In the summer after fifth grade, I was in the car with my family driving up to Niagara Falls. All of a sudden, I felt my throat clench up and I couldn’t eat, drink, or even swallow. The lump in my throat was overwhelming and soon I began to lose my breath. I had never felt this way before and I was convinced that I was dying. I was frightened out of my mind, and I didn’t understand that I was experiencing my first panic attack.
That moment was the first time I realized that there was something different about me. Unfortunately, I didn’t even consider that there was something off in my brain and the hypochondriac in me immediately assumed I had a terminal illness. I kept these fears to myself and was constantly afraid of the growing lump in my throat, certain that it would keep me from breathing forever. My mom noticed that I was putting my hand on my heart and touching my throat a lot, and she brought it up to my pediatrician, saying that I had always been a worried kid but it seemed to be getting worse.
So, in sixth grade, I went to a psychologist for the first time. I was terrified every time I went because I thought she would discover my “secret” of having a terminal illness (that I didn’t have.) When she would ask me questions, she would stare at me intently while I was answering, taking notes, and I was careful to not mention any physical symptoms so she wouldn’t make me go to a doctor and face the scary future that I was sure lay ahead of me. I was never even told what I was being diagnosed with, because she would make me leave the room while she talked with my mom about what was going on with me. I told my mom that I didn’t like going, so we stopped; and my mental health actually improved because I didn’t think anyone would find out why I was so scared.
However, in high school, I noticed my anxiety coming back bigger and more intense. It felt like I was waking up from a long, amazing dream. Back to reality. Only this time, I am determined to accept my anxiety for what it is and be open about it. I see a therapist once a week by myself, and she is completely open with me about what’s happening in my mind and assures me that the thoughts I have in my head don’t have to be true and don’t have to affect or frighten me. I’ve been taking antidepressants for a little over two months, which is a crazy, new experience and makes my emotions unpredictable. I’m proud of myself for accepting that this medicine is something I need and that’s nothing to be ashamed of if it’s going to make a positive difference in my life.
My anxiety makes life far from perfect. I become almost a different person at night because the prospect of sleep and quiet for long periods of time is so unpredictable, which terrifies me. I live in constant social paranoia and need repeated reassurance about every aspect of my life simply to stay sane. Reassurance is the weapon I attempt to use to beat down the voices in my head, especially if I’m keeping something to myself. I have developed numerous nervous tics, superstitions, and routines that if I cannot abide by, I fear for my life. But worst of all is the crippling fears that I acquire and then carry with me throughout my life. Events that I am convinced will happen to me, and if I come across the smallest piece of “evidence” that I can make the slightest connection to one of my fears, then it MUST be coming true.
I feel that it would be wasteful and ignorant to speak on this platform without at least briefly mentioning the incredible and wonderful ways that God and my Savior, Jesus Christ have helped me through difficult times. I understand that not everyone chooses to have relationships with God and Jesus, I just want to briefly share His word and offer my humble testimony that my walk with Him has given me so much comfort and makes me feel so loved in times of trouble. Philippians 4:6-7 tells us “in nothing be anxious, but in everything, by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your heart and your thoughts in Christ Jesus.” Whenever I feel hopeless, unloved, or alone, it reassures me to know that God cares for me and knows how to ease my troubles. God loves all of us, and He will protect us from harm. I’m certain of it, and I am so thankful for everything He has given me, especially all the incredible friends and family who have changed my life through their love and goodness.
Living with anxiety is living in constant fear that something will come up that is going to trigger you into a state of panic or sadness. Good days can be surprising because you feel like it won’t last, and on bad days you feel like you’ll never be yourself again. The voices in my head can be so strong that I am convinced I should be fearful for my life for some reason, even if I’m not sure what that reason is. Even writing this is scary because I’m afraid I’ll slip out of myself again and fall into despair.
But I’m convinced that I can get past this, because there have been times where I have been able to forget about my mental health issues, and being deliriously in love with life is a feeling that I long for everyday. I genuinely believe I can get there again. I don’t always remember it, but I’m lucky enough to have countless people who love and support me no matter what. I really don’t know how they put up with me, but I’m endlessly grateful for all the light they shine into my life. Every time I feel like I’ve gotten to a good point, whether it’s working with my therapist or on my own, I still doubt myself and the voices in my head start whispering that I’m lying to myself if I tell myself I don’t need to be worried or sad. My insecurity and doubt in my own progress leads to a destructive cycle that I try so badly to break free from. And the scariest part of all of it is when I can literally feel parts of myself being ripped away from me by my anxiety. When I’m in a bad place, things that used to make me overflow with joy only make me more frustrated.
I hope reading any of this was slightly useful in some way for anyone suffering with mental health issues or anyone wishing to learn more about it. There is no possible way to encapsulate every way anxiety affects me and is a part of me but this was my feeble first attempt. I want to thank anyone who took the time to read this and I just want to say that, as an AAAD ambassador, I am always available as a resource for anyone who needs encouragement. The fear and self doubt can be crippling, but I believe that going through it is a fair sacrifice to be able to live.
With love and hope,