RANDOM VIGNETTES FROM MY LIFE STORY – 13

CRIPPLING ANXIETY

If anyone reading this has experienced a panic attack or prolonged anxiety they will know how awful it is and at times how totally crippling it can be.

From as early as I can remember up until I was thirty nine years old, I experienced and suffered from acute anxiety! Back then, no one talked about such things and indeed had any real understanding of what it meant. It was another one of those things where we were supposed to (coming from England) maintain a stiff upper lip and pretend that everything was just fine. Those were the days, certainly in the UK when to go to a therapist suggested neurosis. It was something you kept quiet about.

Long before I even understood what the word anxiety really meant I knew that I felt very uncomfortable in the company of people I didn’t know. ‘Uncomfortable’ is understating it – what I actually felt was fear – a visceral fear that seemed to be triggered by social situations.

When something is experienced in a visceral manner, it is experienced from deep within. There might be no rational explanation – but for the person – experiencing it…it is more than real.

What made it worse was that my upbringing was all about being and looking confident. In order to survive, this meant I had to learn how to project on the outside an air of confidence. Oh my goodness how painful was that.

When I was thirty nine years old – happily married and living in the States, I had what today would be called a break down, but because by then I was a master of covering what was actually going on, everyone thought I was OK and so expressed shock, and dare I say anger, when I stopped pretending!

Meanwhile several years before this incident my friendly local doctor had prescribed Valium! I thought I had found the panacea – the cure all – the magic bullet which allowed me to go into social situational feeling cool, calm and collected:)

Of course it wasn’t the panacea – or magic bullet – it was a drug and like most drugs once the initial glow had worn off I was left upset and confused to find that the anxiety was still there. The Valium had simply covered up what was really happening….

When I had this break down at thirty nine years old I put myself in a thirty day rehab which turned out to be one of the best things that ever happened to me.

Along with one on one and group therapy all of which were totally new experiences for me, participants were asked to attend a weekly talk about spirituality……….I wasn’t too sure about that. The man who gave the talk turned out to be really lovely. At the end of each session he would suggest to anyone who was going home that week to come and talk with him about any issues they might have.

I remember sitting with this man – overlooking the gardens…and saying that I didn’t want to go back out into the real world. That for me it was still a place of ‘jagged edges’.

He asked me if I prayed. I said ‘no’

He pointed to the trees and said – I could pray to a tree which made sense to me….

And then he said.

“STOP FIGHTING IT

At that moment, I can never explain what happened but I knew that the anxiety had been lifted…..What can I say? This was thirty nine years ago…..

Over the years I have learned to live differently. No more covering up who I really am, – no more worrying about issues I cannot change….and also a deep understanding that I am not going through this journey alone. That there is indeed something much greater than me that I can tap into for support.

Hummingbirds symbolise that unseen love and support for me.

After this amazing experience…..I continued to have one on one therapy with a woman I really liked. She suggested that we needed to remove all the stuff inside of me that had manifested itself as anxiety.

I drew a box and made it black, shiny and totally impenetrable.

With the help of the therapist the box was removed rom my body….What an amazing experience that was. It was like having surgery.

Given that the world is going through such trauma on so many levels…not least of which the horrors of Ukraine….human kind of all ages are going to need help in order to cope.

Maybe we can start by helping one another.

40 thoughts on “

  1. VJ

    I had my breakdown/ breakthrough at 31 and similarly came through it with the help of individual and group therapy. That “stiff upper lip” upbringing served others but not me. I love that you juxtaposed this post with your lovely hummingbird paintings. As dark as that time was, it really opened the potential for joy.

    Reply
    1. janetweightreed10 Post author

      Thank you VJ. I love that you say Breakdown/Breakthrough…because that’s exactly what it is. I consider myself most fortunate to have experienced what I have…It certainly gave my life new and beautiful meaning. Glad you enjoyed the hummingbird paintings:)

      Reply
  2. Don't Lose Hope

    Thank you for sharing this. Having grown up in Scotland, I also got that message that any kind of mental health issue – even anxiety and depression – was something to hide, and feel deeply ashamed about. I think things are a bit different today, but not completely different. i now live in Canada where there is an open acknowledgement that most of us struggle with things at some time in our life. Stunning paintings!!!

    Reply
    1. janetweightreed10 Post author

      It was definitely this way in the UK and also in the States when I first moved there in 1966. I returned to the UK in 1993 to find a very different world…..now mental health is discussed opening pretty much everywhere…thank goodness. Thank you for your response. Janet.

      Reply
  3. vanaltman

    So sorry for the pain you experienced. The paintings are stunning in their beauty. They remind me of the phoenix rising from the ashes. Thank you for sharing.

    Reply
    1. janetweightreed10 Post author

      This is an excellent question Peter. For me it’s my painting and keeping routine in my life which applies to my work, diet, sleep etc. I stay away from people who cause drama and upset to the best of my ability:) and make sure to get plenty of fresh air every day. Although I like to keep up with the news, I avoid the news on radio/TV limiting it to what I choose to read. Having done this for the past thirty nine years I can say it definitely works for me.

      Reply
  4. Jill Chapman

    Wow Janet
    Thank you for sharing something so personal. You are an inspiration and brave being so honest. Respect! xxx

    Reply
    1. janetweightreed10 Post author

      Thank you Jill for reading. As you know my goal is to write a book – I am finding that the vignettes are helping me organise my thoughts. This was a very important part of my life in terms of wellbeing and my art which I will write more about. Although this turning point was thirty nine years ago, it is still of great significance to me…and a time I will never forget..
      Hard to believe that this time. next month we will all be together in Herne Bay:)XX

      Reply
  5. hilda5462

    Thank you for sharing your experience with anxiety, Janet. I have learned a good deal about the subject myself during the last 3 years, not really because of the pandemic, but rather because my oldest daughter was diagnosed with Anorexia (with co-morbid Generalized Anxiety Disorder) my youngest with an eating disorder called (ARFID) also with GAD and Panic Attacks that end in vomiting….AND my son with ARFID and Anxiety. So, I have had no choice but to learn tons and tons about mental health and anxiety as this is what eating disorders are all about….not to mention my OWN anxiety through all of this (and if I am honest, lifelong, probably GAD also). What you are saying totally lines up with what is currently considered the gold standard of treatment for anxiety disorders, namely, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) which is a large umbrella term for a variety of manualized therapies tailored to each type of anxiety. Anyway, one aspect that was really key to recovery for my panic attack daughter was ACCEPTANCE – she learned to accept that, from time to time she was going to have a panic attack, that it would not harm her and that she could live through it and be ok on the other side and, once she learned to truly accept this fact, her panic attacks became less and less often and now are only occasional! The other important part seems to be mindfulness, or, bringing oneself into the present moment and being fully engaged in it – great for anxiety (which is usually about the future) and depression (which is about the past). For me this takes the form of regularly doing art and daily immersing myself in it and being ‘in the zone’ or a state of flow. I could ramble on all day about this subject, but I just wanted you to know it struck a chord with me and I really appreciate your openess and honesty about your own experiences -here’s to a world of more authenticity, more understanding and less denial of this thing called anxiety that so many deny exists and those that do think is so untreatable – we ALL have the power within us to overcome it!!!

    Reply
    1. janetweightreed10 Post author

      Dear Hilda,
      Thank you for this comment. It is much appreciated.
      You have certainly experienced so much during the past 3 years…How wonderful that you and. your three children can all learn from and support one another,
      Acceptance is key – and much much less Denial…which it seems to me is rampant in our world. If we can’t cope with something or don’t like it, we simply Deny it! Which of course does nothing towards healing a situation.
      Like you I experience daily mindfulness through my art…and was fortunate enough even during my worst time when young, to be practising daily art routines…I know this has saved my life. Being in the zone or a state of follow is utter bliss – once experienced we have to get back to it:)
      I am in the process of writing a book and have found the the ‘vignettes’ are helping me to sort things out in my head and on paper. This was the first time here on my blog that I really opened up about my personal life, and I am so glad I did so. Let’s hope that people like you and me talking more about this subject helps others to acknowledge their own issues and get help.
      Janet

      Reply
      1. hilda5462

        Yes, Janet, I REALLY hope our authenticity can do some good out there in the world! There is just way too much shame, blame and guilt out there and it causes a great deal of mental anguish for humanity!

  6. alison41

    What beautiful hummingbirds – I have brilliantly coloured sunbirds in my garden, similar but different to your illustrations. I also come from the stiff-upper-lip-colonial-background generation, so can identify with your experience. I didn’t really ‘wake up’ until my late 50s, via studying Tarot, and meditating in the Buddhist traditions.

    Reply
    1. janetweightreed10 Post author

      Thank you so much Alison for this comment. How wonderful and fortunate that you had an awakening. I say thank you every single day for mine. Isn’t it fascinating how life can change in a moment and then consequently in more depth over years through a timely and positive experience. I also enjoy Buddhist traditions. Janet 🙂

      Reply
  7. Emma Cownie

    Dear Janet – thank you for telling us about your anxiety & breakdown. I am fascinated by the fact that you were perscribed valium. When I had my breakdown my husband called it a “break through”. I didn’t want to be a teacher. I loved the children but hated everything else about it. There was a lot of management BS. I was trapped by my job. I am happy to be a full-time artist, with all the uncertainty that brings.

    Reply
    1. janetweightreed10 Post author

      Morning Emma, I am so glad that you had a breakthrough, which lead you to following your real path – as an artist.
      I was prescribed valium. in the States 39 or more years ago….I am not sure it would be the same today….certainly it’s not in the UK. We know so much more now about anxiety and other issues…and are able to treat them in much more effective ways. Art of course is a wonderful way to help with the process.

      Reply
  8. snowbird

    What an amazing post! This will certainly help many people. So good to hear how you overcame and let go of anxiety. A similar thing happened to me, I just stopped fighting it too. Love and hugs.xxxx

    Reply
  9. davidjrogersftw

    Dear Janet.
    I’ve been remiss in not closely following your vignettes only because for some reason I am not receiving them and must go about searching for them. But here they are, with you discussing the terrible anxieties you have experienced. I remember that the age preceding the current one was called The Age of Anxiety, but we now may be as anxious as we were then, but have learned better how to recognize and deal with our anxieties as you did though the help of good people. I think that many inner problems are solved when people realize that they are not responsible for their genes and that other people are no different than they are and are going through similar things.

    Yours is a story of salvation, isn’t it, a rescue from misery, and your art was helpful to you in that rescue–that box. It’s a wonderful true-to-life story with all the features of drama that are needed. As I always say, I am impressed by your writing ability. I felt so sorry for you reading it–poor woman. It could have turned out so tragically, but didn’t. I’m not alone I’m sure in having known people so debilitated by anxieties that they felt they couldn’t talk about it and couldn’t go on living.

    Thank you so much for sharing this story. I’m going to search for other vignettes I may have missed.
    Best, David

    Reply
    1. janetweightreed10 Post author

      Good morning David,

      Thank you very much for this comment. Over the fourteen years I have been writing my blog I have rarely talked about deeply personal issues, but realise the time has come to dip my toes into new waters.

      Writing in the form of vignettes is helping me with this. Taking small bites helps me to digest what’s going on within and hopefully for the reader to digest. After writing these two posts about anxiety and the recovery from it, I am recognising what an important part of my life story this is. I can see very clearly that up until I was 39 years old….anxiety issues dominated my life. I never felt free to be me whilst the anxiety prevailed, ,and yes how fortunate was I to reach out and find the right people to steer me through into a new way of being.

      When the anxiety was lifted….it was like a re-birth. Suddenly I could see, feel and understand so much which beforehand had been masked by the abject fear of acute anxiety. When I think of those today walking around trying to deal with this issue, my heart goes out to them. I can only hope that they find the help they need and maybe, just maybe, if people like me talk about their personal experience with anxiety it can help others.

      When I had this transforming moment aged 39, it was the beginning of learning about myself, and learning to live in different ways. To this day – all these years later, I still take each day as it comes and try to the best of my ability to make it a good one for me and for those whose lives I might touch.

      There is no question that my art has helped enormously throughout my life and again to this day believe that the ‘creative process in all its many forms, is the key to emotional, physical and spiritual well being.

      I hope that you and the family have a lovely weekend and that the weather is OK:). Baseball season is not far off.

      Janet 🙂

      Reply

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