The Start of a Beautiful Friendship

Before I go starting off with what I have to offer, I wanted to take some time out to tell you about myself. After all, why should you care about my opinions, tips and tricks if you don’t even know me? This is where I plan to change that.

In case you missed it from the Bio page, my name is Kelly Engelman. I’ve been around for 27 years and I have lived with an anxiety disorder through every last one of them. I have an older brother, who married a wonderful woman and they provided me with two pretty sweet kids that I get to cause trouble with. I’ve been dating my best friend for about a year now. We’ve known each other since our Sophomore year of high school and I wouldn’t trade him for the world (although I might consider it for a box of custard donuts.) It took us a long time to get together, but I had a lot of growing up to do. In the end it’s better we waited. I have two amazing parents who were my biggest supporters and taught me a lot in life. My Mom taught me to be tough, while my Dad taught me to work hard. These are two traits that I take the most pride in, and two traits I’ll expand on in future posts. My Mom, who also suffered from anxiety (thank you genetics,) passed away in 2014 from Stage 4 Lung Cancer and my world changed forever. This experience set me on my current path in life. I was no longer meek and mild. I was no longer the person to sit on the side-lines. I had to grow up, and I did. Faster than I would’ve liked.

I was always a nervous child. When I was a baby I’d scream, and cry any time anyone I didn’t know held me. I wouldn’t high five strangers. I wouldn’t say hello to anyone. I was shy. I was timid. I was afraid. This carried over into school years. I had hearing issues (several sets of tubes, surgeries and appointments later and I’m still deaf in one ear), I stuttered, I had a lisp. I had glasses, and braces. I was the kid that other kids picked on, because I was different. Because I was shy. I was timid. I was afraid. I was an easy target. I cried easily, I was always afraid of this, that, or the other happening. I would imagine scenarios that didn’t actually exist and get upset about them. I didn’t realize it when I was a kid, but now that I know better, my anxiety played a huge factor in the bullying. And furthermore, the bullying played a huge factor on my anxiety.

The first panic attack I can vividly remember was when I rode the Screaming Eagle at Six Flags for the first time. I can remember even still the hyperventilating, the screaming, my eyes going black, the numbness in my fingers and toes, the crying, the pressure in my ears, the feeling that I was going to die. I remember my friend’s parents having to actually pick me up out of the seat and guide me to a place where I could calm down. I didn’t know then what was happening to me. Anxiety wasn’t talked about much in my house. Even with the history of anxiety in my household, you were “over-reacting” and just “needed to calm down.” I knew my Mom had panic attacks, but I never knew what they were like.

The second panic attack I can vividly remember is the first time I accidentally drove on the highway. My mom was afraid of highways and would have panic attacks if she drove on them. Therefore, they were scary to me too. I had been taught this thought process and my brain knew nothing other than “Mom is afraid of it, so you should be too.” I had my license and I drove back streets everywhere. You wanted to get somewhere fast? Too bad. We’re tacking on another half hour to our drive because I can’t drive the highway. My now boyfriend (friend at the time), Jay, and I were driving to pick up a friend from her hotel at the airport. If any of you have ever been to St. Louis, you know that the airport can be a tricky place if you’re trying to avoid highways. I took a wrong turn and all of a sudden, there was the highway. I can remember yelling “NO! I can’t drive on the highway! What do I do?!” Queue the start of a panic attack. So here I am, losing it while driving on the highway, trying to understand what is happening to me and Jay in the passenger seat trying to figure out a plan of attack. Having never witnessed a panic attack before, he calmly talked me through it and helped guide me to an exit ramp so that I could pull over. I put the car in park and absolutely lost it. Full blown panic attack. He hugged me and talked to me until I was able to calm down. He then drove my awful car the rest of the evening. Should’ve known then that he’d be the one I’d end up with in life, stupid me for waiting so long!

Since then, I’ve had so many panic attacks I can’t even keep count. Sometimes they come with a warning, other times they don’t. I’ve become high functioning with my disability. By forcing myself to confront my anxiety disorder head on and teaching myself calming techniques for when I’m alone and one creeps in. As they sometimes do, panic attacks can morph and hit differently at different times. Often, instead of the hyperventilating, I mostly experience cold sweats, a rush of fear, an elevated heart rate and a racing mind. I’ve worked hard to combat this as well, although these are different and have developed over recent years.

I am no psychologist. I am no psychiatrist. I am not a licensed physician. You should consult your doctor if you experience any of the symptoms I have described above. Medicine can and will often help in these situations. Talking with a professional can and will often help in these situations. I am not here to tell you how to get rid of your anxiety. I hate to break it to you, but that’s not how anxiety works. My goal here is to be a beacon of hope for those with the disorder. I’m here to show that despite the disability, I have been able to lead a fulfilling life. I have been able to manage a successful career and toggle several sources of income. I have been able to spend time with my family, and love hard. How do I do that? By being open about my anxiety/ panic disorder. By eliminating the stigma. By speaking loud and proud. My disorder is a big part of me, but I am not my disorder. I am much more, and so are you.

Join me on this beautiful journey, where we can be open and honest with each other. Celebrate our accolades and discuss our misses. Where you know that you are not alone.

I look forward to getting to know you.

The Anxious Flamingo.

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