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.