*this interviewee prefers to remain anonymous and I appreciate & support her
Please share a bit about your background.
I grew up in Spain until I was 18 years old and moved to Belgium with my parents and my younger brother. My father was a navy officer, so we moved around a lot when I was young. I attended different schools and got used to making new friends and adapting to new situations. While my father worked for NATO in Brussels, I started my university studies at Vesalius College. After my studies, I started working for the Bank of New York in Brussels. After a couple of years of working there, I decided to do an MBA at Solvay Business school to continue learning about finance and potentially start a career within asset management or investment banking. When I finished my MBA, I got a job at Fortis Investments, an innovative and exciting firm, which was growing a lot. I got a chance to evolve quickly and had the opportunity to work globally as well as with the Spanish sales team in Madrid. I met my husband in Belgium and in 2008 we moved to Stockholm as he is Swedish. Fortis transferred me to Sweden, and I started working at Alfred Berg, their local affiliate. In that position, I had the opportunity to travel around the world selling a range of global strategies and met long-lasting friends such as Professor Robert Haugen.
I have always been a “Type A” personality with a responsible behavior and always worrying that things were under control with a touch of perfectionism. I also have a lot of stamina, energy and enthusiasm to do things, I am very persistent in achieving goals and rarely give up. Before having kids, I traveled a lot for work including international flights to Boston, Tokyo, Hong Kong and all over Europe. I once had a 21-day roadshow covering 25 countries. It was all very exciting, and I could manage it well. During that time, I never felt any signs of tiredness, anxiety or burn out. I was generally very positive and didn’t even know this existed. I was happy and thriving.
In 2011, I had my first daughter Alicia. Three years later I had my second daughter Eva. Before I had Eva, I had a busy life continuing what I felt was my ‘normal’ rhythm. Looking back, I remembered being over worried with Eva. She didn’t eat well nor take the bottle, so I breastfed her for over a year and didn’t sleep much for almost three years with her. I considered these were normal worries. When I got back to work in 2015, life became very stressful now that I had to juggle small kids and because I did not lower my working standards. I had no family help as my parents live in Madrid and my husband’s family could not help on a regular basis.
Between 2015-2018 was the period when I began to feel signs of stress and anxiety but didn’t know what it really was. I worried about schools, about Eva not eating, (I’d run from the office back home to feed her…). In general, I kept positive but took too much weight on my shoulders. I started feeling some physical signs like tension in the back and tiredness. I used to sleep a lot and somehow still wake up feeling tired. Still, I did not give this a lot of importance and felt happy as I always did.
In June 2018, I had the first serious symptom with muscle spasms in the back which took my breath away and blocked my upper back. I tried fixing this with physiotherapy, acupuncture, you name it, but nothing seemed to work. It felt very awkward when I was no longer in control. It was my body who now decided to take control over me. I still thought it was a medical problem and continued trying to fix it on my own. I mapped everything out and did all the work to fix it. But it just didn’t work. That summer, I went to Spain on holidays thinking I would relax and feel better but then I started having problems to sleep and my energy levels became very low. I still had my cheerful inner spirit but my physical condition was not at all in shape. Looking back now I see how I was not accepting the situation which is an interesting take away. I kept on telling my father I couldn’t sleep at all, and he would recommend reading a book or doing other things that did not really work for serious sleep disruptions. After not sleeping for a week my friends in Spain recommended I take an anxiolytic medicine that would help me fall asleep. Before I returned to Stockholm, I met with a psychiatrist in Spain. She told me to take the anxiolytic for two weeks and if I continued to feel anxiety to see a Doctor in Stockholm.
How do you know Carolina?
I met Carolina at Vesalius College in Brussels. I was best friends with her older sister Maria and I spent a lot of time at their lovely home. I always thought they were such a warm and exciting family having the best mix of influences- Argentina, Brazil and Cuba.
When their parents moved back to Brazil Maria and Caro shared an apartment and I got to know Caro even better. She was the little sis and the “nerds” as they used to call her as she had good grades and was the most serious and responsible of all. I remembered she was very popular with boys and my cousin Juan would always ask me: “Who is that boyfriend of Caro? Does she have a new one? “ haha … what fun memories! Caro moved to Miami and I heard from Maria she was doing very well with her own business. I got in touch with her later on after she had married Richard when we both had similar symptoms and kept in touch ever since. It feels like we now know each other better than ever. She is a brave, warm hearted, caring and beautiful person from the inside and outside. I adore her.
What was your diagnosis? How and when did you find out you were diagnosed?
The first diagnosis was anxiety without depression. The diagnosis was that summer of June 2018 and lasted until about March 2019. When I got to Stockholm, I started to feel desperate that I couldn’t sleep and that others around me couldn’t understand. I made an appointment in Stockholm which my husband accompanied me to. I remember crying in that appointment and was diagnosed with depression and given antidepressants. I didn’t understand anything. I was happy with my life and just wanted to enjoy it but something was stopping me from being “myself” as I’ve always been.
Medication did not have a good effect on me, at least the antidepressant medication. I believe what I had was not really a “depression”. I took sleeping pills to fall asleep but still had issues sleeping through the night. I then spoke to my neighbor who is a psychiatrist. He noticed I didn’t look good and wanted to help. He recommended adding an anti anxiety medication within the family of antipsychotics, which can be very effective against high anxiety/burnout called quetiapine. I took the medication from December 2018 and was basically recovered by March 2019. This was a very deep episode as it started by me not recognizing the signs and it escalated to very serious symptoms. The most difficult part was understanding and accepting that I was sick. I had never been sick before, I had never had pain before and most importantly, I had never been out of control of any situation in my life. At the end of March I was at my ‘normal’ again. I could sleep and I didn’t have any anxiety. My interpretation was that I had a burnout and now it was over. It was the most traumatic event I had ever gone through. I continued medication but I started to wean off slowly and was free of medications by January 2020. My psychiatrist recommended I take out the medicine because of my profile as a stable individual with a single event at 38 years old – so he considered it was not a mental illness but rather an effect of lifestyle and chemical imbalance after children and a period of prolonged stress. He did not recommend having medication for the long run. I was feeling good and didn’t look back in the rearview mirror – like one says. I was back with my usual positive mindset and enjoying my beautiful daughters.
What has happened since?
I went back to my normal work life balance. I was a bit naive perhaps to continue my life as before and I did not look for the root cause nor listen to my inner voice nor body signs. Looking back, I went back to a hectic life with many activities and a lot of worries at work. We renovated our apartment and bought a summer house in Spain. There were a lot of things, but I felt my stamina working as usual. There was a restructuring in my office, and I was fired. I received a good package. This didn’t really stress me as it gave me some time to rest and think about what I wanted to do. Shortly after, I started a new job in a small hedge fund based in Stockholm as a sales Director working together with the founder and CEO in international sales. I started the role with a lot of enthusiasm – perhaps too much. One month later, the global pandemic began. I was spending a lot of time at the office alone and could not meet clients which was frustrating. I was being judged by the founder who started pressuring me and treating me with his short temper. I took the feedback and he continuously criticized me. Around April 2021, one day I couldn’t sleep at all the whole night and then a spiral of fear and anxiety came back. I called my neighbor immediately and he recommended that I take quetiapine for a couple of weeks and see the results. I dealt with it sooner but was seeing the same symptoms back and getting over worried about it. At that point, I was treated by my neighbor who knew my case and wasn’t my official Doctor but prescribed me the medication.
After a couple of weeks, I went on sick leave. The summer came and I was still not feeling good. I went to Spain and was excited to go to my new house but felt anxiety that whole summer. That is when Carolina and I began sharing experiences. I didn’t stop doing my life. I did social activities. I had pushed myself too much again and anxiety came which back which is a kind of protection mechanism we have. Every morning I felt tense from the night. In my opinion, this is a reaction that the body cannot avoid. At this point, we didn’t have a clear diagnosis. It was some sort of strong anxiety. Some Doctors might say it was a fallback to the burnout situation I had been in two years before. I don’t know if it was a fallout, if it is a chemical imbalance, or if it is due to external events.
A good result from all of this is that I started to see a therapist after that summer who is extremely good and has 30 years+ experience in psychoanalysis in Sweden. After our first sessions, he started digging on the root cause of my strengths and why I am the person I am. One discovery was the inner anxiety which burst out in these events that had a long-life history linking back to my childhood and experiences I had as a child. He gave me an explanation from a series of emotional events. He even found a link between my response to my boss pressuring me and how I learned to behave with my parents in different repetitive situations. The therapy continues to work and it is giving me a lot of tips on how to manage situations and to be less demanding on myself.
Any plans on removing the medication? How do you feel about that?
My psychiatrists’ advice is to keep the medication intact for at least 6 months and thereafter decide on doses. A suggestion is to keep a low dose of a mood stabilizer to prevent similar events on the anxiety spectrum. The reason for this is simply that physiology changes with time and medication can be very effective at keeping a chemical balance. I am not afraid about medication but rather of not feeling good again. There is a lot of misunderstanding around medication linked to mental issues, but medicines work the same way they do for other diseases such as diabetes, epilepsy or even cancer.
Any tips or recommendations you’d give to others diagnosed with anxiety?
Yes. I would say that my advice is to look for the root cause of your anxiety and burnout. What is it you are doing wrong that causes it? It is often perfectionists and highly successful people that push themselves beyond healthy levels. They often do it for others more than for themselves. It can be for their children, job, or family. The problem is when your mind pushes your body too much and your worries takeover to a point that you no longer are in the present moment. Humans have an innate survival mechanism that stops us when we have gone too far. It can be anxiety, depression, a heart attack or in worst cases a cancer. We must take care of ourselves before landing on this dark side. The universe is bigger than us and our mind keeps on playing tricks on us based on old behavior patterns and emotional distress. You need to look back at your life and understand what events led to where you are today. Why are you so hard on yourself? Are you trying to prove something to others or to your “inner child”? Anxiety can also manifest itself as post-traumatic stress especially in people who have lived through traumatic events such as wars and abuse. The mind can no longer cope with stressful situations because it wants to protect you from the harsh suffering you once lived.
I also recommend finding a good therapist/psychologist/psychiatrist. I think psychoanalysis is best for inexplicable cases of anxiety in people who seem perfectly healthy and go through deep events of anxiety in which they no longer are functional. Another advice is to not be afraid to talk about it, just be open about the reasons you ended up there and do not hide it. It is not your fault – It just happens. The positive thing about it is that you become stronger and humbler about yourself knowing you never are in full control of any situation. A lot of people can help if you can be open about it. I talk openly about it with friends such as Carolina and others.
Finally, try to practice mindfulness and spirituality – anything from religious devotion and prayer to yoga and meditation. Try to be grounded on the present moment as much as you can. Tell your busy mind to shut up by simply taking a deep breath. Be thankful that you are here and now.
Any resources that you’d recommend for others struggling with mental health.
I read a book by Eckhart Tolle called “The Power of Now” that helped me a lot. My psychiatrist and therapist have been my main resource. Also, finding people you can connect with who have dealt with it is helpful.
Do not do any google searches because you’ll end up reading about diagnoses which are much more serious than the ones you have. Remember that same medications are used for multiple diagnoses depending on doses and combinations. Your doctor knows best so don’t worry about the meds.
My best recommendation is to seek professional advice and speak to others who have been through something similar for tips and advice.