Cover Photo: Healing Anxiety Inside and Out by Maddy Heeszel

Healing Anxiety Inside and Out

When my generalized anxiety disorder began involving debilitating panic attacks which turned into full-fledged agoraphobia where I was completely housebound, I knew I had to make changes to my life – and I did.

Growing up, I was that kid who hardly spoke. I was obedient and a great listener; I did what I was told. The same applied in high school. By my junior and senior year, people would frequently tell me how "chill" I was, but boy, if they knew.

Since about the age of twelve, I struggled with sensations of sickness, but it wasn't your usual case of sickness where you'd feel ill for a full 24 to 72 hours; my "illness" would come and go over not just a few days but months. Then months turned into years. I'd vomit but only before I had school. I'd feel faint and suffer from a rapid heart rate but only when I was nervous. While these sensations would come and go, they were manageable and would eventually disappear on their own. Despite the latter, I made it to school each and every day. I knew I could let my nervousness ruin my life.

Fast forward to age 18, I was working Saturdays selling plants at my local farmers' market, began driving, and was now attending college. Things were changing, but one thing that wasn't was my anxiety. 

My anxiety attacks turned into severe panic attacks. I started getting over-stimulated in restaurants, I'd get tunnel vision and feel depersonalized in stores, I would have to pull over while driving every few minutes and put my car in "park" at every red traffic light because I was shaking so much, I suddenly forgot how to count back change to customers, and five months shy of my 21st birthday, I could no longer leave the house.

This is my story of how I'm overcoming anxiety, panic attacks, and agoraphobia.

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

Before I began suffering from panic attacks, the only way I dealt with my anxiety was by suppressing it, not talking about it, pretending it didn't exist, and basically just faking it 'til I made it.

The only problem was, I never "made it." Obviously, those tactics and defense mechanisms weren't working for me, but I wasn't aware of that just yet.

Even in the earlier stages of my panic attacks, which were slowly but surely turning into agoraphobia, I tried to "suck it up" and get on with my day. I was too stubborn to admit that I needed to rest and be kind to myself in the times I needed it the most. To me, resting and taking breaks would mean I was "lazy" and "unproductive."

Sure enough, I began overloading myself with freelancing writing gigs, working 14 to 16 hour-long shifts and staying up until one to three in the morning yet would get furious at myself if I woke up late the next morning. I wanted to be productive constantly.  I'd skip meals, I'd let my laundry pile up, and I stopped brushing my hair and changing my outfits until I took my once-a-week shower just to make sure I'd get all of my weekly articles finished.

While it was clear how destructive I was being to myself, working long hours was a way for me to convince myself that I was productive and capable of making an income despite my struggles, not having to rely on anybody else. 

Not surprisingly, the panic attacks got worse, my excitement for the future diminished, and I made absolutely zero progress with my anxiety. I was living day by day. That's when I realized that my defense mechanism was only hindering every part of me to succeed and be happy and healthy.

Powering Above the Anxiety

While I am still on my journey with anxiety, panic attacks, and agoraphobia, things have significantly gotten better. However, along the way, I had to make changes, even ones I wasn't comfortable with.

At first, the things I did to help myself heal were primarily on a mental level. I learned the art of acceptance. I accepted that life cannot go exactly how I want it to at all times, that I must be able to go through trials and tribulations, and that I need to realize that both myself and others are not perfect. I also learned to combat black-and-white thinking as best as I could, how to be content with rest, what time management meant, what it meant to be mindful and embrace the trek of life, both the good and bad.

Whenever I was in a negative mood or suffered from bouts of depression, I'd engulf myself in positivity in the form of  Hallmark movies, games on my phone, hilarious prank videos on YouTube, and cheerful news articles. At the same time, I'd be real with myself and let myself know that whatever negative thought or emotion I would be feeling at that moment would eventually pass. To relieve the temporary tension and sadness, I'd let myself cry, and I'd cry a lot. That was years of suppression.

After that initial stage, I began making lifestyle changes. I started by switching up my diet here and there. I would consume less sugar, eat more frequently, and increase my caloric intake rather than skip meals.  Then I turned off the alarms on my phone (all 10 of them), so I could get the sleep I needed each night. (I slept 10 to 12 hours at first.) Sadly, I eventually had to cut back on work, but miraculously when I did, my anxiety started to decrease but not yet where it needed to be.

As 2019 approached, about two years after I became housebound, I made a goal to start leaving the house again. I'd drive with my fiance and eventually began going on daily evening walks. I'd take ice cold water with me and Bach Rescue Remedy  Spray just in case I began to panic.

What started as barely being able to back out of my driveway and walk past the fences dividing mine and my neighbors' properties without panicking turned into being able to drive around my entire neighborhood and walk outside of my neighborhood with anxiety on a level of 3/10.

While I am still learning to manage a work-life balance, accept the many changes adulthood brings, and learn how to navigate who I am, one thing is for sure: when I stopped sticking to my old defense mechanisms and became open to making changes, I essentially gained a new lease on life. In the aftermath, I've come out stronger, happier, and a lot less anxious. 

Learn More About My Anxiety Journey

Dealing with anxiety, panic attacks, and agoraphobia has urged me to include my mental health journey alongside my freelancing career. In response, I decided to bite the bullet and create a blog of my own.

While my blog is still in the works, I've already written a few posts regarding healing from mental illness along with other posts of positive topics.

I hope to inspire others who are or have a loved one going through something similar that I have and continue to go through. Although healing requires vulnerability and change, it can be a beautiful thing.

Maddy is a freelance writer, editor, social media marketer, and small plant nursery owner located in Central California. She is also a 4.0 graduate from Brandman University and strives to become an elementary educator one day. In her spare time, Maddy enjoys learning new languages, trying new foods, cooking, gardening, writing, playing video games, and watching prank videos on YouTube.