I suppose it’s best to start with an introduction! My name is Megan, and I have the pleasure of joining the Vannelli family soon. Anton is my fiancé now, but this story starts about 3 years ago, before either of us ever knew we would spend the rest of our lives together.
Before we continue, I do want to say this goes into great detail of my journey with anxiety and mental health, and some details may be uncomfortable to read. I believe it is important to be as honest as possible to not only let others know there is a hope out there, but also to help those that haven’t suffered with anxiety understand a part of what it is like for people that do.
I have always had anxiety and trouble processing my surroundings, for as long as I can remember. My body functioned around it, and I was able to live life for the most part, but I simply was not thriving in any aspect. I have always been stuck in a strange predicament of having a “Type A” personality, but simultaneously being afraid of the world around me. I was in my early 20s, working under the table and barely surviving life. I was introduced to Atheq on our second date as a way to help my posture, but over the years it has become a system that has changed every aspect of my life. I had no reason to believe this man I had just met that he could help me, but his reasoning made sense. If something makes sense to me and offers a glimmer of hope, I will always give it a try.
My anxiety would tear me apart. Going to a store I’ve never been to alone was an hour long process just to enter the building, not to mention the time it takes to prepare a list and go in looking for what I need. I often would enter and exit the store multiple times out of nervousness, and even occasionally leave if I felt like someone may have noticed my odd behavior. Driving a car and having to trust my fellow drivers on the road was a task, but I could make myself power through it. Having a panic attack while driving is no easy thing, but unfortunately I had become a master at it. I dissociated easily and had a very difficult time recovering from it every time. Any time I had to be functional outside of my home took every ounce of energy in my body and mind, leaving me scared of everything around me and unmotivated to even take care of myself. As a teenager and young adult, I couldn’t understand why I felt the way I did and interpreted it as a general numbness, both physically and emotionally. I was convinced I needed to starve myself to feel hunger, or hurt myself to feel pain. I didn’t know it at the time, but the adrenaline in my body from being in fight or flight at all times made me unaware of my own body’s needs and even took my breathing from me. I never could fall asleep fast, or even stay asleep for more than a couple hours. Every breath I took was extremely shallow, leaving my body in a heightened state no matter what. Taking a deep breath would send me into a panic. Worst of all, it made me believe that any time I was slightly ill or ailed, I was going to die. Anything from noticing my own heart beat in my body to slight injuries, or even just finding a simple bruise led me to believe I was dying. There was no question about it to me, I was positive that I was in the last moments of my life at the time.
I know I am not the only one with these anxiety symptoms, and I certainly know how frustrating it is to be told by professionals that you will need medication to live normally. The process of finding that medication (or in some cases that combination of medications) that works for you can take months if not years, and the side effects can be worse than what you already deal with. Another piece of advice I have heard a handful of times is that this is “just the way I am made.” I believed that, and I truly believed that I was destined to live my whole life afraid of everything. There was never a definitive answer, and I was never given a way to find the root of the issue at hand. I accepted that as my fate in life.
With Atheq, we had already begun addressing parts of my anxiety. My breathing was very shallow, and relaxation was a foreign concept to me in the beginning. I was trapped in my neck and chest, breathing from my upper torso instead of my abdominal muscles. I had become completely disconnected from my abs. After taking months to work on deeper breathing and connecting to my muscles, I was getting better! I could go to the store on my own more often, driving was easier, and I found it easier to take care of myself with a daily routine. I felt healthy, I started putting on healthy weight and was beginning to thrive. I knew there was more work I needed to do to address my breathing, and that it would be very difficult to take on. I wanted to wait until a more calm season in life, but of course life always has its own plan.
The summer of 2020 was very difficult for me, and made me question every ounce of progress I had made. Over the course of 2019-2020 I experienced trauma in the workplace that felt earth shattering, and finally worked up the courage to do something about it after months of suffering. When the time came, my brain knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to present myself in the best way possible to the channels I needed to report to. Simple enough, right? Wrong. My anxiety decided otherwise. I was in bed for about 2 months, unable to get up, breathe, or relax in any way. It stripped me of my freedom and I relied entirely on Anton to feed me, remind me to bathe, and just be present near me while trying to sleep. If I was left alone for more than 10 minutes I would go into a full panic attack and felt the need to call a friend or a mental health hotline to recover. We both went to the grocery store during this ordeal, he stepped away from the cart for a minute to grab something from an aisle over. I stopped breathing and started crying in the middle of a busy grocery store because I thought he left without me. If you asked me, I would say that he was gone for 15-20 minutes…it was less than two. I was afraid I would need to be hospitalized. This was exactly what I needed to launch into my journey of finding the source of my anxiety.
In the darkest part of that time, I was curled into a ball on the bed, sobbing uncontrollably and asking for my mother. Every muscle in my body was contracted as hard as possible. My fingers, my toes, my neck, my jaw…every part of my body was terrified. My eyes could not focus, my heart rate reached 210 and I was not the confident woman I usually am. I was terrified of having to go back to work and face what I needed to do, even though I wanted to do it so badly. I repeatedly got in my car and tried to make my hour long commute, but would have to call my managers in tears saying I had failed yet again and would not be coming in. I would spend hours parked on strange roads I had never seen in Portland trying to recover my senses. It tore me apart to know I was jeopardizing everything I had worked hard for, and I was afraid no one would understand what I was experiencing. I had reached out to a therapist and had gotten a prescription for antidepressants, fully prepared to begin the journey I always loathed but scared nothing else would help me stay alive.
Anton wouldn’t help me when I begged him to, he would simply guide me through how to help myself. That upset me at first, but now I know it is truly a blessing to have been given the tools and guided, instead of coddled through the pain. I wouldn’t rely on Anton for answers, instead I could rely on myself. We worked intently on deeper breathing mechanics which, as I mentioned, would send me deeper into my panicked state. It is strange to know that a simple breathing exercise sent me spiraling, but his reasoning made sense so I had to try. Pushing through the fear, deep breathing was indeed part of the answer. I started having three to four second breaths, instead of my usual one second in, one second out. I was incredibly disconnected from my body as well, it was very uncomfortable for me to put my spine in a neutral position, my abdominal muscles were completely disconnected and I was in physical pain. We worked on reconnecting to the correct muscles, and helping me adjust to the changes. I was not doing my best, but I was able to be a human being after a couple weeks of working on my habits. I didn’t need medication and doctors after all.
I did finally return to work and report what I needed to. Parking my car in the lot the first time was hard, and I was terrified to go inside the place the trauma had occurred but I was able to use the tools given to me to stay calm the entire time. I was able to return to work as normal and function at the best of my ability. I keep the bottle of medication I have as a reminder of how far I have come. Instead of relying on outside sources for a feeling of peace, I have finally found it inside myself. I never knew that would be in the realm of possibility, and I think about that often. I hope everyone with any mental health issues or diagnosis will eventually be willing to listen to the answers and put in the work. Five to ten minutes a day of effort is very little in the grand scheme of things and I still cannot believe it is that simple.
After months of taking the work I learned during the summer, I finally feel what I would call “normal.” I am confident again, I am comfortable, and most of all I can fall asleep quite literally anywhere. Another thing I have noticed is I’m substantially more kind to everyone around me, I often faulted my rudeness to a personality trait but it turns out my brain was simply not happy. To know that there is hope at the end of any trauma is the best gift I could ever have asked for, and to have the tools to use for myself in the future is even better. As I write this, I would have expected myself years ago to instantly relive the trauma and need intense work to recover. Instead, I find myself tearing up from sadness that I had to experience this, yet I am completely connected to my body and still breathing normally.
There is an end to what feels permanent. There is still so much to learn about mental health and various diagnoses, but I truly believe with everything I have that there is always an answer. After what I have experienced, I would have expected myself to be broken and working in a different place, completely defeated. Instead, I am succeeding and thriving even in a place I had previously experienced trauma. Everyone’s story is different, but there is a cause to every anxiety and a way out that is much more immediate and healthy than medication.
Thank you truly to everyone taking the time to read this. I wish you all health and happiness in the new year, and I hope anyone suffering with anxiety feels comfortable enough to schedule a consultation and at least hear the process for yourselves. Stay blessed, friends.