I remember my first panic attack.
It was my senior year of high school. My mom said the coffee must've made me sick — what else would explain my heavy breathing and the sudden tachycardia and nausea I was feeling. Mental health is such a taboo where I'm from. But I knew deep down inside I wasn't OK. When I got to college, my anxiety just got worse. I started to fear myself — fear that horrible feeling and the thought that it was my own mind that was causing it. Eventually, I built up the courage to seek help.
"You have a GAD, Gianna — generalized anxiety disorder." That explains a lot, I thought, as my eyes watered. I was scared. And although it's been years since that moment in which I was first diagnosed, I continue to be scared until this day.
It's hard to live with an illness that no one seems to understand. "You worry too much, just relax," "don't think about it," "don't be so negative," "calm down…" I don't like to blame people for their ignorance. However, what does irk me is how people romanticize anxiety and make it seem "trendy." It's easy to joke around saying "that gives me anxiety!" after everything. But if you really had it, if you knew what living with anxiety actually felt like, you'd know it's not a joke.
Living with anxiety is overthinking absolutely everything, or as my mom says, drowning in a glass of water. It's overthinking a text message so much you forget to reply, but then you stress over not having replied because that person probably hates you now. It's typing out a two-sentence e-mail and re-typing it 10 times because you're worried you're saying something wrong.
It's obsessively worrying about time. It's going somewhere an hour early because you're afraid to be late, but then staying in your car because you're embarrassed about being too early.
It's thinking about the hundreds of ways things can go wrong and not once considering how they can go right.
It's crying over things that still haven't happened.
It's planning things way ahead of time and having four backup plans in case the first ones don't come through.
It's not being able to stop working on something, or even thinking about it, until it's as perfect as you envisioned it to be, to the point in which you don't eat nor sleep well.
It's avoiding conversations because you're either "too shy," afraid of being judged or scared of the outcome.
It's not wanting to go out with friends because you're scared of having an awkward moment or feeling like you don't belong. It's not leaving your house because the mere thought of getting stuck in traffic, being in a car accident or not finding parking is terrifying.
It's isolating yourself.
It's thinking you're annoying, everyone secretly hates you and being convinced that your friends don't really care about you.
It's caring too much.
It's asking for reassurance all the time and then feeling like a burden for doing so.
It's trying to always please everyone because you don't want to disappoint anyone.
It's apologizing excessively.
It's not asking for help because you don't want to bother others or you think you don't deserve the help. It's not being able to concentrate on one task because you're worrying too much about the next one.
It's bottling everything up until you have a breakdown. It's keeping your problems to yourself because they're insignificant.
It's living in a state of mind in which the positive things that happen in your life are "too good to be true" so you doubt and question every single thing, thinking eventually something has to go wrong.
It's convincing yourself that you are not capable of doing something, so you don't even want to try.
It's being extremely impatient and irritable. It's randomly snapping at people over stupid stuff and a second later thinking "why did I even do that?"
It's developing unhealthy coping mechanisms like avoidance. It's drinking or sleeping too much, all to not think about that one thing.
It's having any of these circumstances make your heart pound out of your chest.
It's literally forgetting how to breathe, suffocating, and not being able to stop crying. It's having a panic attack and not wanting to tell anyone because you don't want to sound dramatic.
It's being your own worst enemy.
Living with anxiety is exhausting, paralyzing and overwhelming. It is not a quirky personality trait. It is not a joke. And although it may seem like it, it is certainly not an exaggeration. It's a silent daily struggle I hope to one day have under control.
Anxiety is one of those things you have to go through in order to know what it's really like, so please don't pretend to have it.