face it, Ellie, I think. Don't hide.  After making the appointment I call some friends, cry a little, and box myself in.  I tell them what is going on, and ask them to make sure I go to the appointment.  I know I'm in a place where I can't trust my own thinking.


The doctor rips off the blood pressure cuff with a loud scritch, and gives me a concerned look.  She tells me my blood pressure is scary high, and asks if I have been under stress lately.

I open my mouth to say 'yes, but nothing I can't handle', and instead hear myself babbling on about all the pressure I'm under, the knife blade of fear, the anxiety that won't leave me alone.  I am surprised to hear myself talking about how my Dad's death from an infection - so unexpected, when he was so healthy - has left me paralyzed with fear.  "It's all so fragile," I say.  "It scares me." The tears run down my cheeks as I unload it all. 

"I need help," I choke. "I can't live like this anymore." 

Three simple words:  I. Need. Help.   Oh, they are so hard to say, but once the words are out of my mouth, I feel a weight lifting, and a sense of lightness and peace comes over me. 

We talk awhile about anxiety, about how it is effecting my health, my blood pressure, and how there are medications that are safe to take in recovery.  She tells me it isn't about will power, that I can't think my way out of it, that anxiety is a physiological condition, and in it's acute form - like I'm experiencing - my usual tools of exercise, rest and good nutrition aren't enough.   We talk about how the anxiety jeopardizes my recovery, how I'm triggered when I'm hit with a panic attack. 

"It's okay," she says.  "This has nothing to do with how strong you are." 

I've been here before, when I got sober, and I know the drill.  Surrendering my will is hard, it feels like defeat, but I know in my heart it isn't.  It's the way out of my mental prison, the path to freedom.

We agree to watch the lump in my neck - I have other symptoms of a cold, so it could be a virus or infection causing a swollen lymph node - and make an appointment to follow up again in a few weeks. 

As I drive home, I think about acceptance, about how my brain longs to control something uncontrollable.  No amount of emotional hang-wringing or anxious thinking will change the outcome of anything; all anxiety does is ruin the moments right in front of me, here and now.   The fear tickles at my consciousness, scratches at the door, whispers: let me in.

I breathe in faith, breathe out fear, and bring myself back into the moment.   I'll get through it, whatever it is, I think. One moment at a time.



This post is written for Just Write, Heather of the Extraordinary Ordinary's writing exercise, where we, well, just write about our ordinary and extraordinary moments.  Come join us, here


  1. I suffered horrible anxiety. The workbook that saved my life was The Mindfulness and Acceptance Workbook for Anxiety. You might really get a lot out of it, since you already have a mindfulness practice. I still go back to it when my anxiety flares.

  2. Ellie, once again you take my breath away with your power and your wisdom. To move through so much with such strength and capability, but also to know when to let go and ask for help... I think that's a balancing act every one of us does every day, although not balancing as many things normally as you are right now. I hope things ease up for you soon, but in the meantime, I hope it's some consolation knowing how inspirational your sharing your stories are!

  3. Wow! I was right there with you at karate and at home and then at the doctor. So proud of you for asking for help AND for sharing that here. Asking for help is strength--strong enough to admit you can't do it all on your own. Peace, Ellie.

  4. Asking for help, heck even admitting to yourself that you need help is very scary. It takes a lot of strength to take that step. You are so strong. Thank you for sharing your story.

  5. anxiety is definitely one struggle i can relate to. oddly enough, trying to corral my daughter during my son's karate class is one place it tends to bubble to the surface in a big way. sometimes, one day at a time is all we need.

  6. I can understand why you be afraid and overcome with anxiety. I'm so glad you went to the doctor to ease your fears and talk it out. I love that you breathed out the fear and breathe in the faith. That's a really good place to start. xo

  7. Oh, my friend. We could talk, you and I. We could definitely talk.

    Beyond my diagnosis of bipolar, anxiety has plagued me from a very young age. It runs in my family (lucky me) and I grew up with a mother who worried about everything. She still does. And I am troubled with deciphering what I should really be worried about.

    The other night, a stranger knocked at our door. My husband opened and it was a man who wanted to know what paint color our house was as he had always admired it as he drove by. But I immediately assumed he had ulterior motives. I thought he was there to "case" our home. To eventually break in and steal things or worse, abduct our children.

    My therapist calls that "disastrous thinking." Always going to the worse case scenario over rational thoughts.

    It is usually only controlled withe medicine and a changing the way you think and interpret things, which we all know is very difficult after years of thinking one way. It is difficult to break the cycle of anxiety.

    I am so glad you wrote about this today. My depression is better but my anxiety has been through the roof lately. I have been paralyzed with fear almost daily.

    I hope it's just a cold.

  8. I need help. So powerful. Something we don't often say even for the easier things let alone the toughest. Thinking about you and wrapping you with hugs and love.

  9. I'm so glad you said those three simple words. I. Need. Help. I've sat in that chair before. I know how much courage it takes to say that phrase and how the wave of relief feels when help is offered.

    Hang in there.

    PS - Blogger doesn't like me today. Erica

  10. Thank you for sharing your story and you're right, "one moment at a time".

  11. "this has nothing to do with how strong you are."

    sometimes it feels so good to just hear that.

    I hope you feel better soon and that your anxieties dissipate, Ellie.

  12. What a strong post to have written. I struggle with anxiety too and it is so hard not to let it control life. I hope that it is just a cold and that you are able to find ways to find balance soon. So much harder than it sounds!

  13. Nicole said it all for me...you put us right there with you...you spoke so eloquently about your experience.
    Thank you for sharing...a burden shared is lightened for you I hope.
    ☮ Siggi in Downeast Maine

  14. So powerful, so moving. I was right there with you as the anxiety took hold of you. I'm so sorry you had to go through this. Sending you lots of positive vibes x

  15. Oh Ellie you are SO not alone.
    I had an extremely similar moment about 6 months ago when I finally surrendered and said to my therapist - "I can't live like this any more. I'll do whatever you tell me to do." I, too, had tried everything to manage without meds - but in the end, I needed some help.
    Hang in there lovely lady - hope you're feeling better asap :)

  16. I know these feelings completely. My anxiety was so bad I had panic attacks where I could hardly breathe. I thought I was dying...and I wanted to die. Every little thing scared me and became something bigger. I knew my thoughts were crazy, but I was powerless to stop myself. Finally, my husband and my mom said, "You need to get help". And I am SO glad I did, because, after over a year of struggling, I finally feel like myself again. I feel like I lived that year in a fog, just doing what was necessary to survive and get through the day. Now, I can finally live again. Thank you, thank you, thank you for not being afraid to share this. I am so, so glad you got some help. (http://tjsmhanesfamily.blogspot.com/2011/04/secret-behind-this-mom.html)

  17. It is normal for the amygdala, the part of the brain where anxiety starts, to go into overdrive after a traumatic event. It is a medical condition, not a personal failing, and I am so glad you asked for help. You do not have to keep suffering this way and you deserve the help that medicine can provide to get your amygdala back to normal. The amygdala is the alarm system of the body, when it is disrupted it is akin to a car alarm that goes off every time a leaf blows by your car = unnecessary alarm. Meds fix your alarm. Praying for your speedy recovery.

  18. So well written, as you know I have experienced anxiety in the last few years. I am praying for you sister and here if ever you want to talk.

  19. I'm glad you're going to get help... we can't always do it on our own.

    Thinking of you and giving you a huge hug!

  20. I am sorry to hear of these problems, Ellie, and I well know and sympathize with your reactions. Ah yes, that Chinese curse "May you live in interesting times" comes to mind and whoever laid it on us probably sells anxiety medication too. But we have friends, and we know we don't have to do it alone. Let me know how it comes out.


    Mike L

  21. Oh Ellie.....I will keep you in my thoughts and prayers. Selling a home and moving are right up there with one of life's biggest changes. These also follow one of the hardest most stressful changes - death of a loved one.

    You're scared of losing the nest you've worked so hard to create for your family. That's a pretty good reason to feel like you are about to come out of your skin. I used to sell real estate and time and time again I saw even the calmest person come unglued over the selling and moving process.