Pulling Back the Curtain: My Anxiety Story

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Happy outside, struggling inside.

You can’t tell, but this picture was taken during a time when I was having multiple panic attacks a day. A time when I was so overwhelmed with anxiety that I didn’t leave my house or talk on the phone for more than three months. Most people don’t know about my struggle with anxiety but I think it’s time to talk openly about how my deepest challenge has become my greatest success.

Some things you should know about me… I’ve always been tenacious. Stubborn really. Maybe it’s the red hair but I have done a lot in my life by sheer force of will. I’ve been on live broadcast news, I’ve run several businesses, I’ve spoken in front of audiences of 300+ people, I even won a beauty pageant once (true story). I see something I want to do and I do it. I am smart, passionate and driven.

First Came the Wake Up Call

When my brother died in an accident at our family business in 2010, it sparked a fire in me to pursue my dreams like never before. Life felt fragile and fleeting. I signed a lease for a 2,000 sq ft office to open a perinatal wellness center. I worked harder than ever and at one point was managing 5 different small businesses with multiple partners (massage, CBE, doula, placenta, freelance design).

Then Came the Crash

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Just a few days after going into code blue anaphylactic shock during chemotherapy. We can do hard things!

On January 31, 2012 my son was diagnosed with cancer. No matter what my preferences might have been, continuing my businesses was not an option. We were at the hospital 2-7 days a week for 4 hours minimum and the majority of that was completely unpredictable. I had to manage his treatment plan and his side effects. It was quite literally a full time job. Getting a shower was a victory. Going a full day without crying was a feat.

But slowly, slowly I found a new normal. I discovered that my doula skills were one of my greatest assets in managing my son’s treatment. I eventually started working on small projects and serving clients again. I fundraised for childhood cancer research. We went on Ethan’s Make a Wish trip. Life felt vibrant.

Then Came Rock Bottom

In winter of 2013-2014 my body literally broke down. My adrenals were shot. Too much stress for too long. I started having massive panic attacks. In the car. On the phone. With friends. Alone. My panic attacks were full body episodes that, specifically, were tied to my gut.

For someone like me who was used to accomplishing almost anything I set my mind to, it was devastating. I couldn’t leave the house, I couldn’t make phone calls and I couldn’t even answer the front door. For three long months I saw no-one but my family and best friend Serena.

I finally had the courage to seek help and begin to heal. It was a very long process that included naturopathic medicine, western medicine, hypnosis, prayer and a lot of good old fashioned patience.

Learning to Live with Anxiety: My Best Tips

I’m not sure I will every be “cured” of anxiety. Those of you who have experienced it know that it can be a vicious cycle. You get anxiety about having anxiety. It’s hard to put the genie back in the bottle. Nevertheless, I have learned what tools I can use to manage my life.

  • Always have a plan A, B, C, D, E & F: I have spent a lot of time developing patterns and tools to use as layers of defense against panic attacks. If you have anxiety, don’t let yourself get into a position where there are no options. Since anxiety is anticipatory in nature, know how you would handle eventualities and create a “toolkit” for yourself.
  • Choose a passion project: During the darkest days of my anxiety I needed something to live for, quite frankly. I had nothing to do and nowhere to go. I could have easily sank into a suicidal depression. Instead I decided to create Grow Your Birth Business. It was me, my computer and the will to live bigger than my limitations. I could still find a way to change the world even if I couldn’t leave the house. If you are struggling with anxiety, find something to invest yourself deeply in.
  • Accept help: I continued my local placenta business during my worst phase of anxiety by bringing on partners to help me. They handled in-person client communication. I still encapsulated dozens of placentas. I enlisted my family to assist in many ways. My mother helped manage my son’s treatment. My husband fully supported my business goals and picked up a lot of slack at home. I wasn’t a freeloader by any means but I learned what I could and couldn’t manage by myself.
  • Speaking on the stage at Marisa Murgatroyd's Message to Money event in LA.

    Speaking on the stage at Marisa Murgatroyd’s Message to Money event in LA.

    Take small steps: In early 2014 my goal was to find a way to attend my family reunion in Michigan during the summer. I stretched myself slowly but surely to the point where I was able to get on that plane. Later in 2014 my goal was to offer live marketing webinars and have a table at the DONA/Lamaze conference. I did both! In 2015 my goal was to teach workshops, have a big No-Mo-Chemo party for my son and complete a full year mentoring program that required multiple trips to LA. I met those goals. I won’t lie, every step of the way was hard. It doesn’t matter how slow you are going as long as you are making progress.

Changing the Conversation About Anxiety

Mental health issues can carry a lot of shame and stigma. A competitor found out about my anxiety and tried to use it as a weapon against me by telling people that I couldn’t possibly provide a quality marketing training because of it. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I am a stronger person because of my anxiety. I am a more empathic person because of my anxiety. I am better in tune with my body because of my anxiety. I have better boundaries because of my anxiety. I had a lot of time on my hands to learn, train and perfect my craft because of my anxiety.

I’m not ashamed of my anxiety, I’m proud of it and everything I have accomplished. So, to the trolls, haters and bullies I say: My brother’s death didn’t beat me, my son’s cancer didn’t beat me, my anxiety didn’t beat me, what makes you think anything you say or do can beat me?

I built my entire business while battling anxiety and my son’s leukemia. Whatever you are facing, you can overcome it!

If you are struggling or have previously struggled with anxiety I want to give you hope that you can have a business that works for you. Maybe it won’t be exactly what you imagined but I have faith in your ability to conquer your fears and work towards your goals.

I’d love to hear from you if you are on this path. You’re not alone. Let’s pull back the curtain.