How Gratitude Has Changed My Anxiety Disorder

How Gratitude Has Changed My Anxiety Disorder

Follow my anxiety journey from the beginning to now.

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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.

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Everything You Will Miss If You Commit Suicide

The world needs you.
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You won't see the sunrise or have your favorite breakfast in the morning.

Instead, your family will mourn the sunrise because it means another day without you.

You will never stay up late talking to your friends or have a bonfire on a summer night.

You won't laugh until you cry again, or dance around and be silly.

You won't go on another adventure. You won't drive around under the moonlight and stars.

They'll miss you. They'll cry.

You won't fight with your siblings only to make up minutes later and laugh about it.

You won't get to interrogate your sister's fiancé when the time comes.

You won't be there to wipe away your mother's tears when she finds out that you're gone.

You won't be able to hug the ones that love you while they're waiting to wake up from the nightmare that had become their reality.

You won't be at your grandparents funeral, speaking about the good things they did in their life.

Instead, they will be at yours.

You won't find your purpose in life, the love of your life, get married or raise a family.

You won't celebrate another Christmas, Easter or birthday.

You won't turn another year older.

You will never see the places you've always dreamed of seeing.

You will not allow yourself the opportunity to get help.

This will be the last sunset you see.

You'll never see the sky change from a bright blue to purples, pinks, oranges, and yellows meshing together over the landscape again.

If the light has left your eyes and all you see is the darkness, know that it can get better. Let yourself get better.

This is what you will miss if you leave the world today.

This is who will care about you when you are gone.

You can change lives. But I hope it's not at the expense of yours.

We care. People care.

Don't let today be the end.

You don't have to live forever sad. You can be happy. It's not wrong to ask for help.

Thank you for staying. Thank you for fighting.

Suicide is a real problem that no one wants to talk about. I'm sure you're no different. But we need to talk about it. There is no difference between being suicidal and committing suicide. If someone tells you they want to kill themselves, do not think they won't do it. Do not just tell them, “Oh you'll be fine." Because when they aren't, you will wonder what you could have done to help. Sit with them however long you need to and tell them it will get better. Talk to them about their problems and tell them there is help. Be the help. Get them assistance. Remind them of all the things they will miss in life.

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline — 1-800-273-8255

Cover Image Credit: Brittani Norman

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Fight And Flight, How I Conquer My Emotional Battles

In times of high threat and peril, science says our innate response usually follows one of two paths: fight or flight.

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snele1
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Like almost any other concept related to humans, the idea of "fight or flight" boils down to either/or, one over the other, choice A or choice B. This seems logical, as science also says we can't actually multitask as humans. We may think we can manage multiple tasks simultaneously, but we're inevitably occupied by one thing at a time. Now, depending on each person, the response to any given situation might vary. Someone might feel courageous enough to stay and "fight," while someone else may deem it wiser to make like a bird and take "flight."

Regardless, this concept revolves around a definitive choice, a choice of just one response, not both.

While I agree with this concept as it is, I've come to think that, in some areas of life, we can manage both. We can fight, but we can also take flight. Although fight or flight generally refers to physical threats/obstacles, I think the fight and flight apply on an emotional/mental front.

This past weekend was quite a whirlwind, blowing my emotions in all kinds of directions, which is really what prompted me to think about my emotional response to the weekend as a whole. As a bit of important background, I'm not a crier by nature. I just don't cry in public/ in front of others. Don't get me wrong, I don't see anything wrong with crying in public. It's a perfectly human response. No book, movie, song, or the like has ever moved me to tears. (Well actually, the movie "The Last Song" with Miley Cyrus did cause a stream of tears, but that's literally one out of a decade.)

Enough about that for now, though, I'll make mention of it again later.

I think this past weekend's deluge was an unassuming foreboding of the flood of emotions that came pouring in on Sunday. The day began like any other Mother's Day, we opened gifts with my mother before heading to my aunt's for a family lunch. Only once we arrived, I was informed that my other aunt, who's like a second mom to me, lost her beloved Shih Tzu of 14 years, Coco. We all knew that Coco's time was likely limited, but it still seemed sudden. I was a bit rocked by the news, but ultimately knew she had given life a run for its money. After all, I like to joke that if I come back, it'd ideally be as a house dog.

Needless to say, the suddenness of it all wouldn't really hit me till later that afternoon.

Fast-forwarding to the evening, we decided visiting my other grandmother would be a nice gesture on Mother's Day. Although she was still out and about, my house-ridden grandfather was there, and so we decided it'd be nice to stay and visit with him. A bit more background, my grandfather was diagnosed with Alzheimer's a few years ago, so we've unfortunately watched him slowly decline since the diagnosis. As such, this is where things went on a steep downhill slide. We arrived mid-nap, which subsequently meant waking him from his nap to visit. In hindsight, it seemed like a very poor choice, as when he awoke he seemed completely disoriented and largely still asleep.

It was as if his eyes were awake, but most everything else about his body remained asleep.

We stayed only but 12 or 15 minutes, as it didn't prove useful to stick around any longer. Enter the flight of my emotions. I've known my grandfather wouldn't be the same every single time I visited. I've dreaded but prepared for the time when he wouldn't remember us, or wouldn't be able to communicate with us the same. As much as I thought I'd be unphased when it happened, I wasn't. At the time, I tried to shuffle through other thoughts. I tried to jump to the upcoming things for the week and what I needed to take care of next. I wanted my mind to float off till my emotions wouldn't be so strong.

That's where I believe the flight response happens for me. When I'm face to face with an emotion-laden experience, whether it's sadness, frustration, or whatever, I try to shift my thoughts away from what's stirring them up. My mind takes flight. Maybe, that's why I don't cry in public. I don't allow my mind to focus long enough to conjure up a physical response.

My mind never stays in flight for long, though. I wouldn't say I'm scared of the emotions, rather I just need them to calm down or settle before I can pick them apart. I tend to process my feelings internally, but they never go unchecked or un-analyzed. That's why, even though I typically don't show my emotions in public, my throat still tightens up and my eyes still become glassy behind closed doors.

Nevertheless, this is where the fight response shows up. Except, I wouldn't say this is so much a fight, even if the situation can be a sort of emotional battle. It's more of a coming-to-terms. I know that I can't outrun my feelings, and I don't ever intend to. At some point, I let them catch up to me, and then the sorting process can begin. It's usually not that tumultuous like a real fight would be, but it doesn't mean that the emotions don't present a challenge at times.

snele1
snele1

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