Oh, anxiety. My old friend.
You changed my life forever.
The first time I ever had a panic attack I was wandering around the World of Disney store somewhere around the age of 13. I wasn’t feeling particularly anxious, I wasn’t feeling tired or hungry or anything.. and then BAM! It hit me. Everything started to get fuzzy, I felt like I couldn’t see, my face went pale, and everything became a blur. Time moved so slowly I wasn’t sure I was even awake.
This was my first experience with what would become a daily occurrence during my college years.
Fortunately for little me, I was able to take my fears onto Google and found out about something called “anxiety disorder.” HOLY SH*T! I thought to myself (or back then probably something a little less vulgar :P) I realized all the symptoms I’d been having my whole life had actually been caused by anxiety. Phew, what a relief! This was enough to tame my panic attacks and instead return to my normal, generally anxious self.
Looking back, I can remember anxiety as early as being 6. I remember getting invited to go to Chuck E. Cheese and coming up with a million reasons not to go. It wasn’t because I didn’t want to go; It was because I was too scared to go. I wondered about what would happen if I got sick or hurt. Nope, sorry, couldn’t go.
Occasionally things would get better and I would almost forget that I had anxiety. These waves of feeling calm and in control and then feeling terrified and panicked have continued throughout my life as long as I can remember.
Things never got out of control until college. When I started to develop really intense Chronic Fatigue Syndrome-like symptoms, my health was shot and so were my nerves. I refused to go to friend’s houses down the street because I was too scared to drive. I stopped attending class after a pretty scary panic attack during one of my first college exams. My health was out of my control and for the first time I experienced what it felt like to have absolutely, positively, ZERO energy.
This was my rock bottom with anxiety.
Since then, i’ve tried just about everything. Going vegan, juicing, eliminating grains/gluten, meditating 2x a day, practicing yoga for 90 minutes, journaling, reading self-help books, coaches and therapists, holistic health doctors, supplements, medication — you name it, I did it. I’ve done it. I’m doing it.
Before I wrote this post I was thinking to myself that I couldn’t publish it because anxiety is still such a crippling part of my life. I wasn’t giving myself credit for how far i’ve come, though. There’s so many things I can do or have done that I would never have thought possible five years ago. So in some way, all the things i’ve tried have actually helped me. However slowly it works, i’ll still take it.
I still have my days where I can’t go to class or I can’t go to dinner with friends because the anxiety makes my whole body shake, my heart race, and causes my throat to clamp up. There’s still days I have one or two panic attacks, or a major terrifying attack. The good thing is that these days become fewer and less severe the more effort I put into taking care of myself.
I wish that no one ever had to deal with anxiety disorders, because it causes so much unnecessary suffering. Being at war with your mind at all hours of the day is exhausting in every sense of the word. However, if you let it, anxiety will be one of your greatest teachers.
Be compassionate with your anxiety (I know it’s hard, trust me). The more you nurture that anxious part of you instead of getting frustrated and trying to kill it, the more you can learn to accept your anxiety and work with it.
Let anxiety show you how strong you are instead of how weak you think you are.
Cherish your victories when you do something that scares you, and brush off the bad days as part of the journey (gotta have some lows in order to keep growing).
Let the pain of anxiety amaze you every day… be amazed that you can keep chugging along despite the darkness your mind wants you to believe.
I’ll leave you with this: when the anxiety gets to be too much, see if you can laugh at it. This tip has gotten me through more horrible moments than you will ever know. Whenever I start imagining the worst case scenario, I think about how it might be a funny story later or imagine everything playing out in a “Bridesmaids”-esque fashion. If you can remember to laugh, it will lessen the fear at least a little 🙂
Do any of you struggle with anxiety and/or panic attacks? If so, let me know what has helped you. I know this will be a lifelong journey for me of learning and growing, so let’s help each other out in the comments!
Lots of love,