Disclaimer: If you love somebody with anxiety, (or think you may start to) here’s what you can do. You can listen, you can hug them when they’re sad, you can give them space if they need space but you absolutely cannot tell them to “calm down” and “stop worrying”. That’s a good way to get iced out.
At three years old, it was funny. “Why is she so terrified of the dolls with the big eyes?” Well Mom, first of all if they come to life in the middle of the night I will be dead! Also, they’re dolls, so anything else? Every stuffed animal or doll in my room as a child had to be turned around. As I progressed into elementary school, my teachers were concerned about my well-being. I entered kindergarten at four and was already reading, so I was a little advanced.
Advanced, but afraid of everything. “Why were the other kids weird about me reading? What am I doing here? Am I safe?” Thankfully, my kindergarten teacher was a saint. I remember seeing the school guidance counselor a lot more than the other kids. I realize now that they were trying to make sure I wasn’t suffering from trauma (Spoiler: I was not.). I was very nervous about my grades. I would cry about anything other than an A and if someone so much winced their eyes in my direction.
Then came middle and high school. As if being an awkward teen in the early 2000’s wasn’t enough (Hello, platform flip flops and frizzy crimped hair), I had an undiagnosed anxiety disorder. I couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t make it at social events, and that I felt like I couldn’t breathe. And why on EARTH did I cry so much?
My heart metaphorically speaking is about five times larger than the average heart when it comes to feelings, so on top of that I made a lot of friendships that took advantage of the anxiety. I had “friends” that walked all over me but made me feel included so I felt less anxious. Eventually they Regina Georged me and I jumped right out of that ship and made newer sane ones that actually fully accepted me. Shout out to you guys!
Freshman year of college: I have my first full on meltdown. I had just had emergency surgery and was behind in school work. I lost my scholarship because I had to drop a class. I was on my own and living in a 9×9 cubicle with a roommate sharing a shower with 40 other girls. The world was spinning and I dropped flat on my back. I finally took myself to see a mental health professional where I was diagnosed with severe generalized anxiety disorder as well as chronic depression. Once I found out what the hell that actually was, I felt like my life was finally making sense. I decided to major in Psychology where I really found my niche. It was like an entire world opened up where I could understand who I was.
Flash forward six years later: Surprise! The anxiety still exists. It’s genetic. My mother and my grandmother and cousins all have it. It’s not going to go away, but I can manage it just like I would with any other chronic illness. There’s such a stigma around mental health, and it just needs to be normalized. The important thing is that I continue to talk about it candidly as if it’s an old (irritating) friend. If I’m going to attempt at dating you, that will be the first thing you know about me. If you can’t handle it, then it’s a deal breaker. Period.
That’s a part of me. I am not a victim. This is my truth and my life. I experience the occasional panic attack. I live with it every day. But I meditate and medicate. I go outside and look at nature and I surround myself with people who support me. It helps me weed out the non-important people in my life and keeps me afloat and attentive.
If you have anxiety, you’re a survivor. It doesn’t own you. You. Own. It.