Over the past month or so I’ve found out quite a bit about myself. I may never be free of Generalized Anxiety Disorder but it’s possible to keep moving forward even if you take baby steps. Many times baby steps lead to larger steps which equates to more freedom.

My husband and I both became ill this past month. I had a virus that turned into a sinus infection. My husband wasn’t as lucky. He already has an underlying lung condition called Sarcoidosis. We both thought his virus which turned bacterial was due to his lung condition. He has seen the Doctor twice now along with having numerous tests done and after two rounds of antibiotics with an initial diagnosis of Pneumonia he wasn’t feeling much better. He’s lucky that he has a great team of Doctors because they ordered rare blood tests, so many tests he had twelve vials of blood drawn in one visit to the lab. Today he found out that he has Legionella disease. I will re-visit this topic because there is a reason I mentioned it.

In the mean time, I have been fretting over what could be wrong with him now? I also found out I needed to have a wisdom tooth pulled and I am extremely dental phobic so I have to admit, it took every ounce of whatever it is I have in me to make sure I didn’t cancel my dental appointment. I’ve been known to cancel on their answering machine in the middle of the night because my fear is so extreme it stops me in my tracks from being rationale. I’m happy to report I didn’t cancel, had my wisdom tooth removed and another wisdom tooth filled during the same appointment.

I also have a dentist who understands phobias and is very patient. I find it vital to find others who not only understand Anxiety and Panic disorder but also have sincere empathy. After going to the Dentist, I realized I can do this again. I played out every bad scenario in my mind prior the my appointment over and over to the point I wasn’t able to sleep and it was wasted energy.

High five, one wave that I surfed and came out on the other side feeling empowered.

I’ve been taught that when we face our fears and it can take numerous attempts, we can re-train our brains to not feel extreme panic and/or anxiety. People with Generalized Anxiety Disorder tend to ruminate on negative thoughts and many times it’s out of our control. Ruminating thoughts are also called intrusive thought patterns. Intrusive thought patterns feel like a merry go round inside your brain that won’t stop! I’m learning to go to a place in my mind that is happy- which is usually a memory that I hold near and dear to me from my childhood or I try to envision a bright light with good energy enveloping my body, I must admit the more you practice this, it does feel calming.

When my husband became ill I was worried because it takes a lot to bring him down. He was becoming increasingly short of breath and his fatigue was so extreme that I could feel it personally just by looking at him. He was diagnosed with mild pneumonia and bronchitis at his first appointment. He was still very ill after he finished his first round of antibiotics, so I was forced to go to a place I haven’t been in some time, a caregiver and the person who used to take control- which meant getting a hold of his PCP and Pulmonary Specialist at UPMC’s Simmons Lung Center. I worked in Respiratory Therapy for quite some time and as I was watching my husband’s health decline I had a suspicion this was not a ‘simple’ pneumonia.

My mind suddenly wasn’t focused on me, it was focused on someone I love. My mind worried more about my husband which diminished my intrusive thought patterns. The anxious feelings I was experiencing were different from my daily Anxiety Disorder. These worries were real, which differs from Chronic Anxiety. I had a mission, to help my husband find out what was going on and get better.

Again, I was riding a wave and looking towards the shore for answers, instead of focusing on myself. I took the reigns by the hands and made another Doctor’s appointment for my husband today. When he arrived she had his blood test results back and told him his blood test was positive for Legionnaires disease. I must admit that panic set in when I heard his diagnosis. My first thought was how did he contract this? My second thought, I need to run and get his antibiotics, comfort food, and call the Doctor to get the scoop first hand from her. Legionnaires has not only affected his lungs but it’s caused him to forget what he’s told me or what he’s been told. She explained to me that people contract Legionnaires from industrial sized A/C units, hotels, hot tubs, warm water sources and one thing that really stood out- compromised immune system. My husband has been on a drug to suppress his immune system with the hope that his lungs would not scar more from the Sarcoidosis he has. Right now they are suspecting that he was exposed to the legionella bacteria and it may be inactive. We won’t know until the rest of his blood test results are in.

My point about my husband’s illness? I’ve been forced (out of love) to focus on him without hesitation which has helped my mind to not hyper focus on the thoughts that intrude daily. Am I worried about him- yes, but I’m so focused on helping him to get answers and feel better that my worry isn’t the same as what happens when I’m in a chronic state of anxiety from my illness. Has my anxiety left me totally- no. I’m finding more balance because I have no choice.

I’ve had anxiety disorder with panic disorder since my late 20’s. When I look back and reflect I believe what kept me feeling much more in control was my focus on my children as they were growing up. It wasn’t until after they left for College and became mature adults that my anxiety disorder kicked in full gear. I also hit mid-life about 5 years after my daughter went off to College and eventually married. There has been research about hormonal fluctuations during mid-life in women and they feel these fluctuations increase in women who weren’t experiencing a great degree of anxiety prior to mid-life. I can honestly admit that I never experienced the issues I do now until mid-life came knocking at my door. Yes, I had occasional panic attacks and experienced anxiety but not on a daily basis. It wasn’t until mid-life that my anxiety disorder decided to take over my life.

This past few weeks was a reminder to me that when my mind is busy focusing on others and helping others my anxiety level decreases. This may not make sense considering worry is anxiety provoking but when you’re in the midst of taking care of or trying to help someone else, the brain seems to shift. I can’t explain the shift and I’m not inferring that it’s easier to worry about someone else but the worrying is extremely different from ‘ruminating thoughts,’ which send you on a downward spiral.

In the past few weeks there was a shift in the tides, unpredictable waves and I was forced to focus on something I felt I could control. How does it make sense that we feel it’s possible to control another person’s health? I think what makes it possible is hope and keeping our minds busy trying to find answers for someone other than ourselves along with comforting them. My husband has been in a lot of distress and my driving force was and still is to see him recover 100 percent! My husband’s illness also made me repeat to myself, “Why the hell are you worried about going to the Dentist when it could be a lot worse, you could be struggling to breathe.” Repeating that mantra really lessened the worry I felt about myself.

When we have a purpose in life, even if it’s one that we don’t choose to have, it has a way of being a new driving force, a force where we are able to re-direct our draining energy from the illness and put forth positive energy with the hope that it becomes healing energy.

My husband’s sudden illness reminded me of how much positive energy I invested while raising my children. I honestly believe my anxiety disease and panic disorder were at a minimum during that time in my life because of my desire to see my children be happy and healthy. My mind was focused and I was riding the wave. It’s hard to get too distracted while you’re riding a wave.

Maybe I will become a surfer in my next life.

Originally published at medium.com