I was born three months premature and weighed only about a pound upon delivery. Everything about me was so weak, but everything about me was also so strong. I was tiny and fragile and looked like something out of a horror movie. But, my parents told me I fought like hell. I guess I had some strength within me.
The first time I had a panic attack was in high school. I was eating dinner with my parents, when all of a sudden I couldn’t breathe. I ran to my room, trying to take deep breaths and to clear my head of any negative thoughts.
But, the tightness in my throat wouldn’t go away. As I inhaled the best as I could, my breath became shallow and I felt no oxygen pass through my lungs. My throat felt like it was being clenched by someone else, like someone was wrapping their hands around it and squeezing it with all their might. In that moment, I truly thought I was going to die. And my life changed.
I don’t know what made it stop. I just remember my whole entire body shaking uncontrollably, and being paralyzed with fear of the unknown. I remember my sister getting my parents, trying to do something to calm me down. I remember my mom turning on a Taylor Swift CD, and my dad telling me it was going to be ok. I remember my teeth chattering together, and my fingers twitching back and forth every second. And then after what seemed like a very long time, the shaking stopped. I could take a deep breath again. I could feel ok again.
But these attacks don’t happen just once in someone’s life. At least they didn’t in mine. I was diagnosed with a rare condition called “Vocal Cord Dysfunction” as well as Generalized Anxiety Disorder. When these attacks occur, my vocal cords close while I’m trying to inhale. It feels like my body is choking on itself and there is nothing that feels quite as terrifying as that does.
I thought it would be something I would grow out of. I thought it would be something I could move on from or ignore it until it was gone for good. But anxiety is a strange and terrible beast. It sneaks up on me at work. It tells me “hello” while I’m boarding a train. It seduces me while I’m riding an airplane. It attempts to shock me, and to chase me. And sometimes it wins. But I am a survivor. I will fight like hell just like I have done before. And I will survive and live through this.
I have come to understand that anxiety is something I will always have to deal with. And it is something I will always have to learn to accept. I’m not at the point yet where I can control it. Some days, it still controls me. If you are struggling right now with anxiety as I am now, I hope you never feel defined by your anxiety, even if you feel like it has a strong hold on you. You are bigger than it. You are stronger than it.
Anxiety tells us that we aren’t tough enough and that we don’t have what it takes to knock it down. Society will tell us that that it is weak to ask for help.
But we are the furthest thing from weak. It may take months or many years, but one day we will be able to sit on a train without fear. We will be able to walk to work without shaking. We will be able to ride an airplane without crying. We will be able to live our lives fully and face those demons head on together.