Anxiety is difficult to deal with no matter what age you are, but there are certain things that are different based on when you first experience it. People who first experience anxiety as adults have had time to form their personality and to experience many aspects of life. While this does not lessen the impact of that anxiety on them, they know who they are already and that is something that they can use to ground themselves. Developing anxiety as a child or teen runs much deeper into the personality of a person than developing it as an adult does.

There are habits that you develop as a side effect of the anxiety. Like holding an apple core for the entirety of an hour class because you don't want to draw attention to yourself by getting up to throw it out; or constantly needing reassurance from other people because you don't trust yourself anymore--not after your anxiety tricked you into thinking something was wrong all those times. I will ask someone five or more times if I look okay before leaving the house sometimes because my anxiety used to tell me that nothing looked good on me and I've gotten into the habit of asking. Confrontation is terrifying because it might end in a fight or with someone no longer liking me; this isn't because I am a self-centered person who needs everyone to love them, it's because I won't be able to sleep knowing that I was the catalyst in a fight. Nothing is simple; every action, conversation, and idea is thought through a million times over before it occurs; growing up with anxiety forced me to evaluate my every move.

You miss a lot of things if you grow up with anxiety and/or panic attacks. This is by no means anyone's fault, but is still something that I think about almost everyday. My anxiety was at it's peak sophomore and junior year of high school; a prime time in the life of a teenage girl. And it controlled a lot of my life even if it didn't seem like it to the outside world; I said no to plans a lot because I was afraid I would have a panic attack while I was out. I claimed I was busy, which I was, but not in the way I'm sure my friends imagined. I didn't really come into myself as a person until my senior year of high school and well, now, my freshman year of college. My mind had been so focused on the anxiety and just getting through it, that I did not have the chance to develop into a true person. I was there physically, but mentally it felt like I was completely out of control; when I thought of who I was, the first thing that came to mind was anxiety.

While things such as having difficulty telling the waiter that my order is wrong or not raising my hand in class are sometimes annoying to deal with, the hardest part of growing up with anxiety was when I finally started to feel better and less anxious. Calm was a foreign concept to me. Feeling "normal" or not anxious was alien to me; I had not experienced life without anxiety in a long time and it was a hard adjustment to make. Anxiety and panic attacks had left me on edge, so when I started taking medication that left me mostly free of them, I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. My body did not know what to do now that it was not in panic mode; I slept a lot for the first few days of taking meds because I was adjusting and finally able to relax. It was the most calming and simultaneously unnerving time of my life.

Growing up with anxiety, you are almost always in survival mode. The goal is to survive each panic attack and anxious moment and then hold your breath until the next one. Your brain is constantly on high alert and looking for the next threat whether it be real or imagined. Learning to come out of survival mode and to just live instead has been one of the most difficult parts of dealing with my anxiety. You have to reteach yourself how to relax and that it's okay to have a moment where your brain is not occupied--it no longer needs to be distracted in order to remain un-anxious.

The thing about growing up anxious is that you never had time to figure out who you were before you were anxious. When people say they have "recovered" from a mental illness, it is often interpreted as meaning that they have returned back to the person they were before they had developed said mental illness. For people who had a mental illness as a child, recovery involves inventing yourself completely because there is nothing to go back to. Growing up with anxiety has left me with side effects that I am still working to get rid of, but it also has made me who I am.