My Anxiety Makes Me Physically Ill

Originally Published: 
Portrait of a woman with a sad expression on her face
Julia Meslener for Scary Mommy and Tom Kelley Archive/Getty

My son flipped his car over a few months ago. He called me and said, “Mom, I am fine, but my car is upside down in a ditch and I need you to come get me. The cops are on their way and it looks really bad so please don’t freak out.”

My kids don’t say things like this to me just to save themselves from my wrath. It’s also because they know my anxiety takes over.

They’ve watched me throw up in the sink while trying to change the bathroom fan. It was a few days after their father moved out. He was the one who handled all that stuff and I thought I’d be fine handling the home repairs myself.

I wasn’t.

And in that moment, as my hands were over my head fucking with that damn fan for just a little bit too long, I knew I wouldn’t be able to figure it out on my own. From there, I realized I was the only adult in the house. Then I started to wonder how I was going to make out financially. Also, how could I let another man see my body after having so many kids?

One minute I was flexing in the mirror all fired up to change the fan. I’d watched the YouTube videos and was looking forward to knocking it off the list.

The next, I was so taken over by anxiety my body was trying to expel it by puking.

I’ve always been an anxious over-thinker. But throw some kids in the mix, topped with a divorce and perimenopause, and I feel like my anxiety has control over me.

I am not able to talk myself down a lot of the time. Especially if something really shakes me, like when my son got in the accident. After I saw the car, I wasn’t sure how he got out of it. I was in a daze as the police officer was asking him questions. I had to remind myself to breathe. That night, I couldn’t sleep. I had chills, then came the diarrhea.

The next day, I couldn’t focus. My body felt like I’d had a bout of the flu and I kept forgetting small things, like my keys when I left the house, and where I kept the Q-tips.

I felt those symptoms for almost a week. Now, a few months later, I still have nightmares, and it’s really hard for me to think about that day, because I’m right back in that moment and my mind keeps telling me what could have happened. I feel like the only way to calm my nerves is to never allow him to drive again, but that’s not rational.

Physical symptoms of anxiety are very real. I used to think when I got stressed out, I was just coming down with something or I was having symptoms of PMS even if I was nearly done with my period.

I shut down in a lot of ways, and when my anxiety is at its peak, it’s hard for me to put into words what is wrong or what I need.

So I stay silent and it festers until it can’t fester any longer. Then it takes over and says, “If you aren’t going to deal with me, I am going to make you pay. I will hurt you and make you confused so you have no choice but to stop instead of plowing through life thinking I am going to go away. I will not.”

There are times when I get nervous or stressed, and I allow it to pass through my body and I feel okay, but they’re few and far between.

Usually, my worry and fear can become so overwhelming I want to get rid of it. I want something to happen instantly to take it away because I know what will happen: it will manifest and turn into this huge thing I can’t get a grip on.

In an article for SELF, Mona Potter, M.D., medical director at McLean Anxiety Mastery Program in Boston says, “When a person experiences anxiety, it’s essentially the fight-or-flight system kicking in and saying, ‘Danger!’”

This doesn’t always look like your typical sweaty palms and the racing heart you get when you see your crush, or have to make a speech.

SELF reports it can turn quickly into headaches, nausea, exhaustion, not being able to focus, digestive issues, a run-down immune system, and a tight throat.

The one thing I’ve learned since it feels like my anxiety is on steroids is that I am not alone in this. The more I talk about it (and not hide like I used to) the more I find people who are struggling and with the same thing.

Remember, anxiety doesn’t just go away for some people. It can make you feel physically ill. And if you are one of them, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Talk to your doctor or a therapist. There are ways to make your physical signs of anxiety more manageable.

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