I Found My Strong: Shari's Story

It was a typical day at the office --early morning coffee talk, phone lines ringing off the hook and a full schedule of client meetings ahead.  A few hours later, it would soon turn out to be a day I would never forget.  A day “IT” happened – something so profound it would change my life forever.  

As I scrolled through my emails, killing time before my next meeting, I noticed my heart started beating a little faster than usual. My hands became clammy, the room started to spin and I started to sink deeper into an unexpected nervous tizzy. I felt nauseous and dizzy and about to lose control of every bodily function in the middle of my office. I dashed through the cubicles and bolted out the door to the bathroom where I threw some cold water on my face. Concerned by my abrupt exit, my co-worker followed me in to find me now laying on the floor, white as a ghost, hyperventilating, sweating and terrified I was dying.  She called 911 and off I went… carried out on a stretcher, oxygen mask over face and loaded up into the ambulance as my coworkers (heck the entire building) witnessed my spectacle.

[MORTIFIED]

This was the first of many 911 calls and ambulance rides spent vomiting, shaking, dehydrated and delirious as the EMT’s transported me to the nearest emergency room. But, I was not dying. 

I was panicking.

Throughout my life, I have experienced periods of stress-induced anxiety and depression but this… this was something I would never wish on my worst enemy.

About a year and a half after my first son Ethan was born, the stress of life in general started to take its toll on my husband and me. For one, and like many others, the burden of the infamous burst in the real estate bubble started to take over our lives. It felt as if each day we were treading water, trying to stay afloat. I was at risk for losing my job, we were receiving “letters of intent” from the bank to foreclose on our home, dealing with the loss of two family dogs, a very ill family member miles away, struggling financially…  and the list goes on and on.  All this, while we were still adjusting to our new life responsibilities as first-time parents, hundreds of miles away from our immediate family.

I was losing steam, to say the least … and well, it kicked my ass.

After experiencing my first few major panic episodes, my fear and anxiety of having another attack started to consume me.  

They were absolutely TERRIFYING.  

For those who have been fortunate enough to never endure the wrath of a panic attack, let me try and paint a picture to help you understand the experience a bit more clearly.

First, starts the sudden onset of a burning sensation in your chest, followed by an increasingly rapid heartbeat. You become delusional with the fear that you are dying. You start to tremble, but soon the trembling intensifies into uncontrollable shaking. You become weak. Your feet and hands start sweating and you find yourself alternating from burning up to becoming too cold. At times, it feels as if your throat is closing and you can’t get enough air into your lungs. You begin to hyperventilate, creating an extreme sensation of light-headedness while the room is spinning around you. You no longer have the strength to stand up as your arms and legs start to tingle, then eventually go completely numb. As if that wasn’t enough fun, nausea starts setting in – at times you begin vomiting while losing control of your bowels at the same time.  Your mouth feels as dry as cotton. You want to run to the bathroom, or get up and just run away somewhere… anywhere… but you can’t… you can’t move.  You’re paralyzed – trapped in your own body – screaming inside for help, but unable to physically speak a word aloud.  Not… one… word.  

Then repeat.

Experiencing a panic attack is like having your body taken over by an unknown, very powerful, uncontrollable force. Your mind and your body are under attack. The aftermath leaves you extremely drained and somewhat dysfunctional for hours following each episode.  

Can you feel me?  Good times, right? Let’s move on.

The more my life with general anxiety disorder progressed, the more I started to feel the walls closing in around me. I was in constant combat mode, just waiting for my next big attack.  

When will it happen?  Where will I be? Who will be around me when it happens? What will people think of me?  Will I survive? Am I going to die?

A symphony of “what if’s” started transforming my simple everyday activities into painful, nearly impossible tasks. I woke up each morning in fear--simply terrified to head out on my morning commute to work. Trips to the pediatrician, the grocery store, a school event, the park…it all made me anxious. 

My world was growing smaller and smaller.

My house became my “safe place”, my husband my “safe person”. I found myself not being able to go anywhere without him.  At one point, he even took a day off from work to drive me to a client meeting that was over an hour away.  Even then, as we drove farther and farther away from my safe place, I couldn’t make it and forced him to turn around. 

Over and over I was either coming up with lame excuses to cover up why I never showed up or forced to reveal my “deep dark secret” to members of the “outside”.

The more I withdrew from my normal life, the more ashamed and worthless I felt. I was terrified to be left alone, especially with my son. Some days, taking a trip down the driveway to my mailbox was too daunting of a task. Xanax was my only vice to gather up any last ounce of confidence and strength to make it through each day. 

Some days I prayed I’d be committed to a mental institution. Some days I just wanted to surrender and die.  

One day, by the grace of God… I found the strength to get REAL with myself. “FUCK YOU, SHARI!” [Insert mental bitch slap.] “You have worked too hard, have so much going for you, way too many people that love and care about you…  YOU ARE NOT GOING TO END YOUR STORY LIKE THIS!”  

I was ready.  Ready to take control back of myself and ready to live the awesome life I deserved. 

Sure, it took 150% commitment, months of therapy learning about myself, environmental factors that triggered my anxiety and retraining my brain on ways to best manage my condition. I bought workbooks, CD’s, religiously meditated before bed, I practiced every new technique that was introduced to me. Slowly but surely, I started to recover. And, there it was…

I had found MY STRONG.

I was living again, back out in the hustle and bustle of daily life. It was LIBERATING. 

By no means is my journey over. I still have things to learn, practice and master. I still have days, even weeks of setbacks, but each new setback eventually propels me forward just a little bit further each time in my journey.

I am grateful for the opportunity God handed me to overcome and conquer. I am grateful for my new-found discovery of strength that guided me through this very important lesson. 

“I CAN take on whatever life throws my way and I WILL come out ahead.”  

“I am damn proud of my story.”  

“I am empowered.”  

“Life is good.”  

“I am STRONG.” 

EMBRACE YOUR STRONG™

XOXO

~ Shari


{About This Story}

Shari is the owner of Fit Girls Republic and Founder of The Embrace Your Strong™ Project.  She is dedicated to inspiring women of all ages to recognize and celebrate their strengths and abilities for influencing positive change in their lives and others. Shari is a full-time working mom of 3 young children and currently resides in South Florida.  

You can follow Shari and the The Embrace Your Strong™ Community on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @embraceyourstrong.

And check out their amazing website at: www.embraceyourstrong.com