Anxiety Stories: Rachel M.
Welcome to ‘Anxiety Stories!’ I (Laura of The Mindful Mom Blographer), started Anxiety Stories after I read Brene’ Brown’s book ‘Daring Greatly’. In the book, Brown talks extensively about shame, which is something I think many people who suffer from anxiety feel – as well as feeling alone.
We all know there is a mental health stigma in today’s society. So how can we remove that stigma? By removing people’s shame, and let them know they’re not alone.
Anxiety is a lot more common than people realize – I know this from all the comments and DMs I get whenever I get vulnerable about my anxiety experiences. Yet still, the stigma!
My hope with Anxiety Stories is that we can normalize anxiety by showing people’s stories from all walks of life. I ask that each person who conducts an interview be willing to be a little bit vulnerable, and each person who reads these interviews holds the interviewee in a loving space, knowing they’ve put themselves out there for a good cause.
*If you are dealing with anxiety or another type of mental illness, please talk with a
There are some great resources on how to get help below:
- National Institute of Mental Health
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
- National Alliance on Mental Illness
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
- Anxiety and Depression Association of America: Online Resources and Finding Help
- Crisis Text Line: Text HELLO to 741741 (US number) to be connected with a trained crisis counselor.
- Finally, this is a great page from ‘Everyday Help’ with a ton of resources for mental health assistance such as financial help for therapy and medications, support groups, etc.
Last but not least, please note that I nor my interviewees aren’t medical professionals, and the resources and tips are not to replace professional medical advice. We are simply sharing our stories and what we know from working through our anxiety with professionals in our own life. If you are feeling any type of mental health symptoms, please seek medical assistance.
I hope you enjoy the interview.
Tell us a little bit about yourself! Who are you? Where are you from? What types of things do you enjoy doing?
I am from Canada. I could be more specific, but I have now lived in 6 provinces so it’s hard to really choose! I was born in Nova Scotia and tell people I am from Nova Scotia most of the time, but I lived in Ontario the longest (10 years) and just moved to Montreal, Quebec this fall.
My nickname for myself is “hobby hoarder” because I have picked up so many things that I love to spend time doing. I find something I want to learn about and become mediocre at it haha. Some of those hobbies include making craft beer, fermenting foods (like kimchi!), bread-making, gardening, making homemade skin products and mineral makeup, and herbalism. I got really into herbalism for a while and even took courses! I’ve also trained as a doula and love birth advocacy and everything to do with babies! One thing that has really stuck through my life is active living. I love strength training and sports have done so since I was a very young teen!
What does the anxiety you experience look like (obsessive thoughts, extreme worry, intrusive thoughts, anxiety disorder, etc)?
Obsessive thoughts or what I call rumination is a big one for me. I have had a hard time in the past setting boundaries in my relationships and so when I have been mistreated or wronged, I didn’t properly set boundaries. When I would finally work up the nerve, many times I would end up hurt again. I couldn’t understand why this was happening and when I finally came to terms with some hard truths (these people do not really love you or care for you as they claim), I would and still do often ruminate on the events, words, and feelings I had during those painful times.
I also experience a lot of anxiety and worry over things to come. Social events or meetings, upcoming presentations, etc. leave me on edge and I try to mentally prepare for every single negative outcome which leaves me exhausted and strung out.
Do you see a therapist/psychologist?
I do not see a therapist, but I know that I should. I was in a relationship with someone with extreme mental health issues and I spent most of my time trying to manage him. I got him into therapy multiple times (he would always quit) but I never thought that I really needed it myself. I was stuck in a caregiver mentality and was losing my own sense of personal reality. Now that I’m out of that, I know I need help to find myself again.
Do you take medication for the anxiety?
No. I sometimes take CBD oil but I haven’t made the leap to ask for medication. In university, my doctor said I probably needed it but I was trying to get pregnant at the time, so she decided against it. In later years, my other doctor continued to recommend therapy but never medication. I was hoping she would, but I didn’t want to ask.
How long have you been dealing with anxiety?
Since I was a teenager or even younger if you count body anxiety (feeling ugly and overweight when I wasn’t). I moved so much growing up that I never really learned what long-term friendships were like. I wasn’t able to foster real connections and have long-term meaningful relationships. Moving and trying to fit in over and over (I changed schools 10 times by grade 10) did a number on me when it comes to social anxiety.
What are some triggers for the anxiety you experience?
The biggest trigger for me in the last three years has been anything that reminds me of the times where I should have set boundaries or walked away from toxic, hurtful relationships and situations but I didn’t. Instead of setting clear, firm boundaries, I would work up the nerve to ask for the behaviour to stop, without giving a “or this will happen”. Now that I know I deserve better treatment, I cannot stand any tiny thing that reminds me of those events. When something comes up that triggers me, my heart rate spikes very high, even though I am at rest. This could be anything and there are so many little triggers that it is hard to manage.
Have you ever dealt with the dreaded anxiety spiral?
Yes, definitely. This happens mainly with confrontations or negotiation style events. So, a meeting with my child’s teacher where she wants to discuss behaviour or worrying about a confrontation with an impossible neighbour. I become anxious knowing that I will be inevitably anxious, and it spirals. However, since I am self-aware of this, I try to get on top of it right away with deep breathing and repeating to myself my valid truths in the situation. What I know is right and what my boundaries are.
Do you experience panic attacks?
Yes, I have experienced panic attacks where I believe I am going to die. The first time it happened I was in university and I had no idea that it was a panic attack. I thought it was real and that I was going to die. It was terrifying.
Other types of panic attacks are basically just when I have been triggered to such an extreme that I begin to shake, sometimes violently. This is mostly because my heart rate and fight or flight mode has been activated so strongly that I cannot control it.
What are some things you do while you’re having a panic attack or are in an anxiety spiral to help pull yourself out of it?
Now when I have panic attacks where I feel like I’m going to die, which is very rare, I know what it is, so I talk myself down out of it. I also let my partner know that it is happening. I get on top of the attacks very quickly just by grounding myself (finding a colour, a smell, a taste of something real in the room and realizing that I am safe).
For emotionally triggering moments where I get shaky and cannot concentrate, I still need to figure out what will work. I tell people around me that it is happening if I have to and speaking it out makes it seem less scary.
Related: Mindfulness (grounding yourself through your senses as described above) is a great tool for anxious times. For tips on how to incorporate mindfulness into your life, you can check out my free 7-day mindfulness e-course here.
What are some preventative measures that you take to help prevent the anxiety you experience?
Writing things down. Trying to re-frame my obsessive thoughts and ruminations. I attempt to use empathy – for myself and for those that have hurt me. Relating to the reasons why I did or didn’t do things and having self-compassion is really helpful. Setting new boundaries and refusing to put up with disrespect is also extremely important for me now, along with eliminating triggers as much as possible, when it is appropriate to do so.
What are some of your favorite anxiety resources (websites, books, etc) that other people could reference if they’re struggling as well?
Reading the book Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment help me understand and work through my anxious relationship style. I had my partner read it as well so he could help understand where I was coming from and what he could do to help. Recently I read a book about negotiation by an ex-FBI negotiator. I’m sure he didn’t mean for it to be a book about taming anxiety but I found it incredibly helpful for me when thinking about confrontations now. I know to use empathy and to listen much more than talk. These two facts put me at ease much more because it takes so much pressure off of my previous fears of having to prove my points and be strong and aggressive to be heard. That book is called Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It by Chris Voss.
For dealing with the anxiety caused by my caregiving personality and codependency, I found Stop Walking on Eggshells to be life-changing for my particular situation. The book that helped me leave my situation and learn to stop being so hung up on trying to fix others and wondering why I wasn’t being treated well was Stop Caretaking the Borderline or Narcissist: How to End the Drama and Get On with Life.
I try to incorporate the theories behind Cognitive Behavioural Therapy into my life as well and have taken courses on how to do this and how to help others with this. I’m still learning and growing with CBT.
Why do you think the mental health stigma exists? Why are people afraid to talk about their mental illness?
The mental health stigma exists because so many people do not recognize their own mental health issues. I was one of those people. I never judged anyone else but I did not realize the problems I myself had and the real insidious mental health issues that were present in my own relationships. I was raised with some unstable and unhealthy parameters in my childhood such as the moving and really not being able to have privacy or make my own choices without extreme judgment and reactions from my parents (my father was a minister). My diaries were read, my phone calls were listened to. I did not realize how that set me up to end up in the situations I did as an adult.
People are so afraid of not being perfect, of being judged and ridiculed. People are unable to face vulnerability in fear of rejection. I do not have these fears because I know what rejection and vulnerability feel like so strongly that I have learned to live with it. I know that in order to experience real connections with others you have to be open to being vulnerable and rejected. It’s part of life. The more people who open up and talk about their mental health issues, the more that it will become normalized. I really appreciate what you are doing to help this happen!
Related: If you want a resource for learning how to be vulnerable and the importance of it, Daring Greatly by Brene’ Brown is a great book.
A huge thank you to Rachel for sharing her story and the wealth of resources she has found helpful.
Want to read more Anxiety Stories? Check out the other interviews here.
Want to share your own anxiety story? Check out the guidelines here!
Bio: Rachel, or Rach is a personal trainer who loves to EAT and LIFT things. She hopes you’ll join her in finding out the ways in which we can LIFT EACH OTHER UP and become more real with ourselves about how we want to live and spend our days.
Facebook Group (discussions include anxiety and self-acceptance)