I’ve used the excuse that I can’t come up with a clever enough opening statement for this blog post, for about a year now. When I first started my blog, I knew this was a story I needed to share. I just didn’t know when, and I wasn’t sure how.This is the deepest it gets in my little world, and I don’t think any one can deny how intimidating it can feel to share one’s story of struggle and triumph. I write this story with the hope that it helps at least one aching heart know that they aren’t alone, and a sense of hope is not as far as it seems.
I was 12 years old when I first heard the word “anxiety”, and the first panic attack I can remember was in 2nd grade. I was a frightened, shy, overwhelmed, scared, and hesitant pre-teen. I couldn’t find the courage to ask the waiter for ketchup at a restaurant, and any time a peer of mine would try to become my friend I’d avoid them like the plague in order to avoid any social confrontation. I’d obsess over any social interaction I would have, hoping I didn’t sound like an idiot, and praying that I wouldn’t have to deal with someone else trying to talk to me. Paranoid of hurting someone by something I’d say, or not being good enough to be their friend. I was abnormally scared of loss and failure. I would panic at the thought of being unloveable, and frightened to a unstable point that I wasn’t worth loving. I would cry myself to sleep at night, for a reason I couldn’t pin point. I would loose my mind watching people fight, or being in a fight myself. I’d get dizzy, my heart would pound out of my chest, my hands would shake and sweat, and I was unable to formulate a normal sounding sentence. This was my normal for over a decade of my life. I didn’t know that wasn’t normal, until much later in my life.
It was a random day in February of 2004 I was in 6th grade, and my heart was beating so hard you’d think I had just a ran a 6 minute mile, at the thought that there was another day to face. I went to my last class of the day, Social studies. We had been studying a time in history in which there was too much hate and not enough love. We had read descriptive chapters of events that occurred involving war, and the loss of life. I had been struggling to sit in class during this time, but hadn’t yet hit my breaking point. My teacher walked over to the VCR player, (the what? you are probably asking yourself right now) and turned on a very vivd and colorful video displaying the events that took place in Germany in 1933. I had never seen any act of violence so horrific, and my entire being lost it. Right there in the middle of my sixth grade social studies class, feeling helpless and frightened to the 10th degree. The part of this story that trips me out the most is that I was convinced no one knew what was happening inside me. I sat there in my class glued to my seat, terrified to move with the new knowledge I had gained that humans were capable of destroying each other to the point of torture and death, with seemingly no care of their actions. The bell rang signaling the end of class, and I have never moved as fast as I did in that moment. By some miracle my Mom was the first car in the line of cars waiting to pick up their children. She saw me running and in retrospect probably saw the tears in my eyes too. I slammed the door shut, and I broke. Broke into a thousand pieces in the front seat of that car. Terrified of the world, the people in it, and the violence that penetrated the world. My body was shaking so uncontrollably, my Mom later told me she thought at first I was having a seizure. At this point in the story there is little I remember, but I do know my Mom attempted to ask me at least 100 times what had happened. I don’t remember what I said to her, I don’t remember driving home that day or what I did once I got there. That night my parents asked me to go for a drive, with panic still encaging my body, I went. My Dad asked if I would feel comfortable being homeschooled for a while until we could figure out if I was ok. The tears came again, this time out of relief. I was free. Free from a pounding heart everyday, and incessant fears of the world. Little did I know freedom would never come, but it would get better. I would get better. My anxiety would get better. That hope wasn’t as far away as I believed.
My parents enlisted the help of our family’s pediatrician, and mental health professionals. Slowly but surely my parents began to receive answers. In retrospect, I think about it from their point of view. How confused they must have felt. If there were a picture in the dictionary next to ‘idyllic’ my childhood would be there. I was blessed with parents who loved me, protected me, fought for me, provided for me, and comforted me. So why was I scared of the world? There was no reason to be… at least they thought. There is a saying I have heard many times, along the lines of it taking more then 2 parents to raise a child. But that a village is involved. And that village must be built carefully. Unfortunately parents don’t always have complete control over that village and who is invited into it, for example educational instructors. I had had teachers who didn’t have my best interest at heart, and through some therapy I was eventually able to pinpoint instances from my early years of education in which my anxiety potentially could have developed.
I had been homeschooled for a half a semester by this point in the story. Since answers to my condition were beginning to come to light it made sense to try to go back to traditional school. My mom came with me to register for my 7th grade classes. The moment my foot hit the pavement of that school….all of the emotion of that 6th grade panic attack came rushing back and I ran. Like I literally ran back to the car. I wasn’t ready. I couldn’t do it. My mother is a saint full of patience. Instead of forcing me to go, she unlocked the car, and ripped out of that parking lot as fast as she had on that random day in February of 2004.
I remember one of the many trips to the Dr. in which what type of treatment children with an anxiety disorder typically use. At the end of the treatment discussion the Dr. told my Mom, “She most likely isn’t leaving your side. I don’t think college is a possibility to be discussed, and I don’t think she’ll move out of your house.” I couldn’t tell you that Doctor’s name because I never saw him again. My mom is the kind of person who doesn’t respond very well to the word ‘no’. As far as she was concerned, college was something that would be talked about frequently. A typical healthy adult life was the goal, and there was nothing she wouldn’t do to help me find a new normal. And she did. Every panic attack, every flutter of anxiety I never fought alone. Eventually I went back to middle school. My school district only knew how to help the students who were farther ahead in all aspects of their life, or farther behind then heard of. There was no in between, and if it wasn’t for my Mother, I would have fallen between the cracks. She fought and she fought until my middle school would accommodate a split schedule. Meaning I would have some classes at school like a typical student, but after lunch I’d go home, and she would teach me social studies in a way that wouldn’t cause a panic attack. Because of her fight, I never went to a history class again, and had a split schedule for the rest of my secondary and high school education.
A generalized anxiety disorder is like an onion. There are layers and layers and it gets pretty deep. I assumed once I could figure out how to handle observing feelings of contention without losing my mind, my anxiety would go away and all would be well….ha! High school came and panic attacks were more of an occurrence then ever before. Previous to high school I wasn’t participating in any regular type of treatment. My parents were cautious of sending me to therapy, and weren’t sure what would happen if they left their daughter to talk to a stranger for an hour about her fears of the world. My mom felt like it needed to happen though, so it did. There are few times in my life I have felt as relieved or overwhelmed as I did after my first therapy session. That was when I learned about the onion that had grown inside of me, what it was doing to me, and what it would take to rid of it.
I worked as hard as I possibly could those 4 years of high school in therapy learning about anxiety, what it meant, what it was, what it could do, why I had it, how to stop it, and anything else my therapist was willing to teach me. This education I received from my therapist, sparked something inside me. From that moment on I became fascinated with feelings, how they worked, why we have them, what they are capable of. It led to my eventual career goals in the therapeutic world. College came into the picture and I shot it down. Those Doctor’s words penetrating in mind. My senior year of high school came, and most of my friends knew what their plan was once they graduated. They’d ask me what my plan was and I’d change the subject. I don’t remember what it was that opened my mind to the idea of college. But I remember that postcard in the mail that changed everything. A small public school in the middle of Cedar City, Utah asked me to visit. And for some reason, I said sure. My Mom came with me, and once we were there we both knew that this was it. I only applied to two colleges, with the secret hope that both would say “Heavens crazy girl we don’t want you here.” But unfortunately both schools liked crazy, cuz they both said yes.
My parents drove with me to Cedar city in fall of 2010. I couldn’t believe this was actually happening. I bawled from California to Las Vegas. I knew how to conquer a panic attack. I had spent the last 4 years studying and practicing how too. I knew what anxiety felt like. I knew what my limits were, and how to protect the fragile onion inside me. But could I do it by myself? That was the question I asked myself while my Mom and I sobbed in each other’s arms and said goodbye. That first semester of college was one of the hardest times of my life. But I did it. I even let go of my mom again to go back for a second semester after winter break.
I could write 10 more pages of the anxiety struggles and triumphs I’ve faced since my freshman year of college. Serving a full time mission for the LDS church (talk about letting go of my mom…), continuing my eduction, my first “grown up job” that my parents had nothing to do with, calling off a wedding, losing my best friend, the list goes on. Instead I want to share with you the advice I would give to my 12 year old self:
Breathe. Just breathe. In through your nose, and out through your mouth until the ringing in your ears goes away. You are worth more then money can buy. You don’t believe me now, and you won’t until the world breaks your heart a few times. There is a song you’ll hear that sort of becomes the theme to your recovery. It talks about the sun shinning one day. Not about the darkness being taken away, but a hope for tomorrow. There is hope. There’s a lot of it. One day you decide to see it. And one day you learn to love not only the onion, but the one who holds it too. I can promise you, you’ll be ok. I promise one day you’ll wake up and it won’t be a nightmare, but a story you survived and are proud to share. Don’t be afraid to dream about more then the Eiffel tower, and to tell the world all about those dreams. You make it Paris. You even get a college degree. But it isn’t because you let the anxiety win and wonder what the world is like. It’s because you do what Mom tells you to do everyday: breathe and believe it will be ok. Believe it or not, you even get to the point where you realize Dad is right….recovery is a choice. Not a hope or a wish, but a choice you wake up every day making. It’s a choice that you not only have to make, but act on. Your life won’t be perfect. You fail at a few things. But no failure will ever result in a loss of your worth as a person. You find a form of treatment, like the Doctor keeps talking about, but it takes a minute to figure out what works best for you. There will come a time when you aren’t afraid to tell someone you have an anxiety disorder, she doesn’t run away. She’s never made fun of you for it either. And she still stays, after every panic attack that happens. Eventually you tell more then just her. And you change lives because of your story. Love is not a word to be afraid of. You’ll experience heart break. And you will feel loss. But there is more joy in the word Love, then there are reasons to be afraid. One day you even get the guts to speak to a boy. A few actually. Some of them you get rid of with good reason. Even though it will get contentious. You fight the anxiety it brings. Like you have, and like you always will. There is one boy you let into the world of anxiety. He sees the onion and he asks you to teach him everything you are learning right now, and what you have yet to learn. He protects you like Mom does, and he doesn’t leave. Let yourself get stronger every day. Because randomly one day you’ll ask the waiter for ketchup, without even thinking twice.
**If you or, a loved one, are experiencing anxiety, depression, or any other mental illness please consult with your Dr. about treatment.**
**To the loved ones who wonder what they can do for those that suffer from anxiety and depression:** There is no universal answer. Everyone is different. So ask them. If they don’t have an answer at that moment, chances are they will once you give them a minute to think about it.