Since I was little I can remember getting that tightening feeling in my chest and could instantly feel my heart race faster and faster when my parents wouldn't pick up the phone right away or when I couldn't find my mom in the grocery store in less than a minute or if something was out of place in my house I would stare at it and let myself get nauseous until it was fixed. Car rides became excruciating because of all the possibilities for accidents or poor weather conditions and news updates sent horrific images into my mind, family trips in crowded areas were unbearable at the thought of losing my parents and never being able to be reunited, and messes at school made me cringe.
I didn't know what any of this meant or what it could be until I got older. I didn't know as a young girl what anxiety or OCD meant or how they affected me. Why it bothered me so much when my crayons weren't in color order or why I would lose my breath and start to shake and cry when my parents would't be home by the exact time they had told me. The kids in my class would stare at me when I kept messing up my notes so I would have to smash up the paper and re start over and over and over until my handwriting was perfect and every important fact or term was color-coordinated.
My parents would laugh at me when my morning routine would get thrown off and I would break down in hysterics because I am so incredibly regimented. My mind is an itinerary and cannot function out of order, my body will shut down. You don't grow up knowing you have a disorder and you almost don't want to know. There is a hidden stigma associated with each psychological disorder. When most people I've encountered hear "anxiety" or "OCD" they tilt their heads in an odd way and start to analyze me from head to toe. "But you always look so happy and put together?" is a common question my friends would ask. But very few would see me start to tear or hear my heart thud when I would look at my agenda. If I saw more than a few assignments scribbled I would suddenly start to picture the rest of my entire educational career and life. I would start to question every single aspect of my life and worry about events and situations that could never possibly happen or wouldn't be occurring for years. "How many friends will I still have in a few years?" "The world is falling apart how am I going to fix it?" "Who is going to win the election, how will the U.S. change, what if there's another war?" "I'm scared to die. What happens when you die? Will I feel pain?" A simple task at hand could make my brain explode into a journey of unsolved problems and issues that would tear my mind apart and make me drive myself insane. The heart palpitations would kick in and the paralyzing fear of the most absurd unrealistic scenarios could make me ball my eyes out.
I'm thankful to have such supportive family and friends who have helped me learn how to cope with my anxiety and OCD whenever I really start to lose myself. I've learned to take a step back and ask myself if what I am losing my breath over is realistic enough to be so entirely scared of. How to calm my heart palpitations and not cry over having a lot on my plate, but instead making lists and crossing off each task one at time. How not to assume the worst and have a panic attack about dropping out of college and changing my major because I did poorly on one single exam. How to avoid making myself lose sleep over what the world is going to be like in 10 years and how that might affect my decision to get married or have kids. Most importantly, I have learned how to take a step back from life sometimes and focus on little things that make me happy so I can replace the panic and fear and anxiety with a positive activity that I enjoy and can see the good things within. Painting canvases, writing for the Odyssey, working out, going to the beach and just listening to the waves all can take me to an alternate reality where anxiety can't take a hold of me, but I can take a hold of myself. In the grand scheme of life I like to believe that each one of us has a purpose here on Earth and that each battle we face or obstacle placed in our life is a part of that purpose. So I do not let my disorders define me and let them engulf me in their negativity, but I learned how to let them mold me into a better human being who can slowly learn to enjoy life and not worry about the next hour of the next day of the next year of the next lifetime. No, I do not let my disorders define me because there is more to life than days spent panicking or hours of re-organizing and re-writing 3 or 4 times over. There is a life full of opportunities and success for each and every one of us that we cannot let a disorder hold us back from all of the greatness we've yet to experience. So go out there and show the world what a girl with anxiety and slight OCD can do, because she's pretty awesome if you ask me.
A verse that has helped me through it all:
"Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."