"Life is essentially a cheat and its conditions are those of defeat; the redeeming things are not happiness and pleasure but the deeper satisfactions that come out of struggle." -F. Scott Fitzgerald
So those of you who know me, and know me well, know that the past few years have been a bit of a roller coaster of anxiety, panic attacks, and depression. What do you know? Another, 20-something claiming to be worried and sad all the time. It’s true, anxiety is the number one mental health disorder in teens and young adults, but just because it’s common, doesn’t make it any less debilitating and treacherous. I’ve made progress, I broke down and asked for help, and I’m doing better. It’s easy to let an anxiety disorder control your life, but that gets exhausting, and I’m done dealing with it, especially the following two things.
1. Missing out: I am so done of letting my anxiety get the best of me and missing out on great things. It’s so easy to say, “I can’t do that” and blame anxiety for it. For years, I have turned down chances because I didn’t want to do them alone, or because I was scared of having a panic attack and not having anyone around who understood. But so what? In a previous post I mentioned how I went to the Aston Martin Centennial Celebration in London by myself and how it was one of the best experiences I had abroad. At that time, I was on medication and I believe that contributed to the fact that I said, screw it, I’m finally doing something for me. It’s now one year later and I just completed my scuba diving certification. I am no longer on medicine. When I decided I wanted to get certified after a trip to the aquarium a few months ago, I fought so hard to find someone to do it with me. I tried to convince all of my friends, and some acquaintances, that this would be an awesome experience, but no one felt the same way as I did. Everyone was too scared, and that’s okay, but for some reason I wasn’t. Not only was I not scared of drowning or claustrophobia, or any other reason, but I also wasn’t scared of pursuing this goal alone. I attended an eight hour classroom/pool class, and two full days of open water diving, both more than an hour away from home, all by myself. Who am I? I know that for most of you, doing something that you want to do even though no one else wants to is just a normal, everyday act. But please also know that, for me, for someone who has suffered for years with the crippling inability to do things alone, that this is a giant feat. There were times when I couldn’t walk into the store alone just to buy toothpaste or something to eat. My first year of college, I turned down multiple opportunities to make new friends because my best friend since middle school wasn’t going to be with me. There were times when I would leave places early because I refused to talk to new people, but I also refused to be the loner sitting in the corner. And yes, I realize how flawed that is. But I’m working on it, I’m taking risks, and I’m trying to work through my anxiety, alone. I could have missed out on the incredible feeling that is scuba diving, and I could have given up my dream of ever diving with sea turtles, and two years ago, I would have. But I didn't let the anxiety stop me this time. Was I anxious? Yes, of course. But just as anxiety was telling me that I could never do it, and just as I was about to cancel my certification and forfeit the money, I took my life back from the grips of my disorder, and I'm so glad that I did.
2. Fear of Embarrassment: Panic attacks are embarrassing. If any of you have ever experienced the hell that is a panic attack, first of all, I’m sorry, and secondly, you’ll understand. You feel like your life is ending and that nothing good can ever happen again. The walls close in and the air disappears and your brain forgets how to tell your body to breathe. In most cases, hyperventilation and tears accompany shortly after. In a crowded area, people stare because you’re the freak whose mind thinks up the craziest scenarios that send the rest of you into an unjustifiable rage of panic. And that’s embarrassing. But guess what? After you have a panic attack in enough public places, you start to only focus on how to make yourself better, and not what other people are thinking. Take it from someone who has had a breakdown on the streets of London, in a hospital parking lot, at Disney World, in the middle of physiological psych class (oh, the irony), during a shift at work, in the crowd of a Kid Rock concert (that I was forced to go to, which didn’t help), and many other uncomfortable places. Although, with therapy and medicine, I’ve pretty much got these panic attacks under control and down to a minimum, but the fear of relapse is always looming over me. But I guess sometimes you just gotta get to the point where you’re aware of your limits and you recognize the issue before it occurs, and you stop caring about the stigmas that the world throws at you. I’m done feeling like the crazy girl because I was forced to meet with a psychiatrist. I’m done feeling like I need to hide my issues and not let anyone else know because of fear that they will judge me or not want to be around me or think that I ‘just need to get over it’. I’m not embarrassed anymore.
I have an anxiety disorder.
A very wise person once told me, “you are not your thoughts, and your thoughts are not who you are.”
Don’t be ashamed of the baggage that you carry. Embrace it, and let it help you better yourself.
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