The ELEPHANT is sitting on my chest – AGAIN!


(4 min read)

I am going to get straight to the point – ANXIETY sucks. ANXIETY is my ELEPHANT. My ELEPHANT is my ANXIETY . I have had ANXIETY off and on for decades though, I will admit, I wasn’t able to label it or perhaps sink into the thought until about a year ago. Over the years, symptoms similar to  ANXIETY tucked nicely under so many other tossed-around “reasons” for feeling certain chest cavity pressure – you are just having a spell of heart palpitations, excessive worry and fear, lost sleep, lack of cognitive focus, tense neck, and shoulder muscles, blah blah blah. Surely these spells were caused by a “thing” or “things” such as poor nutrition, the kiddos, my migraines, the weather, chores, work projects…whatever.

In my defense, back in the day, I just didn’t connect these spells of immobilization AND the heavy feeling of an ELEPHANT sitting on my chest to ANXIETY, even though I began having conversations with my grandmother, Mammie, about these symptoms when I was in my early 30s. I remember she had that immediate look of connection; the “I get it” as if she had experienced the ELEPHANT as well. Also, back in the day, there wasn’t as much data as there is now regarding the hereditary mental health linkage, so perhaps today, she would have felt more comfortable sharing her story.

Let’s go back.

My Mammie was the “I’m fine,” and “Sweetie, you are fine,” and “life is fine,” and “all will be okay.” “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine…” aura, and mantras. She ate, drank, and slept the ALL IS FINE concept. And, I will tell you, as a child who struggled with over-achieving and perfectionistic behavior, having your beloved grandmother continually tell you that you are fine, she is fine, and life is all fine…is exactly what you want to hear. And I did not ever challenge her rainbows and cupcake approach. And her reference of life continued until her last breath of which I was with her on the phone…”It’s fine, sweetie, it’s fine………..”

In my 30s, I struggled to balance two jobs, being a mother of two sports-competitive boys, and yeah, I was also a little manic, so of course, when I saw my PCP, I deserved to have a few palpitations, not sleep and not think clearly. But what did he do but prescribe me my first colored pill and plop an ANXIETY ICD code in my medical chart? You have ANXIETY. WHAT? ANXIETY from what? To me, ANXIETY meant I was out of control, and I was simply just busy. Fast forward a few decades, a few other diagnoses coupled with another few colored pills, I began delving further into conversations with my “everything is fine” Mammie. She never fully told me her true walk with ANXIETY. All she shared: she, too, had seen “doctors” over the years and also had her own dose of colored pills starting at about age 32.

I didn’t know the extent of her ANXIETY until I was about 40 years old, and the story was shared by another family member.

It went like this: Mammie experienced hardcore ANXIETY in her 30s and 40s to the point she couldn’t work. She would even call my grandfather home from the papermill because she couldn’t breathe and she was worried she was having a heart attack. They all called it “fretting,” apparently back then. “She just frets too much.” She went to a “counselor,” actually a psychiatrist. However, you sure didn’t say you went to a “psychiatrist” out loud in the ’50s and ’60s because that meant you were “looney tune” or you were days away from being committed to the “looney bin.” My grandfather wasn’t exactly a nobody in town so she (they, everyone, who to hell knows and cares) was apparently worried about her “looney binness” and the effect it would have on her reputation so she would sneak in the back door of her “counselor’s” office for her visits and she went for decades.

She took medication until the day she died at 87. Not because she was looney bin but because she had an effn ELEPHANT on her chest. It all just pisses me off. Though society is doing a better job in accepting and treating mental illness, it still infuriates me that a simple word or “label” of a diagnosis makes the bearer and the non-bearers feel or act certain ways – and it is nearly 2020. Hell, I am part of the group I am pissed off at. I didn’t even want to be labeled as having ANXIETY.

I am still working on catching the symptoms and coping at the moment. I can take several hours, or even days, before I realize it has taken over. Sometimes it takes someone to mention it. “Damn, girl, that is your ELEPHANT again.” Sometimes, I can talk to him, breathe through the moment, sleep through the constriction, and exercise right through it…and other times, I have actually used my inhaler for it…I know I know. The bottom line is, each episode can be completely different: the cause is often different, and the way I cope or treat is different. I no longer swallow a colored pill, but I accept I have ANXIETY and many times that ELEPHANT extends his stay.

I have a dear friend who also refers to his ANXIETY as an ELEPHANT. What is your ELEPHANT? What causes your ANXIETY? Not everyone needs the literal diagnosis or to swallow a pretty pill, and we all experience ANXIETY to some level – so how do you cope?

Email me at and share your ANXIETY story. Sharing is caring.

For more information on ANXIETY, catch my Coach, Couch & Coffee Live Radio/Podcast show from 11/11/2019 with Special Guest: Linda Kneidinger. She shares her concept of coping with ANXIETY with her Anxious Mouse…how to accept your “Anxious Mouse,” talk to it and move through it.

Peggy Willms
                                                                     All Things Wellness, LLC
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