My symptoms were purely physical at first. I had trouble catching my breath as I walked across my college campus and my side would hurt like I had been running. I went to the school health center. They told me I had asthma and prescribed me an inhaler. Now, this sounded very strange to me since I am 20 and have never had breathing problems before. I swim for an hour twice a week with no problem. How could I have asthma?
I tried the inhaler for a week, but things started getting worse. I would wake up in the middle of the night with these chest pains. Very sharp, sudden pains that would go away just as fast as they started. I had a panic attack at my boyfriend’s apartment. I had never felt so nervous and shaky for no reason whatsoever. I realized these were symptoms of using the inhaler.
I decided to get a second opinion. When I described what had been happening to the doctor, he told me that I had anxiety. He prescribed me some medicine to take when I felt nervous. I only took the medicine a few times, but it didn’t seem to be helping.
A few days later, I found myself back at the doctor thinking that something had to be wrong with me, physically, because the chest pains were just getting worse. I couldn’t sleep at all because my chest hurt so badly. I was hoping that there was some explanation, but I left with the same answer I had before: anxiety.
I wish I could say that things got better after that, but I would be lying. My anxiety was over taking me. I didn’t recognize myself anymore. I had breakdowns in my car, in the middle of the night, and when I was with my boyfriend. The most frustrating part about it was that I couldn’t point out exactly what was causing it all. I did all of the things my therapist told me to do. I was eating more protein, doing deep breathing, I cut caffeine completely out of my diet, and none of it was working.
One night after having an episode at my boyfriend’s apartment, I drove myself back to my apartment. I parked in front of the complex and undid my seatbelt, but I found myself unable to get out of my car. I sat in my car for two hours because I, simply, did not want to leave it and go into my apartment. That was when I realized that my anxiety was situational.
Realized is probably the wrong word to use. I had realized that I hated where I lived the minute I moved back for school to start again. I was always looking for a reason to leave my apartment — or when I would stay I usually stayed confined to my bed all day. Five people living in a tiny space is not fun. I hated feeling so cramped. I felt suffocated in that place. It didn’t help that I didn’t have the best roommates, either.
So that night, in my car, I accepted that my anxiety was situational. The worst part is, there was nothing I could do about it. For the first time in my life, I felt like I couldn’t help myself. I was trapped in the apartment that I hated because I couldn’t go anywhere else for a couple months until the end of the semester. I was going to feel this way until I could move out.
My parents weren’t much help at this time because they didn’t understand. My dad would yell at me to get over it and just made everything worse. My mom was kind and tried to talk my through my episodes but she was so worried about me that it felt like she was smothering me with her concern.
How did I get through it? I stayed busy. I joined a club, got an internship, and did homework before the night before it was due. If I didn’t have time to focus on what made me so anxious, how could I let it affect me? My strategy worked for the most part. The anxiety attacks went from happening multiple times a week to only once. I had legitimate reasons to stay out of my apartment. The only time I would be there would be to eat and sleep. I counted the days until the semester would be over and I could move out. I just kept looking forward instead of focusing on the things that made me unhappy in the present.
I did this for myself, of course, but all the while I was thinking of my boyfriend and my parents. I had never been so unhappy and upset before and I didn’t want them to have to worry so much about me. I felt so guilty for always being sad around my boyfriend. I knew I wasn’t the happy girlfriend that he wanted and had before. I knew my parents wanted to help me but they didn’t know what they could do. So I told myself that I had to try to become happy again — if not for myself, for them. I had to be okay for them. That’s just me. I’m always putting myself on the back burner for others.
There are plenty of other stories that I have relating to that, but I’ve rambled enough. Now, the three important things that my anxiety taught me.
- The people who love you are willing to help you no matter what. Like I said, I felt guilty for always dumping my problems on my boyfriend. I felt bad that my parents only heard from me when I wasn’t in a good state of emotion. But through all of that, they were still there for me. My parents reached out to my extended family who messaged me on Facebook or called and texted me to let me know that what I was going through was normal and they were happy to help in any way they could. I have a huge support system and I couldn’t be more grateful.
- Everything that you are feeling is valid. It’s so so so so important to accept the way you are feeling in every moment. It took me so long to realize this, but trying to deny or question your emotions won’t make you feel any better. Once I stopped asking myself why I felt the way I did during my anxiety attacks and just accepted that it was happening, it was a lot easier to get past the attack and move on. Don’t ever think that your emotions are silly or stupid. It’s just how you feel.
- It WILL get better. Keep yourself busy, keep looking forward, surround yourself with people that care about you and that you can have fun with — that would be my advice to anyone who is struggling with situational anxiety. Making small changes in your life can impact it in a big way. Find something that will keep your mind off of what is making you unhappy.
I wanted to use my voice to, hopefully, help others. I realize that this wasn’t the happiest of stories, but If my story helps one person, that’ll be enough. I haven’t had an anxiety attack in about a month and a half now. Now that I am out of my situation that caused my anxiety, I already feel so much relief and happiness.