“What can change in a year? Most people around me would probably point to my dramatic 90+ pound weight loss, but that’s only part of the story.
One year ago, I had one of the scariest nights of my life and it changed everything:
‘I waited too long to get help… again.’
The guilt in my brain taunted me in between my loud and desperate gasps for oxygen. The medics tried to calm me down as the ambulance zipped down the highway towards the ER. Medically, there wasn’t much they could do for me, so they attempted to slow my breathing with their calm, hushed tones and rubbed my arms to alleviate the pain of my seizing muscle spasms.
‘I can’t breathe!’ I squawked out. ‘I don’t want to die!’
My chest was on fire and my heart felt like it was going to explode. My brain was convinced I was having a heart attack, but the medics reassured me that I was just having a panic attack. A really long, really bad panic attack. They had become so commonplace for me during those weeks that I didn’t realize what they were. I was certain it was something more sinister and deadly like cancer, a blocked artery or a neurological disease. I hadn’t slept more than three hours a night in weeks because I was afraid that I would die in my sleep and my children would wake up to find my lifeless body. Every sound in my house made me leap in fright, day or night. It must be a burglar, a fire, or all my pipes bursting at once. My tongue would track over my teeth, certain that they were loose or on the verge of falling out. I would spend hours driving just to take roundabout routes to travel because the highway seemed like an abyss of peril. As I drove, my knuckles were white on the steering wheel, certain that every car and tractor trailer was about to careen into my path causing a horrific and painful end to my life. At the library and grocery store, my heart would race as I tracked my children’s’ every move and the movement of those around us. I couldn’t risk them getting kidnapped or grabbed right from under my nose. I would long for sleep just to get an escape from the swirling thoughts in my head.
Danger was everywhere and everything was terrifying.
I’ve suffered from general anxiety for most of my life, but I’d found ways to cope with its daily effects. Yet, three times in the past ten years I have had months of debilitating periods of anxiety where the stress and pressures of life send me in a downward spiral to a place of deep, numbing depression and anxiety. During those times I was almost non-functioning as a human. I would sob to my husband that I didn’t feel like myself; that I couldn’t even remember the ‘real’ me where my mind wasn’t consumed with anxiety. I couldn’t remember what joy and peace felt like. These are the dark days that seem to have no end. These are the times that have sent me to the hospital to be medicated into a calm state because I can’t function anymore.
And the anxiety wasn’t the only thing going on. Since my late teens, I had packed weight on my previously thin dancer’s frame, partly because of my battles with PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome), infertility, and intermittent depression. I was sad, lonely, insecure, scared and depressed. It made no sense to anyone around me because I painted on a happy face around others, deeply ashamed at how ‘weak’ I was and my inability to function like a ‘normal’ person. I had a loving husband, two precious sons, a supportive family and friends and a job I loved. But anxiety doesn’t discriminate, and it attacks with a ferocity that you can’t possibly understand unless you’ve walked through it.
Here I was, again, and I was done. I was spent, emotionally and physically, and decided I didn’t want to live like this anymore. I couldn’t. I couldn’t continue to put my body through that or put my family through that. I was tired of the weight on my mind and the weight on my body. I didn’t know who I was anymore, but I desperately needed to find out.
When I got out of the hospital, I started small. For a month, I just focused on my mental health; seeing a counselor, doctors and taking space to allow myself to heal. Although a part of me wanted to continue to keep my struggles a secret, I knew I couldn’t heal alone. I started to share with trusted friends and family what I was going through. They were so compassionate and rallied around me to help me recover. Day by day, I started to heal. There were still good days and bad days, but I was finally getting the tools I needed to become healthier.
I kept working on myself. I researched nutrition and all the ways foods interact with hormones and mental health. I started to exercise, even if it was just a short walk or 15 minutes of yoga per day. At first, I could barely walk a mile without huffing, puffing and crying. But I kept going. I started writing and connecting with others going through the same things I was. I started HEALING, really healing, for the first time in my life.
It was hard work. There were so many days I wanted to give up. It was painful to rip the Band-Aid off emotional scars and deal with lifelong issues and trauma that were contributing to my anxiety and emotional eating issues. It was hard to push myself to get out of bed some days, let alone take care of myself or exercise. It was challenging to learn to love and value myself after years of self-loathing.
But it was worth it.
Each day, each week, it got easier. I began to sleep deeply, feel energy coursing through my veins and experience that spark within my soul return. I started living, really living, again and rediscovering my passion for life. The weight started to fall off, I became a more present wife and mom, and I developed deep friendships from sharing my story with others. My life was changing.
On August 1st will have been a year since that night in the hospital. It was one of the most painful things I have ever gone through, but I know that it brought me here, to the place I needed to be. I think I had to experience what rock bottom felt like to realize I didn’t want to live and die that way.
And I am living!
I’m saying yes to things that scared me before. I’ve gone on theme park rides, shared my story on stages in front of audiences, and had vulnerable conversations with dozens of online connections who struggle with the same demons. I’ve run a 5k, gotten a fitness instructor certification and stepped into leadership positions in my community. I’ve lost over 90 pounds and rediscovered my love for things like dancing, writing, art and exercise. And I know my adventures are only just beginning.
People comment on my weight loss a lot and want to know how I did it. Honestly, the weight loss is nice, but it’s been entirely secondary to the mental and emotional healing I’ve experienced. For so long, my desire was to be thin. But healing in my body couldn’t happen until I worked on healing my mind, loving myself and being emotionally healthy. The biggest difference isn’t a smaller body; it’s the joy and vibrance shining out of my soul!
Anxiety doesn’t get the last word in my heart or my life. Fear is a liar, and it will not conquer me. Every time it bats at the corners of my mind, I remind it who I am and what I’m made of. I’m brave, I’m an overcomer and I will not go back!
If you’re struggling with anxiety and depression, please reach out for help! You are loved, you are valuable, and you are not alone. Your life is worth living and you can conquer the darkness.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Spencer Radzanowski, 31, of Inwood, West Virginia. Follow her on Instagram here. Submit your own story here, and subscribe to our best stories in our free newsletter here.
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