It was my first time getting an EKG test. I undressed in the same room as the nurse. When I get nervous, I’m overly friendly to the point of being pathetic, so the nurse chuckled softly when I said the tissue paper I had to wear was “just like a cardigan!” I laid on a padded table while the nurse put what looked like acne patches all over my chest and arms. “Will I feel anything?” I asked. “Nope. You won’t feel a thing.”
Then, she may have pressed a button or flipped a dial. I’d closed my eyes and it was over. She was right. It didn’t hurt. We went back to a side window, one that felt like a polling station, and she took a few blood samples. I looked at the side wall and vividly remember staring at a “feelings poster” when the prick found my vein. Oh, the irony. I peed in a cup. I was weighed twice. I tested for vertigo, slowly lowering myself onto a table while looking sideways. My reflexes were checked. They listened to my lungs.
“So, you’ve been feeling lightheaded?” the doctor asked.
I nodded. I had been feeling lightheaded for months, randomly in work meetings and some social situations. I was at the doctor because I thought I was dying. I had convinced myself that I had a brain tumor.
I must mention, my blood pressure was tested at 140/190. I’ve googled it. And that’s a pretty damn high blood pressure (hypertension, stage 2 phase) for a 32-year-old woman that doesn’t like soda, and isn’t a 70-year-old man that eats steak every day. So, we were off to a good start.
So, I’d been feeling lightheaded. In one circumstance, at work, I was sitting in a meeting after a coworker had just filled me in on a hefty project. I was quickly writing down a to-do list to organize the thoughts in my brain when I looked up, felt my face turn iodine-soaked yellow, and debated running to a shelter where I could pass out in privacy. This wasn’t the first time this had happened. Periodically, over months prior, I had been noticing in some meetings I couldn’t grab my coffee or notebook without feeling a wave of wooziness fall upon me. Since I definitely wasn’t pregnant, I convinced myself an aneurysm was building inside my head and the anxiety from that thought made me want to turn into ash.
I know. I’m a pretty chill person.
So, I went to the doctor. I couldn’t stand Google anymore. I despised Google! Google told me I had everything wrong with me! The doctor’s could test me for everything. And when the doctor came wafting into the room with her clipboard after the tests came through, she smiled at me softly.
“Okay, Brittany. You’re not dying.”
Anxiety butterflies busted out of my ear holes.
“But, how stressed out have you been in the past few months?”
“Pretty extensively,” I answered as I thought about how I woke up in a hot sweat the night prior after having a nightmare about Ted Bundy.
“Well, all of your tests came back and you are a super healthy person. Your white blood cell count is great. You’re not pregnant. Your heart is regular, normal.”
“Good! So, what’s wrong with me?”
“Have you read the book, ‘Am I Dying?’”
The doctor wrote down the book title for me and gave me a list of therapists in the area I could reach out to. Lesson of the day was, I had anxiety. She told me, with a very kind smile, that discovering anxiety this way was very common. After getting the news and MAKING HER TELL ME I DIDN’T HAVE A BRAIN TUMOR, she took my blood pressure again. It was, miraculously, back to normal.
The doctor also offered medication. I responded rudely with “WHAT, NO” super loudly. Like, too loud for a doctor’s office. I was mad at myself for feeling embarrassed for (possibly) needing it. I knew medication had changed people’s lives. How could I not accept that it could my own?
“Why don’t you see how you feel in two to three weeks and get back to me.” She handed me her card. And I wanted to hug her. Or cry. Or be in the dark for a while. I didn’t know.
When I got in the car on the way home, I immediately called my sister. She suffers from anxiety and has sought a lot of help for it, so I trusted her advice. “Madi,” I said exasperated on the phone from my latest self-discovery, “It’s so weird to admit but I always thought anxiety was an emotional thing. Not a physical thing. What does it feel like for you?”
She laughed, “Like I’m going to pass out and I think I’m going to die.”
Ahhh yes, it all makes sense. I was so relieved that it made sense.
I had switched jobs. I was picking up a lot of freelance work. I was hanging out with people every day of the week, away from home from 7 am – 10 pm. I was eating for convenience, not health. I wasn’t working out, because I didn’t have the time. I was flustered and embarrassed with myself for a long while about my anxiety attacks. I couldn’t believe I had been so ignorant to the fact that my anxiety was physical. It was real. It was tearing me apart. My stress, and everything paired with it, impaired me. I am writing this now because I was lost in my physical, anxious pain and I hope no one feels alone in theirs. Or like they’re dying.
The stress I impeded on myself made me super acute to what my body needed. The stress and anxiety morphed into a motivator to take care of myself. In fact, it ended up being a pathway to happiness, rather than an obstacle.
On the bright side of this, because there’s a bright side to every story, the stress I impeded on myself made me super acute to what my body needed. The stress and anxiety morphed into a motivator to take care of myself. In fact, it ended up being a pathway to happiness, rather than an obstacle. It woke my ass up. I had spent far too long beating myself at my own game, and it was time to fix things if I wanted to feel better. Bless you, little stress bombs.
Here are a few quick things I did to help my stress tremors:
I looked into therapy.
I researched therapists in my network and near my home. I’m still really nervous to reach out, but I have some listed when things get really hard. This was a huge step for me and my next step will be making a call. I haven’t purchased Am I Dying quite yet. But that’s on my list, too.
I made a calendar/social rule.
I can only do one thing a week that’s “social” (i.e. happy hour, coffee, networking, etc.). This has been the biggest help and opened up my calendar for me time, writing, and my family.
I brought a book to work.
This is SUPER tough but when I find the time to walk away from my desk for lunch, I read in the lunchroom or in my car for 30 minutes after I eat.
I tried to be more intentional about moving.
I bought a month membership at a gym and did a Fresh Start Challenge (shoutout to Alchemy) and learned how to listen to my body and when I was hurting or feeling strong.
I made a massage and facial appointment.
This changed everything. My new rule is to buy a “something” for my sanity every month. Whether it’s a massage, facial, eyebrow wax, or pedicure, it’s worth the splurge.
I haven’t felt light-headed for a month. Here and there, when I’m feeling overwhelmed, I’ll get the sensation in my temples, but I’ve figured out how to manage the stress. I’m not the best I can be but I’m getting better, and that’s all thanks to the stress. Our bodies tell us when there’s something wrong because they’re damn beautiful. Without an overflow of pain, I would have never known when to take the time for pleasure.
Brittany Chaffee is an avid storyteller, professional empath, and author. On the daily, she gets paid to strategize and create content for brands. Off work hours, it’s all about a well-lit place, warm bread, and good company. She lives in St.Paul with her 80-year-old cat, Butch. Read more about her latest book, Borderline, and go hug your mother.