I used to be riddled with anxiety. I’m talking major, major anxiety mixed with a tendency towards panic attacks and depression. I was really struggling.
With time, resolve, and a LOT of hard work, I overcame many of my issues. Conquering my fears one by one – from my phobia of dogs to my phobia of open water and so on, I found that as I conquered my fears, my self-confidence grew. As my self-confidence grew, the better I got at taking care of myself — making exercise and healthy eating a priority (as well as a passion).
The biggest test of me overcoming my anxiety was taking on jiu-jitsu. I had reached a point where I had confronted and tackled several issues/hang ups/fears. I then asked myself – Ok, what’s your worst case scenario? My answer: being pinned to the ground with someone on top of me.
Sure enough, learning jiu-jitsu had the answer to my scenario, and over the past 5 years, my jiu-jitsu training has played a pivotal role in my life … not just learning techniques for myself but also teaching techniques to others.
Unless you have actually experienced anxiety, panic attacks, and depression for yourself, you really have no idea how bad it can be. Situations that seem harmless or problems that seem to have simple solutions are not that simple. It has nothing to do with being dramatic or seeking attention (as many are accused of), nor is it something that you can simply ‘get over’ or ‘shake off.’ The seeds of anxiety are deeply planted and it takes an enormous amount of strength to uproot them.
It took me several years to overcome my fears, and when I did, a new version of me appeared. I was happy. I was confident. I was looking forward to life. Even though I knew there were still uncertainties in my future, I did not let the ‘fear’ of the unknown take over my life. I learned how to take things in stride. I still struggled. I still had a few setbacks. However, I continued to rally and fight forward.
June 5, 2017 – my brother died at the age of 33.
Although he had been sick for 3 years, his passing was a total shock. He was such a fighter. He had such an amazing attitude. He was so very, very brave.
Never, ever, ever in a million years did I think that something like this would happen. Nothing that I had ever read, experienced, or heard could have prepared me for the onslaught of emotions. And still now, even though I know it is true, I can’t believe it. I just can’t believe he is gone.
It all started with the phone call. The phone call at around 3:30 that morning … and then the long, agonizing wait until 10:00 p.m. which is when my flight departed … and then the 16 hours of traveling before I landed at home. All the waiting. All the sitting in solitude. All the silence just led to the build up of anxiety and stress and insane emotions.
Despite tears flowing throughout the day, the disbelief in what had happened made it difficult to process everything. It caused my heart to race, and with my heart racing, I had difficulty breathing, and with my difficulty breathing, I felt like I was losing control, and with the sense of loss of control, I felt panic. I found it so hard to calm myself down because there was no relief from the emotion and the devastating sadness.
For the first time in decades, my hesitations about flying came flooding back. Am I insane for strapping myself to this chair that is on this huge metal vessel that is about to fly through the air? I was desperate for something to help me calm down and sleep – just to pass the time. I focused on just taking deep breaths in the the hope that it would help calm me down. Throughout the journey I tried to drink plenty of water and eat fruit to try and minimize toxins and extra ‘stuff’ in my body.
Every time I approached an escalator or long hallway, it felt like it was closing down on me. I almost completely lost it in Doha airport as I was walking to my gate. Each step felt slow and heavy. My vision was narrowing. I knew that if I didn’t compose myself I would lose my mind right there — and the only thing that stopped me from breaking down was the thought that if I did, they might not let me get on the plane and then I wouldn’t get a chance to see my brother one last time.
It’s been 25 days since it happened, and the rise in my anxiety is really affecting me. I feel like I’m a pot of water with a lid on it and the water inside is just simmering and bubbling enough to unsettle the lid … and at any time it’s either going to explode or overflow. That bubbling feeling makes me feel sick – physically sick.
The thought of going out and seeing other people brings me on the verge of a panic attack. There are too many unknowns. I do not know what they will say. I do not know how I will react. I know they will say they are sorry for my loss and some will ask questions and I don’t know how I will handle it. More than anything, I cannot bring myself to say any more times that my brother died. It hurts me too much. I am not in denial. I am just in so much pain.
The one ‘good’ thing about it all is I know what is happening and I know the source of my anxiety. Before, I didn’t know (or didn’t allow myself to recognize) the source. The frustrating thing, however, is that even though I know what is happening, it is still hard to control. I can’t just stay to myself – oh, it’s anxiety – and the recognition just switches it off. Instead, I’m recongizing that I am suffering and that the emotional pain I am feeling is not only real, but it is justified. I am trying to be patient with myself and just focus on taking the time I need to heal.
At the same time, the saying ‘life goes on’ is true. There are things I need to do. There are meetings I need to keep. My existence was not just as Ahmed’s sister – but I am also a wife, a daughter, a teacher, a mentor, a friend.
I find that working in small chunks of time and really keeping my movements and tasks simple help. I try to focus on one task at a time. As soon as I try to do too much, I feel like it opens up little cracks that allows the anxiety to rush back in. One task at a time is good. I’m only doing the minimum of what I need to do in terms of interacting with the outside world.
The time when I have found the most relief is when I’m teaching private one-on-one jiu-jitsu classes. It’s the only time when I give 100% focus and attention to my students and feel like I am in my element with enthusiastic and passionate teaching. As much as I want to return to jiu-jitsu class, my fear of going out and seeing others is holding me back. I haven’t been able to bring myself to do it so I’m just trying to do my own training at home with D.
I don’t know when things will get better or when they will change … right now it’s tough. Everything is an effort – even remembering to breathe. I guess only time will tell.