I remember the first time I felt it; the shooting pain going from my stomach to my chest, the panic swelling in my head, the ‘what if’s’ pouring through my mind. I had never experienced something so out of my control, and I hated every minute of it. I didn’t know what was happening to me, but I knew it wasn’t right.
Throughout my entire childhood I had always been a shy and nervous child. I hated trying new sports or activities because I would have to meet new people (eventually I did, it just took me awhile). I hated new changes, like when my family moved me to a new town and a new school. Public speaking made me a nervous wreck. Taking tests for school made me want to throw up my lunch (sorry for the graphics).
However, it wasn’t until the moment described above in high school when I had finally realized that I was an anxious filled mess. I was high strung about tests, races for cross country, college applications- you name it and it made me anxious. I didn’t think anything really of it, but then I started noticing the chest pains, and how being anxious was physically making me feel.
I was a social butterfly in high school and college (despite my childhood fears of meeting new people). I had tons of friends, was involved in a lot of clubs, sports, and events. None of this made me anxious. But, the second you mentioned college, tests, grades-forget it.
I went along with life without fixing the issue at hand. I didn’t talk to anyone about how I had panic attacks, I didn’t tell people how freaked out I got before taking a test, I kept it to myself when anxiety would creep in at the thought of whether or not I would be able to afford college.
It wasn’t until this past year, my first year out of college when I started working in a psychiatric hospital teaching that I had to face my diagnosis head on. I taught students who were severely depressed, had high anxiety,and most of them wanted to commit suicide. But then here I was, telling them that it was perfectly normal for them to be on anti-anxiety medications when I couldn’t even face the fact that I needed them too.
Teaching my students drove me to severe panic attacks more and more, and my anxiety became at an unbearable level. I wanted to cry all the time, I physically felt awful, and stopped doing things I loved like going to the gym or running because I was crippled with anxiety. I don’t blame the job for creating this mess, but I am grateful that while I was teaching my students, they opened my eyes to what I needed to do.
I was no longer happy with teaching, I grew too emotionally attached to my students (hence the added anxiety), however, I knew that removing myself from the situation wasn’t the only solution. I too, needed to be on anti-anxiety medication. I needed to be able to get through the day without freaking out, I needed to sleep normally again, and I needed to be an example to my students who thought it was embarrassing to be on medication.
Fast-forward a year later (with my anti-anxiety meds in hand) I am a whole new person. I’m not angry, or sad, or nervous all the time. I feel in control. I feel more open to other ways of controlling my anxiety whereas before I was cynical about anything and everything. Now, I meditate, do yoga, exercise regularly, and journal (a lot) when I’m feeling overwhelmed with life.
You can’t see anxiety, but it’s there. It is crippling, but goes unnoticed to the human eye. It can take over someone’s life, without anyone blinking an eye. I’ve felt it first hand, and I hope that others will start to realize how important it is to find ways to get it under control. How important it is to talk about it. How important it is for kids like my students to not feel ashamed because they have it.
Talk about it, learn about it, and find ways like I did to lead an adventurous life without something like anxiety holding you back.