I got a call from a woman the other day who wanted to talk about her panic attacks and general anxiety. She is in her early thirties and lives with her husband and kids in a small town.
She told me how anxiety and panic attacks were destroying her quality of life and everyday was turning into a pitch battle.
She used to travel all around the world for work, but today she finds it hard to step out the front door for fear of having a panic attack. She has two small kids and they have needs to be met. She has to get over this for their sake. That’s why we are are talking.
I asked her if she had told anyone else about anxiety problem besides her husband and doctor.
She explained that she had let a few friends know, but in general she kept it to herself, fearing others might start to gossip about it behind her back. I then asked her what it was that really troubled her the most about her anxiety.
She got a little irritated and said “haven’t you been listening to me? I cant leave my home because of this and I have kids to look after. What could be worse than that?”
“No, I get that”, I said “but what REALLY troubles you about your anxiety?”
There was a long silence. Then after a moment she said, “not leaving home is just the half of it, the other stuff I could never admit to anyone, -I am too ashamed of it”
“Well try me” I said “I am pretty much a stranger to you and I don’t imagine we will ever meet in person. You have nothing to lose.”
“Okay…so deep down I fear I am losing my mind. Like I am losing touch with reality. I am not present with my children because I am the whole time thinking about how I am thinking, if that makes any sense?”
“Sometimes I have such disturbing anxious thoughts of a sexual or violent nature that I truly shock myself” she said as her voice broke with emotion.
Then another brief silence…
“Random ideas flash across my mind that only a deranged person would think of…”
“For example?” I asked
“Well, just this morning, I was feeding my little girl and I had this violent thought come to mind. It disturbed me so much I had stop feeding her and lock myself in the bath room for five minutes because I was shaking so much. I mean what kind of mother would think such a thing?”
“I am so ashamed and scared of myself. I would never act on these thoughts but how could I even think them in the first place! That’s what really upsets me the most, I feel I have no control over it”
“So I bet you think I am nuts right?”
“No not at all”, I said, “in fact I think you are perfectly normal. You are a sane normal person suffering from an overly anxious mind mixed with exhaustion and an active imagination. It is perfectly normal. It is not one bit pleasant but it is normal”
I told her that people can often admit to their doctor or close friends about the panic attacks or general anxiety, but they rarely admit to the things that really upset them the most about their anxiety. They hide their greatest fear so deep and suffer in silence because they fear being told they have a real serious problem.
It is normal for example, for such people to be afraid to pick up a kitchen knife in case they go nuts and stab someone.
Or they get anxious at times behind the wheel of a car, for fear of swerving uncontrollably into coming traffic.
Or they hate to stand on a balcony in case they suddenly decide to jump off it.
What these people do not realize is that what they are going through is much more common than they think. These intrusive thoughts are fueled by a cocktail of high anxiety, exhaustion and an overactive imagination. A lot of people suffer from them (even people you know) but they would never admit it. These type of thoughts come with a feeling of deep shame for even having such thoughts in the first place.
In order to end shame you have to unmask it.
You have to admit it first clearly to yourself. You need to be clear in your own mind about what it is that you could never admit to another. Then the healing can occur.
If this is applicable to you and your anxiety, then post anonymously (or with your first name) about it below. When you start to unmask this shame it lessens it’s power over you.
Posting your story will also help others to open up about their own story. So much of getting over all anxiety is about learning to normalize what feels totally abnormal. When you normalize anxiety you drop your resistance to it and that in turn releases the inner tension you feel around it.
If you do not want to post about it, then at least write it down on paper somewhere and expose it to the light of day.
Unmask it now so in time you can gracefully let it go.
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