A few nights ago, I was laying in bed on FaceTime with my long distance boyfriend.
"If you could go back to a certain point in your life knowing what you know now, when would it be and would you change anything?" he asked.
I thought for a moment about the mistakes I had made and the hard times I had gone through.
"4th grade," I answered.
He asked why and I tried to gather my thoughts to explain.
4th grade was when I started exhibiting signs of anxiety but had no idea what it was. I was in the nurse's office almost every day with a stomachache or would have to leave class because I was having a panic attack and couldn't breathe.
Back then, I couldn't understand what was wrong and neither could anyone else. I remember having tests done on my heart, scans taken of my stomach and bloodwork done to try and figure out what was wrong with me. Being only 9 years old, it made me feel like a freak. None of my friends had these issues and though they tried to understand, I don't think they really did.
I remember my 4th grade teacher calling me out and making fun of me in front of the entire class, not hiding the fact that there was something wrong with me.
"Can you breathe alright over there, Megan?" she'd ask, a smirk on her face.
Everyone in the class would look at me and I couldn't help but know that they were judging me. I was accused of being a lazy, attention-seeking student even though I was in an advanced reading program, did well in school and was generally a shy, nervous person in front of others.
As the years went on, I got better at controlling my anxiety, but I still had breakthroughs where I couldn't. In 5th grade, my best friend and I went to see Ratatouille and we had to leave because something triggered me into a panic attack.
"At least I wasn't afraid of a movie about a stupid rat," she later threw in my face during a fight.
I couldn't explain to her that the movie probably wasn't the problem.
All through middle school, I did my best to control the feelings I had, and it worked. I found a group of friends and felt normal. When I hit high school, I finally felt under control. My anxiety wasn't a visible thing anymore; I could hide it well enough for people to think I was normal.
Going into my junior year, I had a panic attack the weekend before school and had crippling anxiety the first few weeks for reasons I still don't understand. At the beginning of August my senior year, I had something similar happen. I dropped out of my last class of the day and took an off-block because I literally couldn't handle being at school. I would go to my mom's office at her job and sit there to watch her work, blankly staring at the wall and wondering what was wrong with me.
It wasn't until my sophomore year of college that I finally forced myself to fix it. I had taken enough psychology classes (it's my minor) by then to have an idea that I probably had an anxiety disorder. I saw a psychiatrist at the student health center who later diagnosed me with a smattering of things, one of which happened to be anxiety.
"Did you experience stomachaches a lot as a kid?" she asked during my first appointment.
I stared at her. How on earth did she know?
"Did you ever have to leave class because you couldn't handle being there?"
As she went through the list of questions, I realized that everything that I had gone through was because of my anxiety.
Looking back, I realize how much easier it would've been for me if someone would've known that what I was dealing with was actually a problem, not something I was making up to get out of schoolwork or to get attention.
Growing up having to deal with something that you don't understand is one of the most difficult things out there. When my boyfriend asked me what I would go back and change, I said something that even surprised me.
I would go back to 4th grade but I wouldn't take my anxiety away. I would simply give myself the ability to understand what it was and how to cope with it. I would stand up to the people who made fun of me and made me feel like a pariah. I would explain to them what it actually was. Despite having anxiety, it's a part of who I am and who I have become.
If someone would've told 4th grade me that I would have moved 6 hours away and pursued a degree where I have to conduct interviews almost every day, get up and share pitches in front of newsrooms and have my writing published for many people to critique, that alone probably would've given me a panic attack.
Changing something about yourself might make your life easier, but it also erases everything you struggled through to get to where you are. Because of what I went through, I can now help other people cope with the same difficulties. On top of that, it gave me an unwavering strength to get through anything I set my mind to.
I hate that I had to go through something on the most difficult path, but let me tell you, it really feels rewarding when you reach the peak of the mountain and get to look back and see everything you overcame to get there.