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It's All in the Family

From as early as I can remember, I was always “high strung”. I was that “type-A” personality, always striving for perfection. My homework was never late, I would study for a test days and weeks ahead of time and my papers were not only on-time, but I always completed the extra credit portion or went above and beyond what was expected. If I received a bad grade, it was devastating.

As an adult, I always made every effort to excel in my career, or at motherhood, or in my volunteer work. My house needed to be immaculate, beautifully decorated and my children were dressed straight out of a catalog.


And I was always the one planning every aspect to precision – whether it be the menu for the first birthday party or the details for the family vacation. I would make lists and race against the clock to make sure everything was “perfect”. And when it wasn’t – I was devastated.


I remember one time during my daughter’s christening party when we ran out of food. My mother kindly began to boil water for pasta to add to the shrimp scampi so it would go further. I could not get over the embarrassment and the feeling lingered for days. Another time, I had meticulously planned a family vacation at the beach, only to have heavy rain forecasted for the entire week. It ruined any joy that I might have felt spending that wonderful week together with my family.


I hovered over my children, anticipating the awful things that could happen to them if they were out of my site and constantly worrying that they would hurt or kidnapped. I couldn’t sleep at night gripped by the unfounded panic that something terrible would happen.


I can recall feeling such extreme anxiety at the idea of someone coming to my door unannounced or having to confront the credit card company about an incorrect charge. The thought of my welcoming a friend into a less than perfect home or the idea that the person on the other end of the phone would be unhappy with me would be too overwhelming to bear. Little things that caused me such deep distress.


It wasn’t until I went through a grueling and devastating divorce that my anxiety increased to the point where I could no longer ignore it. At this time, I sought help from my doctor and was prescribed medication to help with these feelings. Because of that, combined with regular visits to my therapist, who armed me with coping skills, I was eventually able to feel more at ease and relaxed. I could function without fear or apprehension and I realized that I had spent many years suffering needlessly.


When I think back now, I can also see the times when my anxiety was partnered with episodes of profound depression: my senior year in college, after my second child was born, during my divorce. And I remember the feeling of being lost and hopeless. I wish I had known at those earlier times that this could be easily diagnosed and treated. These dark clouds eventually subsided on their own – but I suffered and my family suffered needlessly.


Fast forward to the present – I still suffer from anxiety but I take medication to control it and it does not have the grip on me that it did in the past. My therapist continues to help me cope when things get bad and I am learning to live in the present and to take each day as it comes. It is so much more manageable when broken down into days, hours, minutes. I am learning to be more spontaneous and not cringe at the idea of a last-minute change of plans. And while eleventh-hour packing for a trip is not the norm, it is not something that throws me completely over the edge.


The one thing that I do regret, however, is that I passed this terrible disease down to some of my children – three out of four to be exact. Studies support the evidence that anxiety disorders “run in families,” and that anxiety can be triggered (by outside factors) in people that have a genetic predisposition to anxiety disorders.


A positive to this, however, is that I know diagnosis and treatment are essential. Each one of my children suffers from different forms, some more severe than others. Each one of them finds relief in different forms of treatment. The one true advantage is that we can all help each other to cope, sharing ideas of what might assist when the anxiety sneaks in and tries to get a hold. We understand these feelings and can empathize with each other. And we know that we are not alone…


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