I have anxiety and panic disorders.
I wanted to lay that out right away (if the title of this post didn’t already tell you) because this whole post is going to be me honestly and completely explaining my life with those disorders.
If you’re not interested in my personal story, that’s okay, but don’t think that you should be ignorant and uninformed on this illness. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 40 MILLION PEOPLE have to deal with this on a daily basis. That’s right. 18% of the population. That means at least 4-5 people in a class of 30.
It’s important to understand that just because people suffer from anxiety, panic and depression does not mean that they are ‘crazy’. It is as uncontrollable as getting the flu and if we had our way we wouldn’t go through this at all.
Open your eyes and accept.
Since I was very, very small, as soon as I can remember, I’ve had irrational fears. I was afraid of (just to name a few) clowns, doctors, dentists and dogs. When I was young, most of the fears were understandable. I could easily get away with my episodes because it was still cute. But, like everyone, I got older.. and I didn’t outgrow my fears.
I went into elementary school and I was fairly social. I had a good amount of friends and did well academically. But, there were still moments where I was afraid. Around this time is when I learned how to hide what was happening to me. It was so helpful and eventually I could talk myself out of the panic. I did well for a few years into middle school.
This is when it started getting worse. I was afraid of almost everything and hardly anyone could understand. In turn, I pushed myself away from most people other than my close friends (most of who I met in jr. high) so no one could see me freak out. I figured if I isolated myself, maybe it would go away. I feared going into classrooms with a large amount of peers because I felt everyone could tell I was panicking. It was an awful, traumatic cycle. Thankfully, I found an amazing circle of friends who understood and would calm me. I finished Jr. High feeling pretty good. I was excited for high school to start.
My Freshman year of high school was not bad at all. I had a really good time and felt secure and happy. I listened to the music I liked, wore dumb clothes and hung out with my friends (typical 14/15 year old). It was almost like all my anxiety had been pushed back on the shelf. Of course, I had random panic sometimes, but often music was my ultimate medication (not cheesy, it’s true).
But, then Sophomore year came. It all started up again. I feared going to class, driving and just about everything else. It was total torture. I would start hypervenilating in the middle of a quiet class and make an excuse for the nurse to let me go home, because ‘anxiety attack’ was not a valid illness. Often, she would tell me to have a mint and sit down. I was at the nurse probably 2-3 days a week; they knew me by name.
Junior year wasn’t any better. It was probably my darkest point in terms of depression taking me over. My grades were suffering from missing school, everyone was talking about college and I was terrified. For a while, I didn’t know if i’d be able to get into any colleges. This added even more stress. Overall, It was a year of full on panic.
Senior year the panic again slipped away. My grades went way up, I got into some more artsy programs and started totally focusing on my writing. I had wanted to be a writer since I was young and it felt so achievable then. This, I believe, boosted my confidence and helped me push through my year and graduate. Graduation was an amazing day for me; I made it out of the place that I had such awful memories with (panic related, everything else was fine).
The first few years of college went very well for me. I started working out, lost a good amount of weight and finally felt like myself. I had been stress-eating for comfort for a long time. I started attending Columbia College and felt completely at home. Freshman and Sophomore year zoomed by.
Last year, everything started to come to a halt. My panic attacks were back. I had to take a semester off from Columbia in the fall due to some financial reasons (Columbia is so expensive). I think this took a toll on me emotionally. My world I had created for myself in the city was essentially taken from me. I laid low, worked at home and went to community college. I was just okay.
Then, Spring 2015 I decided to go back to Columbia. I moved in with a friend downtown, which turned out to be a very poisonous environment. I was stressed. I had to leave that apartment and move back home to commute daily. I did it and finished the semester, but there were days where I had to leave class, go to the bathroom and splash myself in the face because I ‘couldn’t breathe’. This was also a time where I was still drinking black coffee, which I now know was an awful decision.
Fast forward to now and I’m dealing with my panic now more than ever. I have never in my life taken any medication of talked to anyone outside of family or friends about my disorders. I’ve always been a big believer in natural remedies. I tried yoga, which did help but turned out to be crazy expensive. I did all the breathing techniques; these still help. The last few weeks have been back-to-back panic attacks. I’ll tell you what happened to me yesterday:
I was on the train heading into the city for my first day of class. It was around an hour and a half ride, stopping at every stop, and I was just browsing Twitter and Instagram.. totally relaxed. Then, out of no where, about an hour into the ride, I started fully panicking. This is an extremely terrifying experience to deal with while you’re alone. I was numb, couldn’t breathe, blacking out and crying. How I got off the train is a total blur. I remember running to the elevator and then sitting in a corner hyperventilating. I couldn’t go to my first day of class.
For the first time in my whole life of dealing with this, I knew I needed to see a doctor. I have finally accepted help and medication to get myself under control and get my life back in order.
The next few months will be a trial in helping myself. I can’t say I’m not worried that it may not help, but i’m hoping for the best.
I hope that maybe sharing my story, and struggles, will help at least one person, somewhere. I don’t want it to be a secret. Why should my illness have to be pushed to the side and ignored?
I am not crazy. I am not any less human.
These issues are very important to me. As a person who suffers daily, I want to see a more positive shift in the treatment of people with mental illness. I think there should be more done in schools for young people, and more care for people of all ages.
I want the stigma ended, truly.
Anxiety, Panic and Depression don’t just go away. We can’t just stop.