Have you ever wanted to punch a doctor in the throat?
“Everything came back normal,” the doctor always said, “You’re fine.”
“Well, Doc. I didn’t come in because I feel fine,” I always thought.
Twenty-two years of that and I had honestly given up on health care. I hated doctors.
Twenty-two years of visits to specialists. Blood tests, urine samples, sleep tests, finger pricks, poking and prodding; always just to come back and tell me that I’m fine.
Does this sound fine?
I was throwing up every single day before school for 8 years.
Diagnosed as heart burn.
I was frequently fainting and my heart rate would suddenly drop.
Apparently normal in development.
I would have intense mood swings.
PMS: someday I would get used to it.
I had chronic headaches.
Must be those dang weather fluctuations.
I only had a menstrual cycle 2 times a year.
I was constantly fatigued.
Just need more sleep.
I was unable to sleep.
Just need more exercise.
I would grind my teeth and my jaw got locked shut because of it.
I wasn’t fine.
By the time I was in college I had given up on trying to figure out what was wrong and just went on living my life.
Back then people saw me as the “pretty chill” friend. School came easy to me without putting in much effort. Making friends was easy. I was fairly active in intramural sports and was riding horses frequently. I was involved with quite a few clubs, and I was growing in my faith. People would have told you that I was a normally functioning college student.
Looking back now I barely held myself together. Anxiety had controlled my life for so long that I was used to it and I was really good at coping with it.
All I did was survive.
Over the years I tried everything I could to get help for all of the things I was experiencing. I couldn’t explain the symptoms and I couldn’t tell the doctors why I felt the way I did. Back then I didn’t even know anxiety was causing all of these physical responses in my body. All I “knew” was that it was “normal” and that I would simply have to deal with it. So I created my own coping mechanisms to deal with these symptoms of anxiety to try and manage the triggers that seemed to make it worse.
I needed control.
I was obsessed with it. Controlling my circumstances and actions was the only way that I felt like I had a grip on what was going on in me. If I could have control then the chaos inside of me didn’t feel so overwhelming. This is where an eating disorder really started controlling my life.
You see, I always had insecurities about my body and the way that I looked — that started when I was a child — so, it was easy to blame all the chaos in me on my body. My body was the one thing that I could control. I could control what went into it, and I could control the amount of energy that I exerted. I believed that the ways anxiety was manifesting in my body wouldn’t be so bad if I was skinnier, more fit, prettier, or just “healthier” in general. So, I obsessed over the pursuit of “health.”
Orthorexia- the “good” eating disorder.
At a particularly stressful time in life, I had it with how I felt like my body was negatively effecting my life. I committed to a weight-loss journey and truly thought that losing 25-30 lbs would drastically improve my quality of life. Every gram of food that went into my body was counted, and every calorie that left was accounted for. The pounds starting coming off and I started exercising in the pursuit of a certain physique that would make life exponentially better.
I started feeling better about myself. Compliments were pouring in and everyone admired my “discipline” and my lifestyle. I carried myself much more confidently and I thought I noticed an increase in the attention I was getting. I didn’t seem so tired and fatigued, nor was I having such intense mood swings as often as before. Sleeping didn’t come so hard for me anymore, and the tension in my neck and shoulders from clenching my teeth seemed to decrease. I had found the “fix.” All of the symptoms seemed much more manageable and I was certain that my diagnosis towards my body was correct — I just needed to lose weight and be “healthy.”
But it was never enough.
My lifestyle seemed to be the answer. Counting every gram and calorie; spending a ridiculous amount of time in the gym — these were the answers to my life-long problems. It was manageable, until one day it wasn’t. I graduated college and got a full time job.
I could no longer spend 40+ hours a week obsessing over each gram going into my body and over my next meal because those 40 hours now went into my work. There was no time to plan my strategy to count each calorie that needed to be burned at the gym. I could barely even make it to the gym after work, much less spend 3+ hours there.
There was no longer time in my day to stay addicted to “being healthy.”
I broke down. In every sense. I freaked out and couldn’t function anymore.
I didn’t have much of a choice: I could either continue trying to be “healthy” under my old definition and be the unhealthiest I had ever been, or I could redefine “healthy.”
Redefining healthy meant intense therapy.
I had to go to therapy. For a while I tried to just “take steps back,” or “stop caring,” but that just spiraled my anxiety even further.
I had no idea that I struggled with anxiety before therapy. I had gone into therapy because I recognized my behaviors towards exercise and food to be unhealthy, but had no idea that the core issue was my high-functioning anxiety disorder. It took weekly sessions with a therapist, dietitian, and nurse practitioner along with medication to even start seeing improvement in my relationships with food an exercise. For two years I had an exact science figured out with when I would work out and what foods I was even allowed to eat. It was a year before I even let myself eat Mac & Cheese, my favorite food.
Do your research so you can live your life.
The information is out there. I could have known years before I did that I had anxiety. I never knew that an anxiety disorder could physically manifest the ways it did in my body. If you don’t feel good and you think there is something wrong, trust your body and what it is saying. Ask doctors to check on things that might not include blood tests and numbers. Ask them if mental illness could effect you these ways. Don’t let doctors just tell you that you are fine and then go on in life simply surviving it. There are healthy ways to manage and cope with anxiety, so stop trying to do it on your own.
Image credit: scottweb
Katie Brock is a mental health advocate who is in eating disorder recovery and learning how to manage and cope with General Anxiety Disorder. She is a dog mom, a lover of group fitness, and addicted to athleisure — hoping to one day be an author, teacher, and motivational speaker for women who struggle with different mental illnesses. She wrote this post to be an encouragement to those who might not know that they have high-functioning anxiety and that there is help and hope to live life, instead of just survive it.