The Truth About My Anxiety

The Truth About My Anxiety

Anxiety isn't easy to deal with, but you can get through it.

Trigger Warning: descriptions of everyday anxiety and panic attacks.

I have always been a pretty anxious person. When I was younger, it would show itself through tapping feet, fiddling with pencils and obsessively stroking a single piece of hair. I was – and still am – overly emotional and would get stressed if I had trouble understanding something or had a lot on my plate.

About once a year I had what I would then call my “big breakdown.” Something really stressful would happen in my life – maybe I did badly on a test or had a big argument with a friend – and I would completely break down and cry for hours.

Around this time I had another one of my “big breakdowns” after my then-boyfriend broke up with me. It was very sudden to me and it was the first time I had gone through a breakup away from home. I expected to be upset about it but I did not expect for it to go as far as it did. I went into a deep depression. It became hard to get out of bed every day or pay attention in my classes. I broke down crying at least once a day to the point of shaking and hyperventilating. My friends were worried about me and my parents were concerned they would have to pull me out of school.

One day I was listening to music while I took a shower and the song “I Wanna Get Better” by the Bleachers came on and suddenly I was bawling. It wasn’t as if it was an emotional song, but the words “I wanna get better” made me realize that I did want to get better. What I was feeling wasn’t normal and I couldn’t continue to let myself live this way.

That was the beginning of taking ownership of what was going on in my life. I asked a friend to go with me to the counseling center where was asked me to fill out a form rating my feelings a scale of one to ten. After explaining my situation to the doctor, she finally put a name to these feelings: generalized anxiety disorder and a mild panic disorder. She explained to me that my “big breakdowns” were actually panic attacks and recommended that I start taking medication to help with my symptoms. I’ve been taking medication for more than a year now and it has made a huge difference.

Living with anxiety is not easy. Anxiety is being afraid of being the first person to be done with a test because you don’t want people to look at you when you go to turn it in. Anxiety is when you have to have things a certain way because it makes you feel more comfortable that way, and if anything gets messed up, you can’t focus until it’s fixed or you might go insane.

Anxiety is the constant worry that you’re being too loud, too quiet, too messy, too annoying, talking too much, talking too little, not working hard enough, working too hard, feeling like a failure, fearing that you’ve forgotten something.

Anxiety is filled with constant questioning: Do my friends really like me? Does anyone really like me? Are my parents proud of me? Am I ever going to make anything of myself? Will I be enough for someone? Is anyone ever going to love me? Am I going to be alone forever? And you experience this every day, it’s not an “every-now-and-then” kind of thing.

Sometimes all of the feelings and questions become too much, or maybe something didn’t go the way you planned, and then the world starts to feel like it’s crashing down around you and you feel a panic attack coming on. You feel like you’re drowning and you start to gasp for air, but it feels like someone is standing on your chest. And, if you’re like me, you might start to cry.

You feel uncomfortable in your own skin; you want to rip it all off. You curl up as tightly as you can so that you can protect yourself from everything outside of yourself until you start to tremble. And when it’s all over you are left physically and emotionally drained. You have to pick up all of the pieces of yourself and attempt to put them back together again.

Anxiety isn’t a cry for attention or simply being over-dramatic. It’s real, and it’s something that millions of people have to live with every day. Everyone deals with their anxiety in their own way.

What I find helps me deal with everyday anxiety is to write things down in a journal. Whenever I feel particularly anxious or nervous, I write down four things: the situation, my thoughts about it, something positive that happened that day, and then I rate my anxiety on a scale of 1-10 at the top of the page. I feel that putting my feelings down on paper pulls it out of my head and puts it out into the world.

I’ve also learned how to calm myself down from a panic attack using a “grounding” technique where I list facts about my life. For example, I repeat to myself “my name is Morgan, I am 20-years-old, I’m from Alabama…” and so on. It’s not a perfect remedy but it is working for me, for now.

Anxiety can be a scary thing, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t manageable -- and it certainly doesn’t have to control your life (or mine). If you are feeling anxious, reach out for help and then accept it. Take it one day at a time. Talk about it. Share your struggles and your triumphs with others. And, hopefully, all this talking and sharing will lead each of us to be a little less anxious and a little more educated on the topic.

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Yes, I Had A Stroke And I'm Only 20

Sometimes bad things happen to good people.

Recently, I read an article on Cosmo that was written by a woman that had a stroke at the ripe old age of 23. For those of you who don't know, that really doesn't happen. Young people don't have strokes. Some do, but it's so incredibly uncommon that it rarely crosses most people's minds. Her piece was really moving, and I related a lot -- because I had a stroke at 20.

It started as a simple headache. I didn't think much of it because I get headaches pretty often. At the time, I worked for my parents, and I texted my mom to tell her that I'd be late to work because of the pain. I had never experienced a headache like that, but I figured it still wasn't something to worry about. I went about my normal routine, and it steadily got worse. It got to the point that I literally threw up from the pain. My mom told me to take some Tylenol, but I couldn't get to our kitchen. I figured that since I was already in the bathroom, I would just take a shower and hope that the hot steam would relax my muscles, and get rid of my headache. So I turned the water on in the shower, and I waited for it to get hot.

At this point, I was sweating. I've never been that warm in my life. My head was still killing me. I was sitting on the floor of the bathroom, trying to at least cope with the pain. Finally, I decided that I needed to go to the hospital. I picked up my phone to call 911, but I couldn't see the screen. I couldn't read anything. I laid down on the floor and tried to swipe from the lock screen to the emergency call screen, but I couldn't even manage that. My fine motor skills were completely gone. My fingers wouldn't cooperate, even though I knew what buttons needed to be pressed. Instead of swiping to the emergency call screen, I threw my phone across the room. "Okay," I thought, "Large muscle groups are working. Small ones are not".

I tried getting up. That also wasn't happening. I was so unstable that I couldn't stay standing. I tried turning off the running water of the shower, but couldn't move the faucet. Eventually, I gave up on trying to move anywhere. "At what point do I just give up and lie on the floor until someone finds me?" That was the point. I ended up lying on the floor for two hours until my dad came home and found me.

During that two hours, I couldn't hear. My ears were roaring, not even ringing. I tried to yell, but I couldn't form a sentence. I was simply stuck, and couldn't do anything about it. I still had no idea what was going on.

When the ambulance finally got there, they put me on a stretcher and loaded me into the back. "Are you afraid of needles or anything?" asked one EMT. "Terrified," I responded, and she started an IV without hesitation. To this day, I don't know if that word actually came out of my mouth, but I'm so glad she started the IV. She started pumping pain medicine, but it didn't seem to be doing anything.

We got to the hospital, and the doctors there were going to treat me for a migraine and send me on my merry way. This was obviously not a migraine. When I could finally speak again, they kept asking if I was prone to migraines. "I've never had a migraine in my whole life," I would say. "Do you do any drugs?" they would ask. "No," I repeated over and over. At this point, I was fading in and out of consciousness, probably from the pain or the pain medicine.

At one point, I heard the doctors say that they couldn't handle whatever was wrong with me at our local hospital and that I would need to be flown somewhere. They decided on University of Maryland in Baltimore. My parents asked if I wanted them to wait with me or start driving, so I had them leave.

The helicopter arrived soon after, and I was loaded into it. 45 minutes later, I was in Baltimore. That was the last thing I remember. The next thing I remember was being in the hospital two weeks later. I had a drain in my head, a central port, and an IV. I honestly didn't know what had happened to me.

As it turns out, I was born with a blood vessel malformation called an AVM. Blood vessels and arteries are supposed to pass blood to one another smoothly, and mine simply weren't. I basically had a knot of blood vessels in my brain that had swelled and almost burst. There was fluid in my brain that wouldn't drain, which was why my head still hurt so bad. The doctors couldn't see through the blood and fluid to operate, so they were simply monitoring me at that point.

When they could finally see, they went in to embolize my aneurysm and try to kill the AVM. After a successful procedure, my headache was finally starting to subside. It had gone from a 10 on the pain scale (which I don't remember), to a 6 (which was when I had started to be conscious), and then down to a 2.

I went to rehab after I was discharged from the hospital, I went to rehab. There, I learned simple things like how to walk and balance, and we tested my fine motor skills to make sure that I could still play the flute. Rehab was both physically and emotionally difficult. I was constantly exhausted.

I still have a few lingering issues from the whole ordeal. I have a tremor in one hand, and I'm mostly deaf in one ear. I still get headaches sometimes, but that's just my brain getting used to regular blood flow. I sleep a lot and slur my words as I get tired. While I still have a few deficits, I'm lucky to even be alive.

Cover Image Credit: Neve McClymont

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9:51 PM

A poem about struggling with anxiety, especially during a creative process like writing


Roses are red,
But violets aren't blue
And in about twelve hours this poem is due.

So I ponder and think,
And hope and pray
That the words I need will come to stay.

But my mind says no,
Your writing sucks, start again
Or better yet, don't even bother to begin.

It tells me to give up,
That my words aren't "right"
Stop now, your verse is weak-they'll hate it on sight.

Instead of stopping, my pen keeps going
And the ink flows on
For it knows I have something worth showing,
So girl, write on.

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