Anxiety is very much a part of who I am and I’m very open about it. It dictates a lot of my emotions and actions whether I mean for it to or not. I got lucky and have TWO varieties of anxiety, Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD), so I get to worry about my life as a whole and about all of my social interactions on top of that. But the fun doesn’t stop there – I also have Agoraphobia, which is essentially a fear of crowds or situations that are potentially stressful. Basically, my mental health is all over the map.
For a while, I didn’t fully understand what was happening to me. I found it very hard to focus and always felt stress gnawing at me. I couldn’t sit in class because I would feel so physically uncomfortable that I wouldn’t even go. My hands would sweat, and my leg would shake like an earthquake. I lost a lot of sleep. I would be lucky to get maybe three hours of sleep a night because my mind couldn’t stop racing. I had a difficult time getting ready to go to new places or meet up with people that I hadn’t seen in a long time. It was frustrating, because I never used to be that person.
But then, it got worse. My body started to shut down on me in public. I went to a concert with my parents to see a band we all really liked. We grabbed drinks and rushed the stage. About three songs in, it happened. My throat started to close, and I couldn’t breathe. Everything around me got bright and hot. I looked at my mom and all I could mutter was “I can’t breathe,” before my knees buckled under me and my eyes rolled back. I felt arms under me and before everything could refocus, I was outside with my parents hyperventilating. I was crying and trying to collect myself, but I couldn’t reclaim reality. Ultimately, we left the venue less than halfway through the show. I remember trembling the entire way home and fell asleep with tears darting down my cheeks and my breathing still uneasy.
I thought that would be the worst of it. But it wasn’t. Another time, I was supposed to fly out with my dad to meet my mom and sister for a Thanksgiving vacation. My dad and I made it through security and found our gate. As we sat there, my leg was bouncing so fast it was a blur. My dad noticed and said we should take a walk. As we walked, I could feel it starting to happen. My throat started to close. My eyes started to water. I grabbed my dad’s arm and clearly remember him saying “don’t do this” and my eyes rolled back, and my legs gave out. He grabbed me and sat me down. We tried to sort through my feelings as a bunch of people stared at me, wondering what was happening. I knew I couldn’t get on my flight. My dad had to plead our case to the flight crew who refunded my ticket and changed his to a later flight, and he took me home. I insisted that I was okay, and that he should still go to meet my mom and sister. They were in a strange city and needed him more than I did back at home. I had never felt more embarrassed or ashamed my myself in my entire life.
Until it happened again. I was with my family and a group of our friends at a German festival and it was starting to get crowded. By this point, I could recognize my feelings of uneasiness, and felt them starting to creep in. I told my mom I was starting to feel bad and needed to leave. She knew I was being serious so her and my dad started wrapping up for the evening. Minutes before we left, my throat closed. I looked at my mom, crying, and said “I can’t breathe.” I fell straight back onto my head and thudded onto the ground. The next thing I remember was my mom leaning over me yelling at me to breathe. Through the crowed, I saw EMTs pushing toward us, but I was ready to leave. I didn’t was to talk to them because literally every single person in our immediate vicinity was staring at me on the floor in hysterics and I was humiliated. The EMTs did their thing and offered to wheel me out, but I said no. My parents got me to my feet, and we started to leave. Some random guy from the crowd approached us and handed me my brown paper bag full of crème horns (my absolute favorites omg) that I had apparently thrown as I passed out. We cut through the crowd as fast as we could and as I got in the car I started bawling. I was covered in grass, my head was pounding, and I couldn’t do anything anymore without my body giving out on me. I was exhausted. I was done. And I didn’t understand why, at 22, I couldn’t function like I was supposed to.
My parents had enough. They made arrangements for me to see my doctor, who connected me to a therapist. I got medication and sat with a counselor twice a week to sort out why I was a mess. She came to the conclusion that I have Agoraphobia, GAD, SAD, and was in the early stages of depression because of everything that had been going on. It was a long process, and it was difficult, but it started to work after a few months.
Finding a medication that worked was hit and miss. The first one I took was not the one for me; my symptoms increased, and I lost about 10 pounds in a week and felt incredibly sick all the time. We changed medication and the next one worked like a charm. I felt the haze of my anxiety lift and I could start living the way I felt like I was supposed to. Going to therapy was great for me because I was able to sort my life out without sharing my problems with someone that knew everyone I was talking about. I graduated to once a week, then twice a month, then once a month, and finally didn’t have to go anymore.
While my life has finally leveled out, there are still days where I feel like I can’t get my head above water and feel like I’m watching my life happen from behind a window. I feel detached and distant. But I know those moments are temporary and I remind myself that I can be stronger than my own mind.
We all only have one brain, so it is incredibly important to take care of it. If you feel like you are alone, remember that you aren’t. Reach out. Find someone that is willing to help you. You don’t have to suffer in silence. It is difficult but feeling whole is worth it. Collectively, we need to break the stigma that surrounds mental illness, and by sharing my story, I hope that someone out there feels inspired to reach out and get the help they need, no matter what you struggle with.