Picture this: You are in a room, alone. There are several doors in the room, but each of them is locked and there is no key. The room is full of your worst fears. Each of them sits poised throughout the room, just staring at you. Every so often one will lunge at you, making you jump out of your skin with fear. But for the most part, they just sit silently, staring at you. Your chest starts feeling tight, your throat feels like it’s closing up and you feel trapped. Like the walls are pressing towards you and there is absolutely no way out.
This is what my personal experience with anxiety feels like. There is a wide range of reactions that people may experience, but this is the best explanation I can come up with for mine.
My first memory of anxiety dates back to second grade. It was considered “separation anxiety.” I “called home sick” every day (no exaggeration) of second grade, because I truly did feel sick to my stomach, yet, I was perfectly healthy. My first anxiety attack happened at my kitchen table around this same time. I remember it very clearly: I was eating Oreos with my little brother, and my parents were watching TV in the living room. For whatever reason, I began thinking about the future. Growing up, moving away…I was so happy with life at the moment that I never wanted it to change. Cue the tightening of the chest, closing of the throat and then the meltdown. I was bawling my eyes out and kept saying, “I don’t want to grow up I don’t want to be eighteen and move away.” I remember my parents comforting me, bewildered as to why I was acting like this.
Since that time, I have unknowingly been battling anxiety. From second grade until my senior year of high school, I was fully convinced something was wrong with me. I never understood why I couldn’t do things the same as everyone else. Why was everyone else so happy? How could these other kids go through life so effortlessly?
Everything in my life seemed to be 10x more difficult than anyone else’s. Getting up to sharpen my pencil was scarier than skydiving. I used to hope I would break my leg or injure myself in some way so I wouldn’t have to go to school. I went through quite a bit in high school (apart from the anxiety), and after awhile it led me into a downward spiral, resulting in depression.
My depression was obvious enough my parents noticed and sent me to a therapist before my junior year of high school. That summer I also found out I had ADD. This was the first time I had ever been truly diagnosed with anything besides the flu or a cold. And it all happened at once. I was suffering from what some may refer to as the “trifecta”: ADD, depression and anxiety. My therapist really did help, but from that point forward people were constantly trying to diagnose me.
I love my parents to death, they’re great, but they were constantly trying to tell me what I was feeling, why it was wrong and how I should feel. “I don’t think you have ADD; I think you’re just forgetful.” “A lot of people think they have depression; you just get sad because of certain situations.” “No, I don’t think you have anxiety.” “You just have to suck it up and smile.” “You just have to be positive!”
This was extremely frustrating for me to hear. I already felt out of place in the world as it was, and I already didn’t understand why I felt so awful all the time, but now people were trying to tell me that what I was feeling was wrong. For that reason, I bridged a pretty big gap between my parents and I.
Towards the end of my senior year of high school, I stumbled upon an article on anxiety. (If I ever find it again, I will share it with you guys immediately!) After reading it, I felt woozy. It was as if I had written the article. It was at that point I could say out loud to myself, “I have anxiety” and feel a slight sense of relief. But the feeling of “something being wrong with me” did not disappear. At this time in life, my depression was extremely subdued, I was no longer medicated for ADD (after serious weight loss followed by serious weight gain I called it quits), but my anxiety was skyrocketing.
For a little while, I decided to just let the anxiety own me. What could I do about it anyways? Then I went away to college.
After my first semester of college, I declared myself “fixed.” I was happier than could be, had tons of friends, good grades and appeared to have minimal anxiety. Little did I know, at that time in my life I was 100% depending on other people for my happiness.
Upon returning from Christmas break, and at the beginning of second semester, everything changed. My friend group, the weather, my classes, etc. I still had a lot of friends, went out every weekend and excelled in school. But, I wasn’t happy anymore. Suddenly, being surrounded by parties and my newfound freedom lost its shiny appearance.
For a few months, I struggled. Depression and anxiety rushed back in. But this time, a new feeling accompanied it. Anger. I was so pissed. After a quick evaluation of my life, I hated myself even more. I had gained weight from all my partying, I always felt sick (literally if I didn’t feel sick for a day I was shocked) and I just felt so useless.
Fortunately, anger is somewhat motivating for me. I made a plan. First, I made a list of goals.
-get back to my goal weight
-launch the blog I’ve always wanted to by next September
-stop relying on others for my happiness
So I began channeling my energy in different directions. I still went out, but drank way less. I hit the gym for an hour per day and cleaned up my diet. Then I spent my entire afternoon in my school’s “university center” working on the creation of this very blog. I interviewed and got accepted as an intern for a public relation/event planning organization at my school for my sophomore year and also got an internship for the coming summer.
But for some reason, my anxiety was at an all time high. Before, I very rarely had anxiety attacks. Now I was having more. I distinctly remember being at a tailgate party in the spring, and out of nowhere an anxiety attack came on. I literally walked myself home because I could not get it to stop.
Besides my anxiety heightening, my life was slowly turning around. But there was still work to be done.
Over the summer, I learned a lot about myself. I worked Monday-Friday 8am-5pm, so I didn’t see my friends too much. I spent a lot of time by myself and with my family. I worked out hard, daily, and worked on the blog everyday.
I accepted God back into my life, but in a different way. I reconsidered my faith. Faith has been a long journey for me, possibly something I could expand on in a future blog post. My parents are Catholic, therefore I was raised Catholic and attended a Catholic school. But Catholicism never felt like the right fit for me. Senior year of high school, I declared myself Christian. But now, the summer before my sophomore year of college, I decided to simply believe. To let go of any religious labels, and simply believe in God and keep an open mind.
I gained a ton of confidence, thanks to my internship. But the anxiety was still there.
When the time came to move back up to school, I was moving into my first apartment with three of my best friends. But I was absolutely dreading it. I had just started getting comfortable again at home, going to work, working out, getting adequate sleep.
But life slows down for no one. I was thrown back into the circus called college, forced to get another restaurant job and embarked on another full semester of classes. At first, I resisted it as much as possible. But I quickly fell into routine.
I can say I am proud of myself now. By no means am I perfect or anxiety-free. But I am getting there. I can honestly say I depend much less on others for my happiness. Now I am making it my personal mission to not only get better myself, but to help other people feel better as well.
It’s fall time, and if the trend is being followed, my anxiety will remain relatively low until next semester. But I know the next time I feel myself falling back into that dark place, it will be different. Here’s why:
- I’m independent. I’m tough. I know my capabilities. I can take care of myself and I trust myself.
- I’ve learned to love who I am. As corny as it sounds, I’ve embraced every part of me. The ditzy blonde part of me, the extroverted part of me, the part of me that doesn’t always want to go out and drink, the part of me that longs for companionship and every other little piece of what makes up who I am.
- I’ve learned the mind is a powerful thing. Anxiety is 100% a mental game. But you can’t just “smile through it” all the time. If someone tries to give you advice such as that, they have absolutely no idea what they are talking about. But you do have to train your mind. It will take time.
- I’ve adopted my personal motto: “make every moment an adventure.” This helps me look at even the most negative situations as something fun and adventurous, or forces me to find the good in the situation.
- I’m not alone. 40 million adults in America suffer from anxiety. (ADAA) That’s a shit ton of people. So many other people are out there suffering alone. Don’t let them be alone.
- I have God. Whether you believe or not, find someone who will support you through anything. There isn’t really anyone I can talk to about my anxiety, so being able to have a conversation with God is somewhat relieving for me.
Now, apply all of this to YOUR life. Next time you feel anxiety coming on, remember all of the above. If you’ve been battling anxiety, then I already know that you are tough as nails. If you feel a panic/anxiety attack coming on, this tends to help me: (I found this online. I still haven’t found my perfect “relief” tactic, but it calms me down for a few moments until I can escape the situation)
- Take 3 deep breaths, inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth.
- Look around the room. Say out loud one thing you can touch, taste, hear, see and smell.
- If possible, put some lavender or eucalyptus scented lotion on your hands.
- Carry something on you (a stress ball, a rubber band…anything you can keep your hands busy with and focus on for a few moments)
Some additional resources I used last year were books. Here are a few that may help you along with the links for them.
- “Find your Happy” by Shannon Kaiser: http://bit.ly/2fGTsDL
- “Pretty Happy” by Kate Hudson: http://amzn.to/2fKXlX9
- “Adventures for your Soul” by Shannon Kaiser: http://amzn.to/2fMDit6
If I had one final message to those struggling with anxiety it would be: hang in there. Don’t lose faith in your capabilities. You can and will make it through this. Hang in there.
Anxiety cannot and will not disappear with the wave of a magic wand, but there are ways to live with it. Start by applying these techniques to your life and tell your story. Leave it in the comments, email it to us (firstname.lastname@example.org) or leave us a message.