I’ve been thinking a lot about connection recently, and how much of our sadness is related to the fact that we feel alone in our suffering. Well, in the spirit of alleviating that separateness feeling, I offer this glimpse into my own head.
It was 2001, and I was in my first year of med school. I was dating someone who didn’t like doctors, so that wasn’t going so well. Oh yeah, and 9/11 happened the day I had to dissect our cadaver’s face in anatomy class, so let’s just say there was a lot going on. That afternoon, I started having these episodes of heart racing and chest pain. I brought it up to my professors but they didn’t have any idea what was happening. So I went to the ER and they told me I was fine. No one even mentioned the possibility that it was anxiety. Not once.
Later that year I had a full-on panic attack. Figured it was an isolated incident due to the doctor-hating boyfriend being especially doctor-hating that day. Did I think I had anxiety? Not for a second. Didn’t even cross my mind.
Then it was 2008, and I was a fellow in sports medicine at the University of Arizona. I had started realizing the year before that my heart rate would skyrocket when I was seeing patients (at the time in these 10–20 minute ridiculously rushed sessions). The heart racing was uncomfortable, so what did I do? I prescribed myself some beta blockers to slow down my heart. No kidding.
Fast forward to 2014. I’m on a camping trip with my then-boyfriend and during a conversation, not at all related to any of those incidents, he mentioned that he thought I had anxiety. I almost laughed to myself. I’m a doctor, I’ve been trained in psychiatry, I think I’d know if I had anxiety better than my not at all medically-trained boyfriend.
I’m not sure when it happened, but I finally realized he was right. That feeling of my stomach being in my throat whenever I opened my work emails or whenever my boss wanted to talk to me, or that heart racing in way too many non-threatening situations was anxiety.
I didn’t know I had anxiety and it was my JOB to diagnose anxiety in others!
So for those of you who may identify with those gut feelings or that heart racing, you may (note: this is NOT me diagnosing you, don’t sue me!) have anxiety (see, I just got anxious that you were going to sue me…)
I wanted to share this because I was listening to this podcast episode, and at around the 10 min mark, the guest and host both talk about how they had lived for years with this gut feeling that they didn’t know was anxiety, and how so many people experience the same not-knowing phenomenon…and how if you don’t know what that feeling is, it’s nearly impossible to try to heal it.
Have I healed mine completely? Heck no. But have I found ways to combat it? Absolutely. I would be happy to chat about it with anyone who’s interested. Can anxiety be your friend? Yeah, it can warn you against staying in situations you shouldn’t be in. But just like quitting, it’s only a tool if you use it strategically and don’t let it ruin your life or your health.
Anyway, that’s my two cents. If you have anxiety, you’re not alone and you’re not broken. And there’s hope.
Dr. Lynn Marie Morski is a Quitting Evangelist. She helps people quit strategically through her book, Quitting by Design, and her podcast, Quit Happens, along with speaking and coaching. She is also a board-certified physician in family medicine and sports medicine, currently working at the Veterans Administration. In addition, she is an attorney and former adjunct law professor.
When not doctoring, lawyering, or preaching the gospel of strategic quitting, Lynn Marie can be found doing yoga, playing multiple musical instruments and dancing like everyone’s watching. You can check her book and podcast out at quittingbydesign.com and follow her on Instagram: @quittingbydesign.