Anxiety and depression are issues that so many women deal with, but not many talk about it. Sure it's an uncomfortable topic, but I think we'd all feel a little bit better knowing we have a support system around us. This is a brief story about my struggle with anxiety. I hope it can help other women feel less alone.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve suffered from anxiety. Even when I didn’t know why I felt the way that I felt, it was a part of my life. I can remember almost having a melt-down in kindergarten whenever a stranger would walk in our classroom, or when I’d have to sit in the middle of a big group during an assembly or when we'd have a surprise fire drill. I couldn’t understand why I would suddenly feel like the world was spinning around me, so I would just cry. Crying seemed to get me out of any situation that was uncomfortable.
The crying eventually stopped, but the unease never did. In middle school I remember laying awake at night worrying about current events, my grade point average and my dad losing his job. I even worried about how much sleep I was losing because I was up all night worrying. I started to notice that the worrying wasn’t all mental either. Worrying came with side effects. All in a five minute span I could experience hot flashes, dizziness and nausea.
I didn’t grow out of it in high school either. Fifteen years into my life and the anxiety just kept getting worse. My worrying became more and more irrational. I began to feel trapped just sitting in class. I didn’t go to sporting events, for fear of just sitting among a large group of people. I only ate things that came in packages with expiration dates for fear of getting a food borne illness. I became severely germaphobic.
It was the summer before my junior year of high school and I began literally shrinking away. I lost so much weight that I was officially diagnosed as being malnourished and having panic disorder. I couldn’t handle going anywhere, even the grocery store, without suffering from a crippling panic attack, a moment of intense fear that could last up to twenty minutes. I just sat in a chair all day, only getting up to use the bathroom or get a glass of water. I didn't really sleep at night, my mind constantly filled with thoughts cycling through my head. It was a serious low point.
Fortunately I have amazing parents, who out of love and fear forced me to attend extensive therapy. After a brief hospital stay, I willingly began to work with an amazing therapist and started eating again to regain strength. Though it’s not the best option for everyone with anxiety, I managed to cope without medication. Deep down I knew I could fight my way out and win against this disorder. By the end of the summer I was healthier, but far from healed. I dealt with a less severe relapse back into the crippling patterns of the disorder a few years later, but managed again to fight against it again, returning to a healthier way of thinking.
Anxiety isn’t like a flu virus. It doesn’t just hit you hard and go away a few days later. Anxiety is something that can hit at any moment, and leave you feeling crippled and lost. It's a cycle for sure. Several years removed from that tough period in my life, I have learned to cope with my anxiety...sometimes. As good as my coping skills are now compared to a couple years ago, anxiety and panic can still hit. I'll admit that sometimes I wish I had a stash of Xanax, or that I was on some consistent medication so that I never have to experience the panic.
The difference between then and now is that I’ve learned that life always goes on beyond the moment of panic. Everything I’ve ever worried about has never ever come to fruition, and therefore has not been worth the pain and energy it has caused me. I'm working on taking control and am ready to live in the moment, without panicking about what the next second will bring. It's going to be tough, but I am ready to live without fear.
Image by Olivia Vogds