I’ve been meeting with my doctor at the Emily Program now since October . We really click and although it still feels like he is learning about me, the conversations we’ve had have been really eye-opening. Recently, the conversation came around to my thinking process and how sometimes, I feel like I am my own worst enemy, often making things worse than they need to be. I shared with him a story about one of the first days back to work after my surgery.

I remember sitting down and feeling overwhelmed about my inbox. My heart-rate raced thinking of what could be in my inbox. My breath sped up thinking about all the possibilities. My mind raced thinking about what I was about to face.

I remember thinking “oh, I should go get a piece of chocolate before I dig in since I’m pretty sure I’ll be there for awhile.” So I did. It wasn’t a binge but just a Hershey’s Kiss or 2. I sat back down and remember checking the voice-mail on my phone. Then I looked to see if I had any text messages. Then I checked it again. I checked my voicemail again. Then I read the email I just received and deleted it. And when it came time to begin going through the old messages… it started over.

I remember sitting and feeling overwhelmed about my inbox. My heart-rate raced thinking of what could be in my inbox. My breath sped up thinking about all the possibilities. My mind raced thinking about what I was about to face.

I remember thinking “oh, I should go get a piece of chocolate before I dig in since I’m pretty sure I’ll be there for awhile.” So I did.

That happened 3 times, each time my heart rate increased a little faster than before and I couldn’t concentrate enough to just check the emails. Finally when I opened the emails, it took me all of 20 minutes to read everything.Β  All of the anxiety for what? I shared with my therapist another example.

It was 4 days after the tornado. I was an emotional wreck. It was as if my world had collapsed around me and all I could do was stand numb in the midst of all that disaster.

Carlos had asked me to go to The Home Depot with him so I got my shoes on. As we were about to leave, he asked if I had any mail that needed to go out. I sat quiet for a moment, trying to remember what had happened the days before until I remembered a few items I needed to put together. I nodded to Carlos but told him we should just go. He started to object, saying we had time for me to grab what I needed but I interrupted “Carlos, let’s just go – we don’t have time. Come on.”

I remember my breath speeding up, my heart beating faster and faster. I was getting hot and my mind was racing. How in the world was I suppose to stop what I was doing to put together the items that needed to get into the mail when a tornado had ripped apart my world? It was just too much. Just too much. Just too much. A dramatic moment – it was as if I threw the back of my hand up to my forehead and whimpered “Oh, my dear, Lordy Almighty, this is just too much for my poor soul!

Carlos’ voice broke through the thoughts speeding through my mind. “Jen, just go get the stuff. We have time.” Frustrated, I marched off feeling overwhelmed. My chest pounded with heaviness and I was ready to cry. I came back 5 minutes later and Carlos, still standing in the door way, looked at me and said “are you kidding? that’s it? You have everything? Why were you so worked up, it didn’t even take you that long!

My entire life, I’ve always thought about the future. I planned conversations, replayed how I thought things were going to go over and over in my head. I thought about possible scenarios’, thinking about how I would respond when someone said something. And when they didn’t, I would play out new scenarios.Β  It’s what made me good at meeting planning. It’s what makes me good at HR. Because I think ahead.

And then mom died.

I never use to get so worked up emotionally. But now… now my mind goes right to the worst case scenario. Because the worst case scenario happened. My chest tightens and I lose my breath. My heart races until it is beating outside my chest. The thoughts in my mind are so fast and loud, I cannot make sense of them.Β 

Sometimes, when Carlos plays poker he turns his phone off to save the battery. Poker games can last hours and hours, late into the night. There have been multiple times over the past 2 years when Carlos has had his phone off and was later than he originally anticipated on coming home – but because his phone was off, he has missed my call & text checking in on him. I’m somewhat embarrassed to say I’ve spent hours calling hospitals because in my mind, he was found dead in a ditch. Worst case scenario.

As my therapist and I talked through things, it dawned on me. Anxiety. When you see me, I am smiling. But anxiety creeps up and tackles me from behind, plaguing me with worst case scenarios. It is a faceless ailment. It’s attempt to prepare me for the worst because that’s what happened. It’s effort to brace myself. To anticipate the bad news with the hopes that somehow, I can be ready for it. Behind the smile, my thoughts implode in my mind.

Of course — it all makes sense. My emotional equilibrium was karate-chopped into some off-kiltered balance throwing my emotional sense of control out of whack. I am lucky in that it isn’t a debilitating effect, my anxiety. It is tiring and draining but I have been functional. But it means I’ve stopped living in the now because I’m too worried about the future.

My goals include slowing down. On life. On the happenings of what I try to fit into my schedule. It means trying to be present in the conversation. It means fighting to be in the moment.

Life. Life is meant to be lived. Not worried about.


  1. Jen, what you are describing is very similar to something my 22 year old daughter experienced this past year or two. She’s a senior away at college and began having anxiety “moments” (not really anxiety or panic attacks) and would worry about her dad and me and that something would happen to us. She had to talk to us every night at 9:50 p.m. If we didn’t answer for some reason, she panicked that something had happened. I think it all started in her freshman year when her dad was laid off and her boyfriend’s father died of cancer. What has helped her this fall semester was going to talk to a psychologist over the summer and having him prescribe some medicine for her. It really helped a lot this semester. I’m only sharing all of this personal stuff to say I understand. I’m glad you have someone to talk to about it and hope you are able to find some peace. I so appreciate how you open up your life to us and share your struggles. You and Elle have the best blogs on the internet!

  2. Hey, at least you have found where this comes from. (Worrying takes all the fun out of the surprises – the good ones as well as the bad.)

  3. 1) Ask Carlos to take his phone charger with him and plug in his phone at the poker game; he can put it on silent and check on it when there’s a quick break in the action and then txt you when he’s leaving to come home.
    2) If people tell you that you should live life preparing for the future, do not believe them. Real life is found only in the present. — Leo Tolstoy

    • I should have explained better – he does check in on the breaks, often ever hour but when my anxiety takes over, I go right to worry-mode.

      Carlos has done an amazing job of talking me out of some anxious moments, calming me down – at some point, he can only adapt to me so much and I need to work through my own issues to truly fight through them versus expecting/having Carlos just enable the anxiety. My words, not his — he really does well when I get all worked up.

      I really love your 2nd quote. I am embarrassed to say this but I truly thought it was “normal” to always be thinking about the next thing, the next step, what’s next and I’m realizing I no longer spend time in the present. A sad realization but the good thing is, I can change it.

      Thanks, as always, Norma!

  4. Hi Jen,
    You have a beautiful smile and what you should think of is how much the people around you love you and care about you. I have never had a attack that you describe, but keep positive my friend. Carlos shouldnt shut off his phone, I agree with Norma take the charger with him. He should take a break from the guys and just to call you to Say he Loves You would make you feel better. To hear his voice. Hang in there…

  5. Thanks for sharing. My daughter has struggled with anxiety for a long time and she is only a senior in high school. She has benefitted greatly by meeting with a therapist, talking through her emotions and learning coping mechanisms. She has now gone almost a year without seeing someone, but will go back if she needs too. It’s amazing how much a therapist can help. πŸ™‚

  6. I have struggled with anxiety issues and panic attacks, and the only trigger I’ve ever been able to trace it back to is 9/11. Although I wasn’t near it or connected to anyone directly affected, I had just moved into my own apartment, in a city, and it was in a tall building. After wanting to become a hermit (which is not like me at all) and having panic attacks for a few years I finally went on Zoloft. I weened off the anxiety medication for a few years, but then my mother had a sudden heart attack while golfing (she is ok) and BAM! panic attacks all over. So I am once again taking Zoloft. I HATE that I have to rely on a pill to feel “normal.” I still have anxiety, and I, like you, constantly jump to the worst case scenario, but at least I don’t have the physical effects of panic attacks. Sounds like you are making some wonderful break throughs with your therapist, and as alwasy your blog is great! Glad to hear your surgery recovery is going well!

  7. I have struggled with anxiety attacks going back to my middle school years. Much of what you said really hit home with me. Thanks for sharing your experience with this.

  8. Hi Jen,

    I know what you are talking about. I’ve been the same way since I was a kid. Might be because my mom was so unpredictable with the schizophrenia, but I would plan and plan conversations with people all the time. When my mom went missing it took a few years, but I started to get anxious that she’d never be found or she’d be found dead and mutilated. It was a horrible way to live. I never thought of it transferring to any other parts of my life, though. When she did show up at a hospital and disappear again, I got so angry and everyone noticed that, but it was really fear. I kept having one thought… “You’ll never find her again – way to go hot shot!” It had been almost 10 years and she was no sooner there and she was gone again. It hurt so bad. It was another year and we got a call from another hospital. She was really sick this time. She died two months later. Part of me was actually relieved. But then, it was like the worst hell opened up and swallowed me in emotionally and mentally. I am still healing from that time.

    I am so grateful I have found your blog. You share so many things that are so similar to what I think and feel. It is calming to know that I am not alone. And I am so thankful for the Prior Fat Girl Meet Ups… I feel such support and encouragement that I believe this time I’ll really make it to goal – with my weight and with my life in general πŸ™‚

    Blessings to you, Jen!!

  9. While I was going through treatment for my ED, I became aware of the fact that anxiety was a major fuel to my entire disorder. I would procrastinate with food, escape with food, and find comfort from the stress with food.

    I had to make a concerted effort to simplify my life…chop out the ‘extra’, and focus on what was really going on rather than purposely distract myself.

    I kept myself constantly busy going, going, going (sounds like ‘someone’ else I know =)) so that I’d never have to focus on what was really happening in my mind. It wasn’t until I cut out a lot of the excess that I realized I had more time to focus and be present…which in turn helped me feel more in control mentally, and helped me stop channeling my anxiety into food.

    Maybe the fact that you’ve been out of commission with healing from your surgery has been a secret blessing. You’ve had a lot of time to just sit quietly for a change, and while I know that you’re getting anxious about being able to work out, there seems to be a certain amount of calm in your writing as well…like you’re not running around like a crazy person. =)

  10. Oh I’ve been where you are too! No fun. I think it’s my personality but I have learned to cope better with it – to stop worrying about what *might* happen and just deal when/if it *does* happen. I think losing someone – like you lost your mom – has long-term effects. I lost my dad very tragically – a phonecall changed my life.
    ((( hugs )))

  11. This post brought tears to my eyes Jen. Since Sept I have been dealing with really bad anxiety also and need to go talk to someone but have been embarrassed to do so. I think this may be the push I need. I am not alone! As always thanks for sharing, you truly help many people!

  12. Jen~

    I know exactly how you feel. I lost my husband on Christmas Day 1995. My dad 10 days later and my mother that September.

    This time of year really throws me for a loop. Talk about High Anxiety! Time does make it better, but it never goes away, not entirely.

    I read your blog everyday, but I just had to comment today. It just hit too close to home.

  13. I can’t help with all your other anxiety issues, but I’ve got the antidote for the overloaded inbox: dump in all in the trash and blame it on the janitors. Works ever time (well, until the janitor comes and gets up in your face… ummm… maybe you shouldn’t listen to me after all).

  14. it is fantastic the way you can put your emotions and anxiety into very understandable words….. this post really spoke to my own anxieties…..thank you Jen for being so open and willing to share your secrets with us!!!!

  15. Jen, no advice, just wanted to let you know you’re not alone… I’m also a worst-caser. I’ve called the hospitals and police stations in the middle of th night, too. Just the other day, I had a ridiculous moment when my mom walked to return a cart in the parking lot, and I near panicked that she was going to have a heart attack or something while I couldn’t see her. I think it has something to do with my being a complete control freak…. I’ve convinced myself that I’m the only one who can ‘take care’ of everyone, and if they’re not with me, I can’t make sure they’re ok. Not sure if you feel the same way, but I still just wanted to let you know you’re not alone!

  16. Jen you are so not alone! Just facing your anxiety and being able to talk about it is a great step. Learning what triggers it and how to calm yourself. I ended up in the ER two Saturdays ago due to an extreme panic attack/anxiety spell. I’ve found that talking though it and knowing what triggers you is the best. Thinking of you!

  17. Jen-

    Yet another post that I could have written (though not as well)… I, too, am always thinking ahead…I used to think it was “planning,” but I know that it’s just worrying.

    Things have been crazy in DC, but I’ve been following your recovery! So glad to hear that things are going well. Would love to talk with you about your surgery experience the next time I’m in MSP. πŸ™‚


  18. This is going to sound really weird and very possibly flip, so my apologies if it comes across like that … but I’m not kidding. Buy yourself a violin or a flute or something, and find lessons. I am dead serious here. I often have trouble with waking up around 2am or so and just lying in bed stewing in fear; I have no idea why, but my brain is not at its best at that time of the day, and it WILL and DOES frequently wake me up with these same sorts of fears of being totally overwhelmed and projecting worst-case scenarios all over the place that invariably end with me out of a job and on the streets. It’s maddening. I can count on one hand the number of nights per month that I get 8 hours straight through.

    But there is nothing like an instrument to FORCE you to focus only on the immediate present and what’s coming up then and there. No freaking over the past, no worrying about the distant future. It’s nothing but what you are doing RIGHT NOW and what’s coming up RIGHT NOW. And the steady repetitive nature of practicing can be unbelievably relaxing, just letting your hands make the same movements over and over and paying attention to them while blocking out the rest of the world. When my brain kicks me awake like that, I cope by just thinking about playing scales over and over and over, with that calming repetitive movement that gives my freaking brain something to latch onto.

    Seriously. I’m not trying to be flip or make light of your anxiety. GET AN INSTRUMENT AND STUDY IT, and when you find yourself falling into that THE WORLD IS ENDING frame of mind, just relax by thinking about the repetitive physical movements of practicing. Bonus: it will make you a better music student and player.

    I mean, if you have to focus on SOMETHING to get yourself out of those black holes that swallow you from time to time, it might as well be something beneficial and beautiful than a bag of fun size Snickers.

  19. I’m a newbie to your blog – found through a co-worker who follows you. I have been to the Emily program and think I need to go back. I Like that you talk about what you are going through and what mentally – you are going through. I can relate so much! I am a fat girl – hoping to be a ‘prior one’ but struggle with my ED(binge eating) and hope I can be an inspiration to others like you are. πŸ™‚

  20. Oh my gosh Jen, you just described me in your examples and opening paragraph. It’s shocking to hear it from somewhere else other than my mind. I’d call my self a planner, but clearly that’s not the case, is it?

    I clearly need to rethink how I think and why I think.

  21. The lAst line speaks volumes.
    Like the rest of the post.

  22. Dear friend, have you ever heard the phrase, “it’s just a gerbil in drag”? I learned this during an interview while working on a book last year. In case you, or some of your other readers have never heard it – it goes like this: There is something you have to do, but you dont want to do it, because youre afraid it will be too hard. You make it out to be harder than it is. It is like opening a door when youre unsure of what is behind it. You are SURE there is a big fire breathing dragon behind the door that is sure to eat you alive. But when you finally DO open the door, you see that it’s not a fire breathing dragon – it is just a gerbil in drag. πŸ™‚ Do you get it? We all do this you know…we make things out to be harder than they are or have to be and when we finally do get over the anxiety and make ourselves do what we have been dreading, we see that it really wasnt as hard as we thought it was. πŸ™‚

    I might also suggest that you grab a copy of The Four Agreements by Ruiz. It is an easy read and I think you would take something away from it.

    Best Always,


  23. I really wish I lived closer to you. I feel we experience the same things as far as struggles and anxieties. I lost both my parents due to cancer, my Mom in 2004 and my Dad in 2006. Since then I have let the anxiety come in and kind of control my life. I’m always in fear of something happening to someone close to me again. My kids are going to California today with their Dad and I have the fear something is going to happen. I don’t know why I feel this way…well now I do kind of have a realization as to why. I fear something happening to my husband (remarried) and if he’s late coming home from work, I start to worry. I feel the fear of being left alone. I think I might need to find someone to talk to about this since it probably ties into my emotional eating. I was up from 1am till 3:15am this morning with anxiety. I think it was the impending trip my ex is taking with my kids. If something happened to them, I don’t know what I would do.

    Thanks for opening my eyes.

  24. I can’t believe I just found your blog. I’m so grateful for your sharing. We look to be about the same age. My best friend died, then my mom 6 months later, then my second father 6 months later. Couldn’t answer the phone without anxiety for years. Members of the family fell apart. I’ve called countless hospitals, jails, highway patrol units. I’ve lost 100 pounds, I barely recognize me.. My life. But it is good now, and the anxiety has ebbed somewhat. My husband is also wonderful. Knows when to let me handle it, helps me when I can’t do it on my own. I’m not afraid to be anxious in front of him. Everything I did for a long time was to manage he anxiety. Health, eating, exercise, everything with purpose. Anyway, I can’t wait to catch up on your story. Yours is the first similar story I’ve heard, thanks so much for sharing.

  25. I’m REALLY late on commenting here, but wanted to make sure that I did…to show my support for a fellow anxious person πŸ™‚

    I swing between feeling desperation to find a “cure,” anger and frustration at myself because I can’t “control” it, and compassion and acceptance. That I can even feel compassion and acceptance gives me hope. Hugs…

  26. I completely understand how you feel. I have suffered from anxiety for 17 years. It really taken a toll on my life. There are so many things I want to do but I can’t. I know I creat my panic attacks by thinking I will have one. I can’t help it though. I am on medication and that helps a little bit. I am hoping losing weight will make it a little better to cope with. Thanks for sharing your story. <3

  27. You (and the other comments) said it so well. I’ve had this post bookmarked to comment on when I felt ready–you hit so close to home–but I still don’t know what to say or offer so I’ll just say thank you, thank you, thank you, and good luck–you’re making wonderful progress already. xx


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