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Debbie battle with anxiety
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Debbie Dujanovic: Winning my 10-year battle with anxiety

Debbie Dujanovic and her daughter Katie. Photo credit: Debbie Dujanovic

This is an editorial piece. An editorial, like a news article, is based on fact but also shares opinions. The opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and are not associated with our newsroom.

Anxiety lives within me.
It snuck up on me a decade ago out of the blue and hasn’t left.
For almost a year it debilitated me.
I couldn’t stomach meals, so I dropped 40 lbs.
It wouldn’t let me sleep through a single night, so I melted into a zombie.
What’s worse, it stole the real me from my three children.
During our live interview on the Dave & Dujanovic show, the director of the CDC Dr. Robert Redfield joined

Dave and I on Dave & Dujanovic

us to discuss the COVID-19 pandemic, social-distancing and self-quarantining.
Halfway through, he said 14 words that sparked my desire to share my journey with anxiety.
“I really beg people to figure out that their home isolation isn’t personal isolation.”
I know from my unwitting thrust into a my new world of perpetual worry — that life-altering moments, even if we know they’re temporary – a job loss, money troubles, constant concern for our family’s health – can trigger anxiety.

What does my anxiety feel like?

It grew roots smack dab under my rib cage.
If only I could contain it there for the rest of my life.
It wells up into my heart, inches into my throat, and if I don’t get a grip on it right away it shoots up to my brain and holds my mind hostage.
It can stifle my breathing which makes me light-headed.
Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
Imagine being on an out-of-control Ferris wheel that the operator refuses to stop.
You’re screaming for help. But you can never get off the ride.
Everyone probably has different symptoms.
These are mine and just writing them down makes me cry.

What triggered my anxiety is 10 years behind me

My husband and I sailed through that IRS audit without penalty.
But the day the federal government dumped two audit notices at our front door was the day my internal battle began.
At the time our kids were ages 10, 12, and 13.
I was working as a spokesperson for the FBI.
I’d had accomplished a successful, 20-year run as an award-winning journalist in Arizona and Utah.
We had a beautiful home.
Loved carting our children to baseball and softball games.
Nothing brought me more joy than baking and sharing family dinners at the kitchen table and gardening with our son.

My son CJ and I on Mother’s Day in 2017

In an instant, all that ceased for me.

My theory about why anxiety targeted me

By 2010, I was stretched emotionally trying to do all I could to raise our children, keep up with my responsibilities at home, and balance a stressful career path.
I was one “situation” away from a breaking point and didn’t realize it.
For me, the IRS audit was my trigger.

How did I crawl out of my worst nightmare? 

After months of wilting away, I determined I had to utilize my mind to win back my life.
I started by reading about a dozen inspirational books.
Then, for about two months, I begrudgingly took anti-anxiety medication prescribed by my doctor.
I’m a gummy vitamin kind of person, so the thought of a prescription made me feel like I was admitting defeat.
But the meds allowed me to sleep through the night.
Sleep is key to gaining an upper-hand.
I dumped the pills ASAP and traded them for a consistent, and eventually a rigorous, exercise routine.

For those who hate exercise, I did too

But the more I did it, the more I wanted to do it because I felt GOOD!
My exercise of choice to cope with anxiety – running.
I run up to 5 miles at a time.
Even now, after a stressful day at work, I put on my 3-year old running shoes and hit the pavement. I can feel my anxiety leaving my body.
I hike, too.
Several times a week in the summer you can find me on a trail in Bells Canyon.
A walk in my neighborhood is just as good.

And then there’s the gym. Ugh

For years I ran the household budget to the penny and that became my cop-out for not buying a gym pass.
But I’ve learned that a membership that zings me with an extra fee if I don’t show, holds me accountable and reminds me that the monthly fee is an investment in my healthy mind.
Plus, in all honesty, it’s me time. Something I never had enough of before anxiety struck.

I see my anxiety as my irrational fear of the unknown

Two phrases I repeat every day help me cope.

My oldest daughter Lizzie and I

A dear friend, whose sister was winning her battle with colon cancer, shared with me a phrase she’d heard a doctor say: “Don’t invite trouble you don’t have.”
I was notorious for inviting trouble I didn’t have. Always worried something bad was about to happen.
My therapist gave me another directive that works.
I remind myself that “NOTHING bad has happened.”
In other words, find something positive to fixate on.
I like to remind myself that my children are healthy adults, they love me and I love them.
I repeat both phrases, which live on the door of my refrigerator, and both yank my mind off that dark path it’s wandering down and put me back in the moment.

I plan to live with anxiety

On its face, writing that seems like I’ve given up.
In a way I have given up — fighting it.
After a decade, I now embrace it as part of my journey.
Oddly, in many ways it’s been a blessing.
My kids have forgotten I have it because I’m back to the real me and have been for years.
They occasionally remind me that they like the real me a lot more.
It hasn’t stunted my career, I feel as blessed as ever to co-host a daily talk show on KSL Newsradio.
I exercise to keep it at bay, which means I’m healthier overall.
It’s taught me to live in the moment.

When you hear me on the radio, my anxiety is right there with me. But it stays where I tell it to. Under my rib cage. It nags me, but it doesn’t race through my entire body. When it tries, I put it in its place.

What I’m most proud of is, that I’ve learned how to control it and no longer allow it to control me.