‘My psychiatrist said, ‘Technically, you’re on the highest dose I can legally prescribe you…’ At 8, I’d had my first panic attack. I didn’t want to live life this way anymore.’: Young woman details journey with anxiety

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“Racing heart. Intense Nausea. Paralyzing fear. Uncontrollable shaking. Stomach in knots. Heaviness in the chest. Reassurance after reassurance from family and friends that I was, in fact, okay. Rituals said in my head so I would be okay. Developing certain habits I had to do so I would be okay.

This was a glimpse of what my life looked like for 14 years.

At the age of 8, I had my very first panic attack, which spiraled a long journey of my battle with mental health. In 2004, my sister caught a stomach virus, and for some reason, this spiked the most intense, debilitating phobia I would carry with me for a very long time. I remember pacing back and forth on my driveway hyperventilating, crying, shaking, and absolutely terrified at the thought of me or anyone else that I knew vomiting. I didn’t understand what was so terrible about it. I mean, no one enjoys throwing up, but at this moment I had developed a completely irrational phobia that was about to run my entire childhood and life as I knew it.

Courtesy of Courtney Hayes

As days went on, my anxiety got progressively worse. I started to form these habits where I felt like if I didn’t do something a certain way, I would get sick. It took me so long to do the simplest tasks. I had to switch the light switch on and off 4 times or else I would get sick. I had to say a ritual in my head every time I left the room or else I would get sick. As frustrated with myself as I was, I was more confused than anything. I was always a very happy kid and within one day, I went from living a carefree, joyful life to living this life consumed by negative thoughts and fear.

About 5 months after my first panic attack, I was diagnosed with Anxiety, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and Emetophobia (the phobia of vomiting), and was placed on my very first antidepressant. I remember sitting in the psychiatrist’s office feeling so ashamed of myself. I specifically remember being 9 and feeling like some monster took over my brain and was controlling all of my thoughts. I had no idea how to make it go away. I didn’t understand what had happened to me. I felt absolutely broken, confused, and terrified by the person I had turned into.

Eventually, the medication I was first put on started to give me a little relief, but it took time and many adjustments. My anxiety and OCD would fluctuate very frequently leading to psychiatrist appointments every six weeks to adjust the medication I was on, and therapy twice a week to try to help everyone understand what was going on. After some time, the medication I was on and the therapy I was doing started to work, and I would feel like I was gaining control of my life again until a few months would go by, and more flare ups would occur. 

These flare ups led to more adjustments in my medication, which sometimes would help, but other times they would make me feel worse, and the cycle continued. The worst part of this cycle was that my anxiety would make me extremely nauseous, which would trigger my anxiety more, which would make me more nauseous, etc. It was a never-ending cycle of nausea, panic, and fear that was making me miss out on so much of my life.

This cycle continued all the way throughout college. I hit a breaking point one day on my way to my psychiatrist. I was exhausted. I was fed up. I was tired of not feeling in control. As I walked into her office, already being on 200 mg of Zoloft, the highest legal dose of that medication you can be on, I sat down in the same chair I had been sitting in for years, telling her my same problems I’ve been repeating for years. What she said to me this day changed my life forever. 

Courtesy of Courtney Hayes

She said, ‘Technically, you are on the highest dose I can legally prescribe you… but you have been on this medication for long enough that I am confident to push you up to 225 mg. You can start today.’ I walked out of the office and something just clicked. I didn’t want to have to rely on medication anymore to be happy. I didn’t want to live my life this way anymore. I knew in my heart there had to be some other option. 

Disclaimer: I’m grateful for how much it helped me at the time, and by no means is it wrong to be on medication. This is just my experience.

When I got home, I started doing some research on healing anxiety. I read something completely new that no one had ever told me before. I learned that roughly 90% of serotonin—what regulates feelings of wellbeing and happiness and what the antidepressants are trying adjust—comes from the gut. I was blown away by this. Could what I was eating really be the root cause of all of this suffering? From that moment on, I became aware of the foods I was putting into my body and how I felt after.

My diet my entire life consisted of quite possibly the most unhealthy foods. I basically lived off of all processed foods. I knew this was going to be an adjustment, but it was quite obvious my gut was inflamed and there was a very good chance this could be an answer for me. It was a slow, long process, but I gradually started incorporating more and more whole foods into my diet while cutting out as many processed, artificial, inflammatory foods as possible, and this made all the difference in the world.

Courtesy of Courtney Hayes

Throughout the process of learning about healing my gut and feeding my body the proper nutrients it was so badly craving these past 14 years, I managed to slowly wean myself off of my Zoloft entirely. I began a practice of daily meditation, I developed a passion for lifting, and I fell in love with taking care of my body, while completely changing my lifestyle around. I graduated from college in May 2018, and within that same week, I enrolled in the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, which is an online school that allowed me to pursue my dream in becoming a certified health coach. Today, I now coach women to help them free themselves from anxiety through mindset, movement, and nutrition.

My journey was far from easy, but it was an experience that I will be forever grateful for. It taught me resilience, it taught me strength, and it taught me how to treat my body properly. I still have my anxious days and I still have my struggles, but I now have the tools to power through any obstacles that come my way. I’m still a work in progress, but most importantly I’m proud to still be here and I’m proud of the person I grew up to be.”

Courtesy of Courtney Hayes

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Courtney Hayes of Tampa, FL. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

Read more stories about mental health:

‘My anxiety and depression can make me a sh*tty friend, but I’m not sorry.’: Woman thankful for friends who stick around despite mental health struggles

‘Your son cut class today.’ I got the phone call no parent expects. ‘Excuse me?!?!’ I was LIVID.’: Mom comforts teen son battling depression, ‘we should treat mental illness the same as physical ailments’

‘Why are you home early?’ my husband asks. I haven’t showered in 6 days. He didn’t know. People with depression are great at hiding it.’: Woman candidly shares the reality of mental illness

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