I’ve never been able to pin down when my anxiety started manifesting itself inside of me. I can remember being only 13-years-old and having a breakdown over schoolwork that piled up after I missed a now-forgotten number of days. I was in the seventh grade and truly believed my entire future was ruined because I couldn’t catch up in my math class. I was 15 when I had my first panic attack and my boyfriend had to drive me home because I couldn’t function behind the wheel.
This is a sickness that so many are told to “get over” and “just suck it up and deal with it.” Some can find help through a doctor and medication but I have spent the past few years of my ever-growing anxiety untreated. It is a daily struggle I’m sure most don’t understand, nor do I expect them to.
Anxiety is being home after a month of not seeing your family and leaving after only two hours because it is too loud and there is too much activity going on.
Anxiety is keeping yourself awake at night over things that might never happen and things that couldn’t possibly happen. And then holding your head over a trashcan because you might throw up.
Anxiety is knowing you should go out with friends because you haven’t in weeks, but the thought of dressing up and sitting in a crowded bar makes it physically impossible for you to leave the house. It is stomach cramps and a constant cloud of dread, an endless circle of “what if.”
My line of work requires, almost in cruel irony, constant interaction with people in person, over the phone and through email. On my good days, I fly through interviews with a smile and good humor. A typical bad day, I reread emails four or five times and put off sending them until last minute. Same with phone calls. And approaching a police officer at a crime scene has become routine to me over the past month, but the first week of my new job, that action was absolutely crippling as I feared I would immediately be turned away.
Because of this, some may look at me and see laziness or a lack of motivation. But nothing could be further from the truth. I have almost unrealistic goals and I am very much a Type A. That personality coupled with anxiety only creates more anxiety and I am stuck in an endless loop.
Sometimes that parasite inside me rises up with no cause. My breath suddenly catches and it feels like a band is being tightened around my chest. My eyes fill with tears and I can’t breathe, and then the shaking starts. If I’m lucky, I will be at home and can ride out the crying deep under my covers. Or I could be at work, like a few weeks ago, and in the middle of writing an article I have to scramble for my phone to ask my boyfriend to tell me a nice story to distract me from hyperventilating.
Relief is something as simple as a pill and I can see people shaking their heads at my refusal to submit to that. First off, I’m 23 and living on my own. I can hardly afford to pay my bills and then have some leftover for food. I may have insurance but the portion that wouldn’t be covered by it I’m sure I couldn’t hand over cash for. Second, and more importantly, I’ve seen first hand what a pill dependency can do to a person. It’s ugly and I don’t want to take that chance because I know my personality well enough to know I would spiral into a deep place if my well-being depended on a tablet. And are all the side effects — insomnia, decreased appetite, fatigue — really worth it?
For now I am doing well enough with yoga, meditation, hot tea and several hours cuddled up under soft blankets. Sometimes I have days of smooth sailing but others, I have to constantly remind myself my mental health is more important than my to-do list. Understanding this condition may be a lot to ask of others but I hope that awareness is a good enough place to start.