I’ve probably started typing and then deleted this post more times than I can even keep track of. It’s easy for me to click “share” on Facebook when someone posts a link to someone else’s post about their mental illness, but it’s a completely different story when I share my experience. I’m not trying to get a lot of shares, I’m not trying to gain support (I have a wonderful support system as is), and I’m not trying to make a point. I’m writing this more so for myself. It’s a lifestyle blog, this is part of my lifestyle. This will definitely be my most vulnerable post I have ever written.
It’s something I deal with every single moment of every single day of my life. You wouldn’t necessarily be able to tell by looking at me, hence the high functioning. But it’s there, constantly. While I face feeling anxious about pretty much everything, social situations are my biggest challenge I face. I over analyze, I blame myself for everything, and I assume people don’t want to be around me. If anyone, even my best friend, takes more than two minutes to respond to a text message, my throats begins to feel tight. I know, this doesn’t sound high functioning. It is. While I am feeling this way at all times, through behavioral therapy and determination I have reached a point where I am relatively successful of having my logical part of my brain silence the anxiety. Except, having the volume turned down doesn’t mean it goes away. Telling me to “stop overthinking” or “stop stressing” or “who cares let it go” is fine and dandy. Believe me, I appreciate your efforts in saying what you think will help. However, I need you to understand that what you’re saying means nothing. Anxiety and stress are two totally different concepts. I can be having a high anxiety day without any added stress just like I can have high stress days while having a relatively low anxiety day. Stress is something brought on by an outside source. Anxiety is never ending.
I remember my first panic attack like it happened yesterday. I was a senior in high school and we had a math test. My schedule had become much busier my senior year between IB, the drama program, and my part time job. I suffered a gnarly burn at work which complicated life, I was sick for almost a full semester, and I was going through major social circle changes. Despite all of this, I felt like I was still doing okay in school, nothing amazing, but okay. We were sitting down for the test, I don’t remember what the concepts were but I remember feeling like I had a good grasp on it, and then when the test actually began my mind went blank, I could no longer breathe, and then my vision blacked out. I never wrote down a single answer. It felt beyond trivial and teen angst filled to talk to my teacher after class and try and explain what happened, how I didn’t even know what happened. She responded instantly “You had a panic attack. Has this happened before?” While hearing her then explain to me what she believed I was going to was terrifying, because she said it would probably happen again, it was comforting to hear an explanation for the terrifying event I just experienced.
They would continue to happen periodically, some were worse and some weren’t as bad, throughout the rest of the year and my first two years of college. My parents began noticing areas I didn’t function as well with. I had crippling anxiety when it came time for me to get rid of anything I ever owned. ANYTHING. I couldn’t get rid of my 6th grade math assignment because what if one day I needed that again? You never know! (You do know. You won’t need it. But I couldn’t process that at the time.) My mom and dad finally decided that I should see somebody about all of this. Beginning in my junior year of college, I began seeing a therapist about once a week. It was weird at first. I didn’t feel like there was any huge trauma (I mean, there was, but I had the anxiety before that) I should be discussing that could be causing people to be concerned about my anxieties. I knew I didn’t want to be medicated, so eventually I figured out how to make this work. I learned a lot about myself. I learned that while the list of mental illnesses she began listing off over time seemed ridiculous, they were actually common and very intertwined with each other. Everything related back to how my brain responded to having Anxiety/Panic Disorder. We began working on ways to cope and self soothe. That term always sounds funny to me when used for reasons other than babies, but it’s what I had to learn how to do. Counting helps. You count to ten while inhaling slowly. You count down from ten while exhaling slowly. You repeat as many times as you need to before you’re calm. It’s easy to type out what to do. It’s harder to do it when you actively cannot breathe. Therapy helped. I was embarrassed for the longest time about going to therapy. I felt like it was something I should be ashamed of. I outgrew that. I think everyone should go to therapy at some point in their life because you learn a lot about yourself.
I don’t go to therapy anymore. I haven’t been to therapy since 2013. I still have some really bad days. Some of those really bad days actually last for a couple weeks where anything and everything makes me anxious. “Why didn’t my parents add an emoji? Are they mad at me? Quick think through everything you have said and done in the last 48 hours. Where did you mess up.” That’s what anxiety is like. I’m constantly replaying the last 48 hours, sometimes even the last week, of interactions I had with people to make sure I didn’t do something wrong. You wouldn’t think that by looking at me. I’m usually just sitting there, often times with the subtle curve of the corner of my mouth. I’m usually fidgeting, it keeps my mind from spinning into hyperspeed. The constant tucking of my hair behind my ears, the flicking of my fingers, the repeated opening and closing of the same three apps on my phone.
It’s hard for me to make friends sometimes, because I’m afraid of the no texting back. But I have the logic part of my brain. That gets louder all the time. Telling my anxiety to hush. Reminding me that it’s not always about me or something I did. Maybe mom or dad are busy and didn’t think to add a smiley face or maybe it’s because every message doesn’t need an emoji (like, wow, I don’t use emojis all the time, why should everyone else have to?). Sometimes people get busy and don’t answer texts, or life gets stressful and they stop answering texts. Do you know who does both of those things all the time? Me. You know what helps my anxiety the most? Talking about it. I used to be ashamed to talk about it because that’s what you’re supposed to do with mental illness. Keep it quiet. Don’t let anyone know. Keep up the charade that you’re “normal”. The stigma surrounding mental illness is something that absolutely needs to be stopped. I’m taking my step in doing my part by stopping it. This is my journey through anxiety/panic disorder. It’s not over, it never will be over, but I get better at coping with it every single day and I’m willing to be there are a handful of you out there who had absolutely no idea that I deal with this nonstop.
I’ve shared my story, now share yours. Feel welcome to leave comments below linking me to a post you’ve written about your own mental illness. Feel welcome to leave comments below sharing with me your story. Speak freely about what you face daily and stop the stigma. I have a mental illness but I’m functioning completely fine and I’m happy.
Peace & Blessings,
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