I hope you all had an amazing Christmas, and a Happy New Year! It's always so nice to get together with family and friends, something I think we all take for granted.
In a few days we will be venturing to Hawaii for a family vacation! Hawaii has always been one of those "do before you die" kind of places for me. Even though traveling gives me severe anxiety (like several other things), I just have to tell myself that the experience will be well worth it.
I'm not sure where exactly my anxiety stemmed from. Maybe it's from going back and forth between my parent's houses when I was a kid, I remember I used to get really sick and paranoid for no reason. That's the earliest I can remember it happening. Of course at the time I had no idea what was going on, but then again, I used to get sick and anxious all the time. On the bus on the way to school in kindergarten (often), meeting new people, going new places, summer camp, all of these things would trigger a massive panic attack, usually followed by me getting sick. (Lovely, right?)
It wasn't up until a few years ago that I found out I had social and generalized anxiety disorder. I had honestly never even heard about anxiety disorders until all of a sudden, every millennial who seemed to struggle with it started posting about it on social media... When it first started, I remember feeling like I was alone, that nobody could understand what I was feeling. For no reason, my heart would start pounding as if I was full of adrenaline, my hands would start shaking, and I could feel all my insides beginning to tighten as if they were going to suffocate me. For those of you who also struggle with this, I feel for you. It is the worst feeling in the entire world, especially when you're not sure why it's happening or how to stop it.
I remember one day my mom was dropping me off to driver's training, and I had a full-blown panic attack in the car. I started crying and shaking for no reason, and my mom was so confused as to what was happening. She looked at me like I was a lunatic, telling me "You need to get out of the car, Katie. What's the worst that's going to happen?" Little did she know, I had already conjured up a million different things in my head that could go wrong. And for what? We weren't even at the driving portion of the class yet, we literally just had to sit in a classroom and watch boring videos about how to not hit a pedestrian... But my mind had already convinced itself that I might just die in that classroom.
"What if nobody likes me? What if I get sick? I don't know anyone, who am I going to talk to during break? Where will my nearest escape be? What if I have a panic attack, what will people think of me?"
These kind of thoughts repeat over and over in my head until I can no longer escape. It's truly a helpless and humiliating experience.
My boyfriend in high school used to be so confused as to why I never wanted to go with him to college football games, or to certain restaurants, or situations. I used to bail out on those kind of situations due to fear. They were things I weren't familiar with, and had no control over, so of course they scared the shit out of me for no reason. It wasn't until years later that I was finally comfortable enough to express to him how I really felt, and that I wasn't just ditching him. Can you believe that? It took me years to admit that I was suffering!
I was so scared that people would judge me, or see me differently if they really knew how I felt. So I made excuses for everything. Once I finally opened up about it, the strangest thing happened... people understood. They didn't judge me, or laugh at me like I feared... And that's when things finally started to get better.
Over the years, I have had to find ways to cope with my anxiety.I used to go to school, come straight home, cancel on my friends, miss out on certain parties or functions, because I literally convinced myself that I can't do it. That I will have an attack. That I will get sick. It was a viscous cycle that I thought would never end...
And in some ways, it never did. Some days I still panic about simple things, like going to the post office, or out with people I don't know. Any situation I am unfamiliar with, or haven't done before can still trigger an attack. But I have gotten to the point where I can control it, or at least suppress it enough to get through it.
Anxiety is not something you can make "go away" or "get over" but it is something that a lot of people have to live with. It wasn't until I faced it head on and said, you know what, I don't care that I'm scared. I don't care that I think I might die, because that's ridiculous. I'm not going to die. I'm stronger than this. I can get through this. I'm feeling panicked, and that's okay, but I have to get through it. I have to keep moving.. and I did. Every year gets a little bit better, and every time I do something that would have sent me over the edge a few years ago, is a victory for me. And it's those small victories that will help you win your battle with anxiety.
No pill or substance can achieve what your own self discipline can. Make yourself uncomfortable. Breathe. Take control of your own mind. Stop telling yourself that things aren't going to be okay, because they will. You have to push yourself in order to grow, and sometimes it's not pretty. But one day, you will walk into that classroom full of people you don't know, you will get on that plane to Hawaii, and you will not let your anxiety control you anymore.
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