This was what Suzanne looked like during a "happy" evening. She wasn't stressed, her husband was home playing with her children in the backyard, and she was making one of her family's favourite dinners: breakfast tacos. Then she felt it.
In a matter of minutes, Suzanne was on the floor, crippled from a particularly bad anxiety attack. She wants the world to not only see what it looks like when someone is going through one of these episodes but to also understand the truth behind them. "Anxiety isn't something you just 'get over,' it's something that stays with you. It hangs out and waits for a crack to open just enough to sneak in," Suzanne told POPSUGAR. "One thing I've had to teach [my husband] is that even though things are GREAT, my anxiety will be there waiting in the wings to take over like an understudy who trips the lead on her way down the stairs."
Suzanne has dealt with anxiety and unpredictable attacks since childhood, and even though she knows that not everyone experiences the same symptoms, she wants those who just don't get it to see exactly what she goes through. "First, I get a really weird taste in my mouth – like blood mixed with something sour. Next, my eyes won't focus, like at all. I will look at things in an attempt to get my eyes to focus – no dice," she said. "Next, I get really dizzy. After the dizziness comes the cold sweats. Then, I get the shakes. Then, all of these things happen at the same time, and all I can do is remind myself that I am fine, nothing is actually wrong, and this will pass sooner than later."
Suzanne admits that just describing her symptoms makes her heart start to pound and that the hardest part of it is having no control over when the attack actually hits. "No one in my house understands what I go through, but I was on the ground trying to catch myself from falling that evening," she wrote. "I sat back down and fought SO DAMN HARD to not fall into the dark place my anxiety used to take me."
Suzanne poured her favourite cocktail down the drain, even though she had just made it, out of fear of what it might do to her in that moment and gripped the counter. "The scariest part of all of this is that I remember thinking about how wonderful things were going in my life when everything started collapsing on me," she said. "See, that is the thing about anxiety, it never really goes away. It doesn't matter how much therapy you have (every other week for me) or how many meds you take (I've been back on them for two years). Anxiety is a sneaky b*tch. Anxiety comes after you in your happiest and saddest moments."
Her struggle with anxiety isn't something that everyone in Suzanne's life understands. Some people think she's angry or short-tempered, others don't think she likes them, and some accuse her of being withdrawn. "What is really going on is that I struggle with an anxiety disorder that I manage every day," she said. "Despite all of the pain that anxiety can cause me, I REFUSE to live my life in fear of when my next attack may come. I spent the majority of my life trying to deny my anxiety, but when I embraced it, I took the power back from it."
In addition to taking medication, speaking up when she needs time to decompress, exercising for both her mental and physical health, sticking to a balanced diet, and staying hydrated, Suzanne has found that being open with others has helped her control her anxiety. "I share because people think they're alone. I share because I hate that there is a stigma around mental illness. I share because anxiety and depression are sneaky b*tches that try to kill your soul," Suzanne captioned an Instagram photo about her most recent attack. "I share because even this sh*t doesn't hit people only when things are hard. This hits anyone, any time, anywhere."
For those who love someone with anxiety or depression, there are certain things that Suzanne wants you to do:
Just love them.
Tell them that you don't need to understand, but you are there however they may need you. Tell them that what you don't understand won't minimize how they feel. Judgment feeds anxiety and makes your loved one less likely to reach out next time. If your loved one wants space, give it to them. If they come to you ready to talk, REALLY LISTEN. It is hard for anxious people to talk about their anxiety to people who don't understand the disease.
But for Suzanne, the "don'ts" are just as important:
Don't ask why they can't get over it. Don't remind them how great their lives are and they shouldn't feel how they feel. Don't make their anxiety about you. You are not the cause of their anxiety. You are not the cause of their depression. Don't tell them that they are being paranoid. Don't tell them that they need to snap out of it. All that does is make an anxious or depressed person dive deeper into his or her own brains, and that is where things can get dangerous.
If you are currently battling this b*tch, Suzanne wants you to know that this isn't something that you should feel like you have to deal with alone. "I want people to know that they can and should reach out for help and feel empowered to get help without judgment or shame. You'd get treatment if you had cancer, right?" she said. "I know that anxiety is something that can be managed, and I am grateful for the community of women who support each other along the way."