Anxiety. Everybody gets anxious at one point or another. It’s completely normal every once in awhile, like before a big test or presentation. Or before leaving for university.
But what’s not normal is feeling that way every day.
I remember one day when my mom picked me up from school. She was driving and almost hit a squirrel (the squirrels in Tampa are particularly kamikaze-like, so it’s not an unusual occurrence). I completely broke down. And I couldn’t stop crying. At the fact that we almost ran over a squirrel.
At summer camps or when first starting Davidson, I had no appetite. In fact, I felt particularly nauseous to the point that the thought of food made me want to gag. Don’t get me wrong, I could hide it pretty well. I had always “just eaten” or “wasn’t hungry yet.” But in reality, I was freaking out on the inside.
Before my first finals week at Davidson, I could hardly eat. I didn’t have an appetite. I chalked the situations (amongst others that I had experienced throughout my life) up to completely average experiences that everybody went though. But what I didn’t know was that the almost constant pit in my stomach, that perpetual feeling of discomfort was not something people experienced on a daily basis.
Before I drove up to school in Fall 2013, I had a panic attack that lasted maybe 2 days. And then for a couple weeks after that, I could hardly eat or sleep. I was perpetually nauseous and lightheaded and had to force myself to eat (a mixture of peanut butter and honey from a tube). I rapidly lost weight. It felt like a stack of books was sitting on my chest and wouldn’t leave. I couldn’t breathe. I felt like crying at a moment’s notice and would find myself holding back tears whenever I talked to people. I thought I must have been dying. I considered leaving school for a time. It was at that point I knew what I was experiencing was not normal.
Being diagnosed with an anxiety disorder was a relief. I finally knew what was happening to me and I finally knew that I was not alone. I could figure out how to live with it, or at least learn to live with it. I was prescribed Lexipro to get my body back to a ‘normal’ feeling. I stayed on it for the duration of the school year and am on it today. I spoke weekly with a school counsellor, who helped me learn what triggered my extreme bouts of anxiety and my surprising panic attacks. I learned mindfulness techniques. I figured out how to live a more normal life again.
My anxiety is something I’ll live with for the rest of my life. I still get panic attacks. Though I know how to control them faster. I still have days when I wake up with that horrible pit in my stomach that won’t go away, no matter how much deep breathing I do.
Oftentimes, when I’m going through something, I get a “why can’t you just stop?” or a “there’s nothing to be anxious about.” But what people don’t comprehend is that anxiety can’t be controlled. It’s irrational. It’s all-consuming. It’s frightening.
It is a constant shadow on my life. I can keep the shadow tucked away nicely if I try hard enough. But sometimes the shadow creeps up on me and tries to take me hostage. I can’t fly on planes without panic attacks. I am very particular about where I place myself when I sit in a theatre, in lecture halls, on transport or even in a restaurant. I always have medication on me for any such illness that could arise. I have to plan for everything so nothing can come by surprise. Too much caffeine or alcohol makes me panicky.
Nothing is wrong with me. I am not weak. Having anxiety is not a negative thing. It might have changed the way I live my daily life. I might be seen as ‘less fun’ or ‘less adventurous’ than others. But that’s because I know what my triggers are. I am stronger because of what I have gone through. I know that I can overcome enormous obstacles. I know that I can live a normal life.
I like to think that I have become a stronger person since learning about my anxiety. I can somewhat control my feelings if things are getting out of hand in my head. I can stave off extreme bouts of panic (most of the time). I can slow down the constant inundation of thoughts in my brain. I empathise with others. I know when to ask for help. I can read situations incredibly well: I am constantly analysing, processing.
Anxiety is not to be stigmatised. Nor is any mental illness for that matter. So before you judge or have any preconceived notions, know that you or any number of your friends and family could be struggling. I’ve never been this open about my anxiety. But I want people to know what it’s like to live with such a condition because it’s not uncommon to have. It’s just uncommon to talk about. Hopefully, that will change soon.
If you suffer from an anxiety disorder or any other mental illness, know that you are not alone. Even if you feel like it, you aren’t. You are worthy. You are loved.
If you’re looking for more mental health resources, click here.
As always, seek help from a professional if you are feeling helpless or suicidal.