In 2014 (my freshman year of high school), I had my first panic attack in the bathroom of QZar (laser tag place). Sitting in the corner of the handicap stall, I shook uncontrollably, cried out every last drop of water in my body, and hyperventilated to the point of almost passing out. Before this moment, I never really had any trouble with anxiety or panic attacks. Yet ever since this moment, they have plagued my life.
After QZar, the panic attacks got more frequent and extreme and my anxiety skyrocketed. It was hard, too, because most times there was never a "trigger." I could just be sitting in my room and reading a book and BAM my body decides that a panic attack could be kind of fun to have. Or, I could be at a party, a coffee shop, class, etc. Basically, the panic attacks were beyond my control. My panic attacks involve uncontrollable shaking, hyperventilating, increased heart rate, chest pain, derealization (feeling disconnected from surroundings), and depersonalization (feeling disconnected from self).
Because of these symptoms, I isolated myself from my friends and family since I didn't want them to be worried or see me breaking down. As terrible as that sounds, I was breaking down, and I was breaking down fast. Every year of high school, things seemed to get worse and worse; I gained a ton of weight and became even more depressed as time passed on. Senior year, I went to a psychiatrist to start getting medicine for it, and I was diagnosed with General Anxiety Disorder (along with ADHD). I assumed that medicine would be the cure of it all and I would be fixed almost immediately, but surprise! I most definitely wasn't.
I can't even begin to tell you how many different cocktails of medicines I have tried over the past year and a half. While my ADHD medicine is down pat, my anxiety medicine is still being tinkered with (yet this combo is working the best out of all of them so far, so yay!). Until now, trying all these different medications has been a brutal journey, especially around February this year.
I'm about to tell you about an experience that I have never told anyone and I didn't plan to, but I want to be 100% honest about my journey. That being said, buckle your seatbelts, kids!
In February, I switched from Lexapro to Pristiq, both of which are antidepressants. Pristiq seemed to be working pretty well for me; I wasn't really having any panic attacks at all. I could leave my dorm room without being anxious, I could talk to other people, and I could actually finish my school work in a reasonable amount of time. Finally, I felt happy and excited, dare I even say peaceful! At this point, I thought I found the perfect fit.
Then, I ran out of my medication. Turns out, you can become physically dependent/ addicted to antidepressants, which I had absolutely no idea that could happen. So when I ran out, I started going through withdrawal symptoms, which consisted of fevers, chills, cold sweats, booming headaches, brain zaps, nightmares, extreme depression, suicidal thoughts, and extreme anxiety. I could barely get out of my bed because I was so weak, and I was terrified to get out of my bed because of how bad the suicidal thoughts were. I pretty much isolated myself in my dorm room for a week because I was scared I may try to end my life, and that was the last thing I wanted. I was scared that the tiny whisper telling me to fight my way through this would lose to the voices screaming at me to give up because "I wasn't worth the battle."
Once I was able to leave my dorm room, I went to the psychiatrist and got a new medication that doesn't cause withdrawal. When I explained everything to her, she told me that I should be proud of winning that fight; I should be grateful for making it out alive, but I wasn't in the slightest. I was so unbelievably angry that I had to go through that. Hell, I was angry that I had to go through any of this at all. I didn't know what I did wrong to deserve all of this in my life.
However, one night it all changed: the night after my first confession.
For those of you who are new to my articles, I was officially confirmed into the Catholic church this past Easter. Before being confirmed, I had to go to confession to be absolved of my sins. Going into confession, I was petrified. I mean, wouldn't you be if you had to confess everything bad you've done for the past 19 years? I didn't know where to begin or what specifically to talk about, so before I went in I prayed for the Holy Spirit to enlighten my thoughts with what He knew I needed to confess.
So I walk into the booth, shaking from anxiousness. As I sat down and began confessing, I started with simpler things like the spoon I took from Panera because I liked that it was circular (please don't sue me, Panera. I really like your food; I even ate it for lunch).
Then, it came to me: I needed to confess my anxiety and depression. And before anyone starts attacking me, I'm not saying that either of these disorders is sinful. However, things that they made me do were most definitely sinful. I struggled with gluttony, I didn't trust God, I treated those around me horribly, I thought about ending my life many times, and I resented God for making me go through this. Of course, I was sobbing uncontrollably through all of this, cradling a lovely box of tissues. I remember feeling such deep sorrow and guilt, and then the Priest reminded me of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus cried out to the Father in agony, asking him to remove the cup or wrath he was about to drink. However, the Father did not take it away, as his will had yet to be done. So, while the Father hates to see me in pain, he is going to glorify it in due time; His will for me will be done.
After this, I received my penances, which were two "our father" prayers and a prayer of gratitude, and I was absolved of my sins.
The prayer of gratitude was an ultimate game changer, everyone.
That night after confession, I leaned against my dorm bed, praying to God, and all of the sudden I was just overwhelmed with gratitude. I realized that all of this pain that I've gone through was to make me stronger than ever before. It was to make me stronger so that I could help others going through the same things as me. In other words, I'm meant to be a wounded healer. The brokenness that anxiety has caused in me wasn't because of my sins or because of any of my ancestor's sins. I am this way so the power of God can be seen in me.
So in the end, I'm grateful for my hardships because they have taught me how fragile and beautiful life is. If me breaking means that other's can find light and/or healing, then I say bring it on. I'm grateful for the people who have stayed by my side despite it all, and I'm grateful that they fought for me when I couldn't. I'm grateful for those stand as the full moon in my darkest nights. I'm grateful that I have won this battle so I can help others win theirs, too. I'm grateful that God never stops fighting for me and loving me. I'm grateful for the blood that Jesus shed on that cross all of those years ago.
Even if you aren't religious, gratitude is so unbelievably healing. It helps you find even the slightest bit of light within the darkest times. Gratitude allows you to grow through what goes through, and it makes you more appreciative of the world and everything it has to offer. So if you're stuck in a downward spiral of anxiety or depression, give gratitude a good try. It may be hard at first, but I promise you that you can do it.