I already feel a sense of relief after typing that title…admitting to a disorder I’ve been battling for years. It all started in eleventh grade when I ran into my parents’ bedroom gasping for breath, swearing to them I was going to die right there. My mom followed me into my room as I dashed to the bathroom sure I was going to throw up or pass out. She sat on my bed patiently waiting as I paced back and forth with a look of sheer terror in my eyes. Mom, I’m seriously dying right now and you’re just looking at me. “Honey…” she said, “you don’t have a fever and you haven’t gotten sick. I think you’re having a panic attack.” Wait, a what?? As soon as her words registered in my ringing ears I fell to my knees and wept like a baby. Why was I losing it?
That was almost nine years ago, and I’ve battled varying degrees of anxiety since. Unless you struggle with anxiety disorder yourself, people don’t really understand it. They assume you feel nervous or jittery, or maybe that you worry about things a lot. I wish that was it. Sometimes my anxiety is so crippling that I literally can’t move, can’t breathe, and think that I will absolutely die in that moment. I feel like I’m going completely insane and that there’s no way I’ll ever feel normal again. My hands go numb, I feel like I’m going to swallow my tongue, and I get tunnel vision. It’s horrifying.
Last year, these symptoms plagued me almost every single day. No matter how much therapy and crying I did, I couldn’t get to the root of the issue. I tried medication, I tried working out, and I tried fighting it with everything I had. I lost 20 pounds in a few months because I couldn’t eat without getting sick. I stopped going out with my friends because I would freak out on the inside. I subjected myself to movies in bed for endless nights because I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. I told my friends I didn’t feel well or that I was too tired to go out. I also blame my anxiety for being the catalyst to a failed relationship. I spent every waking moment terrified of having an anxiety attack. It completely controlled me.
It wasn’t until I moved to Portland that I started to get control of it, realizing that anxiety is temporary and that it’s only an emotion…that the physical side effects were strictly caused by that emotion. I know it won’t kill me, and I know some of the things that trigger it. Though it pops up occasionally unannounced, I’m almost always able to subdue it and wait to get home for a good cry or a mini freak out. Working out really hard has helped a lot and so has cutting out most alcohol, but it’s a disease that I will probably continue to battle for a long time, if not for the rest of my life.
So…yeah. Friends, that’s why I get up from the dinner table some times to step outside. That’s why I ask if you’ll come over and sit with me. (I don’t actually need to talk; I need you to be there so I don’t panic.) It’s why I text you in the middle of the night that I miss you. I do everything I can to take my mind off of it. Thanks for being there even though you didn’t know why.
I feel compelled to openly struggle with anxiety disorder. It’s not a weakness, and I could overcome it one day. I just need to talk about it some times to remind myself that I’m not the only one…that it’s not reality. *deep breath*