Wow! August is over, and I made it through! I have to admit that all year long I have been secretly dreading the month of August not just because of the heat here in Kansas City, but because of what I experienced at this time a year ago. I’ve always been a pretty easy-going, happy, and optimistic person. My faith in God is strong and I’ve always been grounded spiritually. But something really strange, and frankly quite scary, snuck up and literally bit me last August.
After visiting with my doctor about it and opening up to friends, I have learned that there are many of us empty-nester, 50-something gals experiencing some form of anxiety. I felt compelled to share my experience with anxiety and what I have learned from it in the hopes it may help you or someone you know. Here’s my story:
Phil and I had returned home from a wonderful trip to Park City, UT for a wedding. After a few days home, I started feeling like I was coming down with a cold. I just didn’t feel right. I actually spent some time in bed and forfeited attending a few social events with Phil thinking that I would start feeling better soon. Unfortunately, I didn’t get any better and my symptoms worsened. I struggled with focus, memory, irritability, and fogginess. I felt as though I was in a tube or in another world all by myself and couldn’t get out. I was dizzy and my vision was blurry which really scared me.
Phil finally suggested I see my doctor. I could tell he was really worried. So, I made the appointment, and Phil drove me there the next morning. I sat hunched over in the exam room holding a piece of paper where I had jotted down notes about what I was experiencing. When my doctor walked in, she calmly asked, “So, what’s going on?” I started rehashing my symptoms and then the floodgates opened. Tears started streaming down my face, and I couldn’t control them. As she calmly guided me through a conversation, I found myself telling her about everything that was going on in my life at the time. One thing that was really weighing heavy on my heart was my 92 year-old mother who was (and still is) in a skilled nursing facility in Hawaii in the final stage of Alzheimer’s. She has been on hospice care for almost two years. I shared with my doctor the guilt I felt at not being able to be with my mom every day to check on her. I also confessed that at the same time I actually dreaded visiting my mom and witnessing her in the bed-ridden, constricted, and mute state that she is in. Along with my mom’s situation, it seemed like I had no control over my life and everything just wasn’t going right! My favorite yoga instructor was leaving the yoga studio I attended, my eye doctor who I loved was leaving, and my favorite nurse at my mom’s facility was leaving. Everything at once seemed to be going wrong!
I continued sharing my symptoms with my doctor. I told her about my inability to focus and think straight. I felt as though people were looking and staring at me all the time. I was pretty paranoid. I remember playing Bridge with my friends, holding my cards and not knowing what to do and thinking “everybody” was watching me and wondering what was wrong with me. I felt totally out of control in my thoughts! I had trouble getting a good deep breath. As my doctor guided me through a bunch of standard mental health questions, it finally occurred to me that what I was experiencing was anxiety – my inability to focus, dizziness, vision issues, not feeling well, sensitivity to light and sound. It all started making sense to me. When I told my doctor I hadn’t been to yoga in a while because I had been too busy trying to catch up on work since getting home from our trip and then also not feeling well, she immediately exclaimed, “Get back to yoga!” She ordered blood work to check certain blood functions including hormone levels and then she asked me if I needed to talk to a counselor. She also asked if I needed medication. I told her I didn’t think I needed either of those two things just yet. I had this overwhelming feeling of, “Oh my God, I can’t believe this is happening to me.” Yet, at the same time, I felt a huge wave of relief in the realization that I wasn’t losing my mind and going crazy! My doctor helped me see how much I had going on emotionally in my life right then. I couldn’t see it myself until I was able to talk through it with someone.
A few weeks later I had a follow-up visit with my doctor. Gratefully, I was able to report to her that I was doing so much better. I had started back to yoga! I did not miss a day! I played golf and just walking the course really helped clear my mind. I had always heard exercise is so good for one’s mental health and I believe it now! I think the biggest comforting and reassuring aspect for me in this whole experience was talking to other empty-nester women my age that had surprisingly experienced the same thing that I had! I can’t help but wonder if hormones and menopause play a part in all this. From what I have learned, they very well could.
All I know for sure after what I experienced last summer is that I simply have a whole new outlook and healthy appreciation for mental health issues because it certainly snuck up and caught me by surprise! Anxiety is real and I am so grateful to my doctor who was able to talk with me and help me understand what I was experiencing. I am also so grateful to my friends who were able to open up and share their experiences with me. It’s always comforting and reassuring to know you’re not alone.