What Happens When Anxiety and Fear Take Control?

Debilitating Anxiety and Fear

In my early 20s, I started to develop pretty intense feelings of anxiety and stress. I would get intense anxiety attacks in certain situations. I would find myself overwhelmed by having to make big decisions, worried about making the wrong choice. I felt anxious about meeting new people in fear of them not liking me or thinking I was stupid and would get worked up about these social situations. I lived in a constant state of fear that something bad was going to happen and I needed to try to control it. However, job interviews were some of the most anxiety-producing situations for me. The combination of needing the interviewer to like me, think I was smart, and worried about whether this was actually a job I wanted to take would get me worked up more than you might imagine. I would wake up the morning of my interview with a stomach ache, be unable to eat anything, and sweat through the entire interview. By the time I got home, I was wiped out and unable to do anything but sit on the couch like a vegetable. Even if the interview was only 1 hour long. Probably the best story regarding my fear around interviews was one interview where it started at about 8 AM and lasted until about 1 PM. I opted out of breakfast with the interviewer, because I was afraid it would make me sick, telling her that I had already eaten something beforehand and while I probably did have something small, in any other situation, I would have loved to enjoy a muffin, croissant, etc especially on someone else’s dime. The interview continued through lunch so the interviewer suggested the pizza place across the street. I was barely able to eat one slice of thin-crust pizza and hardly had anything to drink in fear that anything that ended up in my stomach might come back up a few minutes later. The interviewer DEFINITELY noticed and asked if I didn’t like it. I was embarrassed. Of course, this made my anxiety even worse. To be completely honest, minutes after I got into my car, I broke into that pizza box and scarfed down several pieces of pizza because by the time the interview was over and my anxiety was gone I was starving. I could tell you several more stories about when my anxiety took over and my whole body was a nervous wreck, but you get the point. 

Anxiety Related to Personality

I know that anxiety is something that a lot of people deal with at some point in their lives. My anxiety was triggered in my 20s and it got really bad. However, it is possible that it is just a part of my personality. My church has been very into the Enneagram which, for those who haven’t heard of the Enneagram, it is like a personality test, but a bit deeper and more spiritual. This summer I finally read the book and after taking several different tests, I seem to score the highest in a number six, “The Loyalist”. There is so much to unpack about this personality type, but the one thing I find interesting is that sixes live in a state of worry. Sixes desire to create a stable and safe environment and are always trying to predict or imagine what could possibly go wrong. This felt so relatable and true for at least a decade of my life, and the majority of my adult life. This is not saying that anyone and everyone who has some sort of anxiety is a type six. This is also not saying that I have to live into this anxiety for the rest of my life. But, there is some sort of experience(s) early on in my childhood that led me to believe that I need to analyze everything to predict the future and somehow this will help me attain a sense of safety. 

My Personality, Anxiety, and Multiple Sclerosis

In understanding my personality type, it creates two different thoughts in regards to my MS diagnosis. 

First of all, I can’t help but wonder if all of the anxiety and fear that I lived in throughout my 20s caused or triggered my Multiple Sclerosis. The thing is that, when our bodies go into a state of anxiety, the body is triggered by the stress response and releases chemicals and hormones into your system. I was causing my body to attack itself early on by living in so much stress and fear. I also know that right before my first relapse I had one of the biggest and longest anxiety-producing situations that I had ever experienced. 

Secondly, I can’t help but laugh a little bit that I was diagnosed with one of the most unpredictable diseases knowing that for years I have been running scenarios, situations, and worst imaginable fears through my mind. I have been trying to predict what could happen in my life to mentally prepare myself for the worst. But, no matter how much you plan and predict, you are always forgetting something. I hadn’t planned for an unpredictable autoimmune disease. Not only do I have no idea when I could have a relapse, but I have no idea what is going to happen with each relapse. There is no “set” course for the disease and it doesn’t impact two people the same way. It was kind of a big slap in the face for me. Or, maybe the disease is mocking me.

Overcoming My Anxiety 

Thankfully, a couple of years ago I resolved and dealt with a lot of my anxieties through a unique group offered at my church. This is not your typical Bible study type of group. This group focused on identifying and understanding self-destructive behaviors in our own lives and working through them. We would go deep into these behaviors, what triggers them, what pains may have caused them in our past, and more. I truly believe this group and the work we did changed my life. If not for this group, I would still be living in deep debilitating anxiety and fear. This is not to say that I never have a day, moment, or time where I don’t fall into my anxious thoughts. But, it does not consume my life anymore. I do not find myself worked up over every little thing and I am letting go of things that are out of my control.

I am incredibly thankful that I had the opportunity to work through and focus on changing some of my biggest destructive patterns and habits before I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. I honestly can’t imagine how debilitating the news of my diagnosis would have been for me several years ago. Plus, now knowing that stress and anxiety will only worsen my disease course and impact my long-term health, there is even more of a reason for me to keep working on minimizing my anxiety and keeping my fears at bay. 

There is always something we can be doing to improve our lives, health, and well-being. I am constantly seeking ways to meditate, find more peace, and let go of control in my life. My hope is that somehow this new way of living can continue in my 30s. Someday, I might be able to look back and see the difference between my 20s and 30s.