“You have four exams this week, you should be studying.” My heart starts to pound. “Don’t forget you have work this week.” The room gets a little smaller. “They probably don’t like you.” My breathing becomes shallow. “Nothing is going right; it never will.” The walls feel like they’re caving in. Common thoughts most college students have quickly escalated into a full-on anxiety attack for me. I fight to breathe, think and sit still, but all my attempts fail and make the anxiety worse.
I’ve suffered from panic and anxiety attacks since I was a junior in high school. The stress from school, family and even my close friends became so great during that year that I began to experience this “caving in” feeling almost daily. Everything stressed me. From trying to write the perfect essay to being the perfect friend to being the perfect daughter only made me feel more inadequate. I tried to deal with it, but “dealing with it” for me merely meant running to the bathroom or anywhere I could let out these emotions without being seen by my peers.
When I started college, I didn’t fear a new environment or new lifestyle college. I was afraid of the impact college would have on my attacks, when and where the attacks may arise and what people may think of me. I didn’t want my roommate thinking I was crazy or have to leave class to hide and miss important information. I was nervous I wouldn’t put myself out there because of the mere fear fact that I might have an attack. Most importantly though, I feared these attacks might never go away. I felt like damaged goods because I couldn’t even do the simplest things like going grocery shopping or talking to a friend without the experiencing the anticipation of having an attack. Then I realized that anxiety and panic were taking over my life.
Freshman year of college I decided to try medication to handle the anxiety. For years, I was against the idea of medication because I knew it didn’t work for everyone (in some cases it can make things worse). I was afraid medication would change me as a person. But I was desperate. I could deal with the thoughts about failure, inadequacy and sadness, but I couldn’t deal with the attacks.
To my surprise, medication worked for the most part. My anxiety attacks stopped. Eventually, I went without an attack for so long that I forgot what it even felt like to have one. But the thoughts never stopped. The same negative thoughts made me feel like the world was against me; I just wasn’t breaking down about it anymore. This is because the medication made me completely numb. At first, feeling numb wasn’t a bad thing because I never felt that pit of sadness or loss of control like I once did. But one day when I went swimming in a waterfall with my friend, which is one of my favorite things to do in the summer, and I didn’t feel as happy as I did in the past. I had changed, and not for the better. The medication never really fixed the initial problem in the first place. All it did was sugarcoat it.
After a few months, I stopped taking the medication and began therapy. I never went to therapy before and was very skeptical of the whole thing also. (Just another thing to feel nervous about.) I felt uncomfortable sharing my personal thoughts and feelings with a complete stranger. I didn’t understand how talking to someone would stop my habit of thinking negatively and prevent me from having another anxiety attack. I clearly didn’t go into it with an open mind. I think because of my close-mindedness, I didn’t allow myself to feel the full effect therapy could actually make. I was off medication and wasn’t having attacks, but I didn’t really feel any better. In retrospect, I think I was just so used to feeling numb I didn’t really know how else to feel.
Today, as a junior in college, I still deal with anxiety and panic every day. It hasn’t gone away. There are months when I’m anxious and miserable and months where restless thoughts doesn’t exist. I’ll never know why I have to deal with anxiety, but I’ve learned to never let it take over my life. If I want to go to a concert, I’m going to go. If I want to speak up about something, I will. And most importantly, if I want to feel a certain way, I’ll allow myself to feel. I’m not ashamed of my anxiety anymore. I now express anxiety versus hiding it. Hiding my disorder only put me in a hole. But that was just a lie my anxiety made me believe. Now I know I’m not damaged goods. However, I am someone who feels the world around me, and maybe more than most people. When I’m having a bad day at school or at work and feel like the world around me turning into flames, I understand my negative perception isn’t real. I take a step back, relax and put my thoughts back into perceptive. Anxiety doesn’t define me. I define me.