Wednesday, July 16, 2014

anxiety anniversary

*This is not a fashion related post, but as the title suggests, it's about my recent struggle with anxiety, my nervous breakdown and how I'm feeling one year after my first panic attack.  This was an extremely difficult post to write as I try to keep Tinfoil Tiaras light & fun, but living with anxiety has shaped who I am.  I did not write this to evoke pity, but instead to share my experience in hopes of resonating with readers and shedding some light on mental health.

 It started with a tingle in my toe while doing the swan pose in a Body Flow class in July 2013.  Harmless really, felt like long lasting pins & needles. After the class, I asked the yoga instructor about it and she wasn't sure, said I should talk to my Doctor.  I didn't think anything else of it, until later in the week when I noticed the tingling had spread to all my extremities, my stomach and even my bottom.  I made an appointment to see my Doctor but as somewhat of a hypochondriac, I wanted to do some research before getting medical advice.  So I asked Dr. Google what he thought of my tingling extremities and he told me I had MS. OMG Multiple Sclerosis? The chronic debilitating disease that may leave me unable to walk, feed myself or talk? This triggered a heightened sense of anxiety and I couldn't get the idea that I might have MS off my mind.  After seeing the DR, she wasn't convinced it was MS, but wanted to run some blood work. It turned out that I was severely deficient in vitamin b12 which caused my iron levels to drop.  I had been eating a whole foods vegan diet for 1.5 years and wasn't supplementing with B12, something I hadn't even thought of.  I immediately started B12 treatments via weekly injections, followed by daily supplements until my levels were normal again.  You'd think that would be the end of that but my mind wouldn't give up the idea of MS, in fact the idea started to grow.  

One morning, I woke up around 3am and my body and face were tingling like crazy.  My heart was pounding so quickly I thought I was having a heart attack and I felt like I was dying.  That was the first time I had a panic attack.  I was so scared, I had my partner take me to ER.  They conducted a series of tests, including a very uncomfortable moment where a Q-tip was in my butthole to test for numbness! They couldn't find anything and suggested it was caused by anxiety.  Anxiety? I thought I'd been anxious before, butterflies in the stomach before a public presentation but this? This was something very foreign and very scary to me.  From July 16, 2013 to sometime in January 2014 I lived with this anxiety, it followed me wherever I went, whatever I was doing.  
It's not like my life slowed down during this time, in fact I continued to work full-time, co-founded a non-profit, started a part-time fashion job, volunteered and went on vacations.  But my mind was erratic, dark and terrified.  I was crying almost everyday, and not just in the comfort of my own home but at the gym, while running errands and hanging out with friends. One time I was hysterically bawling at the post office with people staring and whispering but I couldn't stop. I didn't know what was wrong with me, half of the time I didn't even know why I was crying.  I saw my Doctor almost every week, a Hematologist, and a Neurologist and still nothing seemed to be physically wrong with me except severe anxiety. I was referred to a Hospital Psychiatrist for an intake and he told me I should 'strap my balls on'.  I ended up in ER again a few months later, this time because I temporarily lost my vision while taking a shower.  I fell to my knees, everything went black and I stared dry heaving.  I was referred to an eye clinic and again, nothing was wrong, probably just a panic attack. 
I was getting fed up with living my life one day at a time and not knowing what in the hell was wrong with me.  I didn't want to kill myself but I just didn't want to wake up, I wanted to die in my sleep because every morning I woke up to a living nightmare and I didn't know how to get out.  I tried everything I could think of, from Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, journaling, practicing mindfulness, attending church for the first time in many years, yoga, cutting out alcohol and refined sugar, eating meat, not eating meat, working out everyday, meditation, passionflower extract, relaxation candles, praying and hot baths.  I lost almost fifteen pounds and looked gaunt and sickly. I took sleeping pills and tried three different anti-depressants.  The side effects made me feel suicidal and gave me migraines so bad I couldn't leave my bed one weekend.  I consulted online depression and anxiety forums but gained little relief from knowing there were other people going through the same illness because I didn't know them and they didn't know me.  

 In October, my partner took me on a 11 day Caribbean cruise in hopes that a break from everyday life would make me feel better.  In fact, it made me feel worse, I fantasized about jumping off the cruise ship, I cried in our tiny cabin's shower and I assumed everyone on the boat could tell I was losing my mind.  I wanted to appreciate this loving gesture but instead I just wanted to go back home and try to sleep.  As someone who needs to sleep 8-12 hours a night, the insomnia just added to my anxiety levels.  The health anxiety morphed from a fear of having MS to a fear of myself dying, my loved ones dying, becoming blind and a fear of ending up in a mental institution.  The latter notion is what scared me (and still scares me) the most.  I remember wondering what the meaning of life is, why are we here, what is our purpose.
Throughout these six months of hell, my friends, partner and family were remarkable.  My partner held me when I cried, took me on car rides for a change in scenery and we became biking enthusiasts (even though I would often be crying hysterically while biking).  My best friend came over almost everyday, played tennis with me, let me cry and sent me motivational quotes.  Another friend introduced me to the therapeutic exercise of gardening and cooked delicious and healthy meals for me.  My Dad emphasized with me as someone who lives with and manages his health anxiety and he financed a flight to visit family in Nova Scotia.  My sister called me often even when I didn't want to talk, and told me everything would be ok.  My Mum flew up to Ottawa twice and spent weeks with us, making meals and cleaning up, chores that suddenly seemed overwhelming and ominous.  I also started to see a wonderful Psychiatrist for an hour a week.  She didn't make me feel crazy and she prescribed me Cipralex, the only antidepressant that started to make me feel better, like I could see the light at the end of the tunnel.   
I don't know exactly when or how the anxiety started to dissipate but shortly after Christmas I realized my mind was more at peace, I wasn't having suicidal thoughts and I was singing in the shower instead of crying. The relief of starting to feel like myself again and not overanalyzing everything or having to carry my Clonazepam (an addictive narcotic prescribed on a short-term basis for anxiety) everywhere I went was so comforting, it was like the black dog (how Winston Churchill referred to his depression) had stopped lurking in the shadows.

Surviving a nervous breakdown, makes me feel both strong but also vulnerable because I've experienced firsthand the power of the mind/body connection.  Even writing this brought on some anxiety as it's almost like reliving the horrific experience.  Although I mostly only cry now when PMS'ing and watching sappy commercials and the majority of days are great, I still have bad moments when the mean reds come out to play. Just like with a physical illness, recovering from mental illness is a process of recovery and it can take time.

Why am I sharing this with you? In my darkest moments, it helped a little to know that people I perceived as 'normal' (what's normal anyways?) had gone through struggles with mental illness.  Like  fashion blogger Kendi Everyday for example.  1 in 5 Canadians will personally experience mental illness at some point in their lives, but it's still stigmatized, it's almost a taboo to talk about.  As a result I never felt comfortable telling my employers what I was going through and often felt alone in my struggle.

 Imagine if we could talk about mental illness as easily as we could physical illness, the relief it would be for us struggling and the understanding it could provide for those around us.  Online campaigns like Bell Let's Talk are starting the conversations but we need to keep talking, year round!


If this post resonates with someone or helps in any way, I would love to hear about it in the comments below or via e-mail at tinfoilstiaras{at}gmail{dot}com Together, let's remove the stigma and work towards positive mental health!


  1. Wow Em, what a powerful post. I'm so happy you're finally feeling like yourself again! And thanks for sharing your story, it takes a lot of courage. So many people can relate including myself. Family and friends truly do make a world of difference in hard times. Keep shining <3

  2. Oh, dear Em...this made me cry...a combined horror of that dark time and relief that you got through it. Your personal strength and determination, as well as the willingness to accept medical/psychiatric help is a credit to you. You are dearly loved. xoxoxoxo Mum

  3. This is so powerful. I never would have known you were suffering through any of this. It is so brave for you to share your story. Thank you so much for letting us into this part of your life. It will help so many people.

  4. So sorry to hear you are have gone with all this. I'm happy to hear you are getting better. If you every just want to talk about whatever. Feel free to e-mail me. Hugs

  5. This was a really good post. It's good to know that we're not alone when we're going through dark times. Take care of yourself...

  6. I applaud you for getting through your experience and not giving up. I can never compare my situation with yours, however I have been dealing with daily nerve pain since 2007 and understand the frustrations of finding help. It's difficult to find a medical practitioner who will respect you and believe in you. I had doctors tell me it was all in my head, ask me how my marriage was doing or simply blowing me off. During that time, I cried all the time and went through depression that was at times scary. I felt no one understood what I was going through because my physical pain was not visible. I fortunately found a doctor who gave me my life back. I take daily medication, which is actually prescribed for depression, that takes the edge off of the pain. It helps me function. Although my life will never be the same, I can deal with my limitations and live life again. I enjoy those moments when I'm feeling good, to the fullest :) I hope that your health continues to improve and that you are happy!

  7. Without going into any details I can totally relate to this post and many of the things you went through . It was very brave of you to write this post.

  8. Hi Emily
    I have a child that suffers from anxiety and depression
    It is an extremely hard and misunderstood disorder
    I applaud your courage and bravery for posting about it
    I actually have the strength quote on our giant chalk board we have in our family area right now
    Stay encouraged and don't give up
    Have a great weekend

  9. Em, what a powerful post. Thank you for writing this. I haven't had a particular anxiety attack but I'm a very axious person. When I feel like I'm losing control, it gets bad. When I'm uncomfortable with anyone, it's bad. I have food anxieties about eating food that's gone bad, or not properly cooking my meat. I can't eat fast food because I fear it's hasn't been "kept" properly cause the kids behind the counter don't care. I know it seems a little weird, but it's me. I don't know how to fix it, so I honestly just do my best to deal wth it and try and rationalize if I think I'm being too

  10. ... Extreme (dunno what just happened there). But hey. It happens,. Everyone has. Their demons to fight. And I'm so happy you've come out of it stronger and more aware of yourself than ever before. Sometimes it takes extreme cases to learn about ourselves and although it sounds like it was hell, you're stronger for it.
    Thanks for sharing.

  11. What a strong post Emily. The last graphic especially speaks to how depression/anxiety is treated. I love how loving your family and friends were to you. Many times when we're feeling the "mean reds" we just want to isolate and push people away. I'm extra happy you are coming through all of this. Hugs

  12. Thank for your courage in sharing your struggles Emily and I emphasize with what you've been through. I'm glad you had such a strong and supportive network around you and that you've starting to find techniques to help you cope with your anxiety. Mental illness is not something to take lightly and just because the symptoms are not as easily or objectively measurable doesn't make what people are going through any less real. I hope your story helps others feeling the way you do.

  13. Good for you, Emily, to talk about this. While mental illness still has a stigma, it's more common than people believe and we need to have sympathy for those suffering from it. I'm glad you're feeling better.

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  15. Hi Emily I love your blog and miss it. Any chances you would start again?

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One of my daily joys is reading the lovely comments you leave. It may take a day or two (or three, depending on how hectic life gets!) but I will stop by your slice of the blogosphere soon! xo Emily