One of the more debilitating symptoms of my lupus is anxiety: heart pounding, chest pain, difficulty taking a deep breath, paralyzing fear, irrational thinking, crying. At its worst, it prevented me from living a normal life. At the time I was in graduate school doing a clinical rotation about an hour from my house. I remember feeling absolute dread the night before I would go to the clinic that slowly increased as I got to the end of my drive and had to walk through the door.
Lunchtime was also nervewracking. I often brought my own lunch but was too anxious to ask if it would be alright if I ate in the break room and I would have been too anxiety filled to talk to anyone while I was there anyway. So I’d go eat in my car in the Southern California spring heat. But I couldn’t sit in my car where I parked in front of the office. Somebody might see me by myself in my car. So I’d drive somewhere else in the parking lot or to a different location so no one would see me. For that same reason, I would have trouble finding places to go out to eat. What if someone from the office saw me eating by myself and felt bad for me, or invited me to eat with them? That was too much stress to handle. So I would drive out of my way to a coffee shop or lunch location but once I parked, I couldn’t get up the nerve to go in. What if I went in and there was nowhere to sit? Everyone would look at me and feel bad for me. One time I finally got the up the courage to go in and pulled out my computer to get some work done while I ate but I needed a password for the internet. I could not work up the nerve to ask the cashier for the internet password. I struggled through my entire lunch, rehearsing in my head how I would ask but ultimately it was too much so I packed up and left. I went back to my car and cried, frustrated with myself that I couldn’t do anything!
I joined a kickboxing gym because I knew that exercise is an important part of overall health. I went once and could never get myself to go back. I drove to the gym and parked in front of it many times, trying to get myself to go in, but I never could.
On my birthday that year, I wanted to go to a certain restaurant but my mom wanted to go somewhere else. Rather than say where I wanted to go (which she would have gladly agreed to), I anxiously went along with her decision and afterward went home and lay in the fetal position on my floor, too anxious to do anything else.
This is where the magic of a dog’s intuition comes in. My dog, Linus, curled up on the floor next to me, making sure his body was touching mine. Feeling his warmth and consistent breathing brought me out of my panic state. Once he sensed that I was more relaxed but still anxious, be brought a ball and asked me to play fetch. My dog has such an amazing sense of where I am on the anxiety scale. If I am mildly anxious, he gets me to play with him. If I am overwhelmed, he comes and sits next to me so we are touching, or lays on top of me.
I’ve had people give me tips for what to do when you’re feeling a panic attack coming on: deep breathing, gratitude, observing objects (7 things you can touch, 6 things you can smell, 5 things you can see, etc), essential oils. While some of these things helped (the observing objects made me worse), nothing has been quite as effective as my dog snuggling with me. I’m sure if you have a pet, you’ve experienced this. How is it that they get us so well?
It was a huge relief to me when I learned that lupus was the culprit for my anxiety, to know that it is a medical condition, not just me going crazy. It is important for people to know that mental health issues are medical conditions and should be treated as such. You aren’t a crazy person or a failure or just ingrateful if you have depression or anxiety. I’ve struggled with both and treatment helped tremendously each time. Did you know that the goal of treatment for depression is 100% relief of symptoms? 100%! So if you are still struggling with mental illness, please get help and continue to ask for help until you are free of symptoms!
I eventually started medication to help with the day to day anxiety and it was such a huge help while I adjusted my lifestyle to heal my lupus. My dog was still an everyday companion to my struggles and intuitively supported me when I needed extra help. I’ve used lifestyle (and medication when needed) to regain my health and haven’t had the debilitating anxiety in a while and have been able to wean off my medication.
I still have the occasional anxiety attack, especially after my sister was shot in October, but making sure my nutrition is at its best and having my dog next to me, are keeping me healthy, emotional and physically.