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Overcoming Constant Fear and Anxiety With Therapy, Medication and Self-Improvement

“Every ache or feeling I had in my abdomen required a call or trip to my doctor’s office to get assurance that everything was okay. One morning on my way to work I slipped on the ice in my driveway….I wasn’t hurt, but I couldn’t stop obsessing over it until I knew that the baby wasn’t either.”

Hello! Who are you?

I’m Lisa Dimino White. I live in a suburb of Denver, Colorado, have been married to a great guy for more than two decades, and am the mom of two awesome kids – David (15) and Catherine (11).

I have a background in marketing and communications management and had been doing that for more than twenty years until I finally decided a couple of years ago to focus solely on my passion: inspiring others to seek out, create, and spread joy every single day.

I do it through writing, hosting a couple of podcasts, speaking professionally, life coaching, and officiating legal weddings!

I firmly believe that most people are pretty darn amazing and too often don’t recognize their own greatness, and I’m on a mission to change that. I also believe that we all have struggles, but they don’t define us. We can be happy despite them.

💡 By the way: Do you find it hard to be happy and in control of your life? It may not be your fault. To help you feel better, we’ve condensed the information of 100’s of articles into a 10-step mental health cheat sheet to help you be more in control. 👇

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What is your struggle and when did it start?

I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t afraid. As a child, I was constantly fearful and anxious that something bad would happen to me or someone that I loved. 

For example:

  • I was terrified of a fire starting in my house at night so I had a ritual of looking under my bed before going to sleep to make sure a flame wasn’t burning. 
  • I was nervous that my heart would suddenly stop while I slept so I’d fall asleep intentionally with my hand on my chest with the plan that if it stopped I would scream and my parents would come in and save me. 
  • During daily trips to our local Kmart Mom would let my younger brother browse the toy section while she shopped. I was so afraid that someone was going to kidnap him that I would stand behind him, like his very own personal bodyguard, while he drooled over the GI Joe’s. I would have much preferred to be in the next aisle looking at the Barbie Dreamhouse or selection of Cabbage Patch Kid dolls, but I wouldn’t move -– it was my job to protect him. 
  • I wouldn’t let my parents go out on a date for fear that they would be in a car accident and die on the way home. 
  • Air travel was completely out of the question….there was no way I would set foot on an airplane. Entirely too dangerous. I didn’t like the idea of being that high up without a safety net.

My parents were naturally concerned and took me to a child psychologist, who taught me strategies that got me through middle and high school and college.

I’d feel anxious occasionally, but nothing overwhelming; mostly because I was able to avoid doing anything that I deemed to be “too dangerous” and would perform my “compulsion” to alleviate my anxiety over any “obsession” that came up.

For example, if I accidentally dropped something on the floor and had to pick it up I would instantly start obsessing over the germs that were now on my hands from touching the item that was on the dirty floor and have to wash them immediately. It was the only way I could make myself feel better. And I needed to feel better. 

My symptoms spiked uncontrollably, however, when I got married and started living with my new husband, and then again when I was expecting my first baby eight years later.

I had to seek professional help during both of those major life events because I was worried about every single thing, and the “what if” mentality was consuming my life. Yes, most expectant mothers are nervous, but I took it to the next level.

For example, I obsessed with overeating foods that were “safe”, which meant no unpasteurized cheeses, deli meats, hot dogs, Caesar dressing, or excessive amounts of tuna. (I once forgot to confirm with the waiter at a restaurant if the cheese on my salad was pasteurized before eating it, so I called the next day in a panic and was passed around from server to manager to chef until someone at the restaurant could answer my desperate question.)

Every ache or feeling I had in my abdomen required a call or trip to my doctor’s office to get assurance that everything was okay. One morning on my way to work I slipped on the ice in my driveway….I wasn’t hurt, but I couldn’t stop obsessing over it until I knew that the baby wasn’t either.

My therapist helped me navigate my fears by providing me with tools to use when I felt the spiral starting. She also introduced me to exposure therapy, where I would intentionally touch things that freaked me out and fight the overwhelming urge to wash my hands afterward.

It was tough…I would white-knuckle it sometimes (pun intended), but the more I did it the easier it became. I had finally gotten to a place where fear and anxiety were not controlling me.

How did this struggle make you feel at your worst moments?

Despite these fearful thoughts, I’ve always been a happy person. No one except my immediate family knew about my struggles. My fear did occasionally keep me from taking chances or living life to the fullest, however. 

Specifically, in college I turned down an all-expenses paid trip to Rome, Italy because I refused to get on a plane. I was a member of my school’s award-winning speech and debate team and I qualified to compete in an international competition. 

I agonized for weeks over whether or not to go. Every time I would imagine going – visualizing the drive to the airport, boarding the plane, being in the air – I would start to get short of breath and anxious, thinking about what could happen. It wasn’t worth the risk, so I passed.

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Was there a moment when you started to turn things around?

I remember when I realized I needed help again: I wouldn’t let my dad pee.

I hadn’t had therapy in more than 10 years (my medication, combined with the strategies and tools I had) were all working! Then COVID-19 came into the picture, and for someone with anxiety, OCD, and catastrophic thinking tendencies, it was terrifying. It took my fears and germophobic ways to a whole new level.

Previously, my anxiety focused on things that were very unlikely to happen or were totally made up in my mind, but this threat was real. When health officials and scientists encouraged everyone to wash their hands more frequently, we germaphobes – who already wash our hands significantly more often than everybody else –  did what we were told….and had the bloody knuckles to prove it. 

Upon first learning about this virus, I immediately locked my family and me in our house and threw away the key. For three solid months my kids, husband, and I didn’t see anyone or go anywhere in public. We took family walks around our neighborhood, rode our bikes on trails, and tried to pass the time without strangling each other.

I even bought a ping pong set that came with a net that was attached to the kitchen table. Hundreds of heated ping pong matches took place – not only was it a good distraction but my kids are pretty darn good at it now. I’m sure for the rest of their lives they’ll associate ping pong with being in quarantine.

All was going according to plan until one sunny day in early June. That afternoon my parents (who live about thirty minutes away) came over for a socially-distanced visit on my back deck because we hadn’t seen them since COVID began.

I was very uncomfortable but did my best to get through it because they wanted to see us – even if we couldn’t get close or touch each other. We all sat ten feet apart (because if the recommendation was six feet then ten was better.)

My mind was racing the entire time….are we intentionally exposing them to COVID by sharing the same space? Are they exposing us? Will this visit result in someone getting sick or dying? I was a mess. About thirty minutes into their visit my dad had to use the bathroom, and I refused to let him inside my house. 

They understood and left. I crumpled up into a ball on the floor and cried. 

Up until that moment I was treading water and waiting for the “all clear” that this threat had passed. It had to be over soon, right? Any day now, right? That day I realized that the finish line may not be as close as I thought it was, and I couldn’t keep treading because I was emotionally and physically exhausted. Could I live like this for another six months? Another year? Heck no.

I also couldn’t keep my kids completely isolated from their friends for much longer; I noticed my son, who was 12 years old at the time, was getting more disconnected and no longer video chatting with his buddies as much. That frightened me enough to acknowledge that I needed to find some middle ground to get us through this difficult situation in a healthier way.

We were existing; not living. 

I called my therapist and made an appointment.

What steps did you take to overcome your struggle?

Fear was a part of who I was. I was convinced that if there was even a .00001% chance that something bad could happen, with my luck it was going to happen to me.

I did not recognize the very important difference between possible and probable. I couldn’t see that just because there’s a possibility of something bad happening does not mean that it’s likely to happen. It took me years to wrap my head around that concept.

My therapist helped me realize it, and to be able to pause and look at a situation that’s causing me distress more objectively. Is it easy? No. Do I always do it? Also no, but I try.

I also believe that it’s important for me to accept that I’ll never be “fearless.” Instead, I strive to “fear less.” It’s just how I’m wired, but that doesn’t mean that I will allow fear to be in charge of me, my life, and my decisions. I can feel the fear and still do the things I want to anyway.

I just have to be comfortable with the discomfort of whatever it is I’m doing. I have to be willing to tell my mind, “I know you think this is super dangerous, but I’ve decided that it’s not, and I’m going to proceed anyway.”

Waiting to live my life until the fear “goes away completely” was unrealistic because I was never going to be without fear, so now I just accept that I’ll likely always feel a little bit of fear, and it’s okay to do things that scare me or make me uncomfortable.  

We all deserve to be as happy as we possibly can, and sometimes we need a little help getting there. There are so many resources – books, podcasts, videos, therapists, medication. If you know deep in your gut that you can be happier than you are, there’s no shame in reaching out for help.

Your situation may not be something that can be eliminated/fixed/changed entirely, but chances are it can be improved and/or you can learn some strategies to help navigate it better. It’s scary asking for help, but it’s worth it!

Have you shared any of this with people around you in real life?

No one outside of my family knew about my struggles until the summer of 2020. When COVID began, my friends, colleagues, and acquaintances couldn’t understand why my response was so drastic. They only saw me as a happy mom/coworker/colleague/friend/professional with no struggles.

It occurred to me that by not sharing my story I was perpetuating the distorted reality that some people have no problems and are only happy because their lives are perfect.

Nothing could be further from the truth. As I started sharing my struggles, people realized that if I can be happy despite the challenges I’m faced with, so can they. 

To further share my story, I published my book, “Bursting with Happiness”.

If you could give a single piece of advice to someone else that struggles, what would that be?

We all have struggles, but we can be joyful despite them. Everyone deserves to be happy. The question we need to ask is if those struggles are keeping us from being as happy as we know we can be.

Not all shortcomings or challenges need to be improved or fixed, but when they prevent us from being the happiest versions of ourselves that we can be then it’s time to find a way to improve it.

Up until my parents came to visit during COVID I thought I was okay, but in that moment I realized that the way I was handling it was keeping me – and my family- from being as happy as I could be – even during a very difficult time. That’s when I knew that even if I couldn’t get to a place where I wasn’t scared of the situation, I had to find ways to cope with it better than I was.

Where can we go to learn more about you?

The best place to find me is my website. I can also be found on Instagram @lisadiminowhite, TikTok @lisadiminowhite, and Facebook as thejoyseeker.

💡 By the way: If you want to start feeling better and more productive, I’ve condensed the information of 100’s of our articles into a 10-step mental health cheat sheet here. 👇

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Hugo Huijer AuthorLinkedIn Logo

Founder of Tracking Happiness, with over 100 interviews and a focus on practical advice, our content extends beyond happiness tracking. Hailing from the Netherlands, I’m a skateboarding enthusiast, marathon runner, and a dedicated data junkie, tracking my happiness for over a decade.

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