I originally wrote this back in 2017 – like a diary entry, it was cool to look back on but I made some tweaks to share in honor of Mental Health Awareness Month. <3
His palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy
There’s vomit on his sweater already, mom’s spaghetti
He’s nervous, but on the surface he looks calm and ready.
It’s almost like Eminem just KNEW how to explain anxiety in this lil rap. Except I’ve never hurled up spaghetti (knock on wood).
Welcome to HONESTY HOUR! It’s like happy hour, minus the cocktail, friends, and ordering one drink too many. (Jk, still drinking while I write this). This is where I will be discussing interesting, taboo topics, or just being honest, ya know?
So here it goes: Anxiety
I have anxiety. A lot of it!
Now, I feel like this is a common statement today with society’s increased openness on mental health. A lot of people throw this word around, but what does it even mean? According to anxiety.org, “anxiety disorders are characterized by a general feature of excessive fear (i.e. emotional response to perceived or real threat) and/or anxiety (i.e. worrying about a future threat) and can have negative behavioral and emotional consequences”. There are manyyyy types of anxiety. But I won’t go too much into that. For more information on types, check out anxiety.org.
For me, anxiety used to completely cripple my life. I consider myself to be a smart, somewhat logical human, yet I somehow experienced chaotic, unreasonable thoughts that ultimately led me to experience severe anxiety attacks. For me, anxiety initially came on whenever I felt a weird sensation because I had suffered from a collapsed lung when I was a teenager (story for another post). It could’ve been something as simple as a muscle spasm or even my heart rate increasing during a test or just pure stress, and my body responded with madness. This same feeling began to occur in other moments too. And I wish I knew the impact that event would have on my life before it started to take over my well-being.
My anxiety attacks were often characterized by a fast heartbeat to the point where I felt like I was having a heart attack. My already awful vision would go even blurrier. My chest would tighten up. I’d feel like I couldn’t breath. My body would go numb and it felt like it was tingling. All of this led to tears and pure paranoia that I was about to die.
As I write this today, I laugh because it sounds so unreasonable. How could something trigger my body to do this to me? People would tell me I was being dramatic or that I was crazy. Some friends thought I was experiencing something more concerning than the reality of the situation. My boyfriend at the time would relentlessly hold me and try to calm me down. I had more than two ER hospital visits that led to “stress disorder” diagnoses. I began to feel like this wasn’t normal and that maybe I didn’t have to try and navigate this on my own (but of course, I did for many years).
There became a point where this cycle began to affect my whole life. I began to not feel like myself. I began to withdraw from social activities. I was in college, where I was supposed to be carefree, learning and having the time of my life. And I was, but I had moments where I would completely isolate myself. I wouldn’t want to enjoy an adult beverage due to the fear of losing control over my thoughts/body. My coping mechanism with anxiety sadly led to even more damaging behavior with disordered eating. Food and exercise felt like the only two things I could control. I finally reached rock bottom when my doctor told me she was concerned about me- I had a dangerously low BMI and I was already a small person. I had been complaining of chest pain and was going to her almost bi-weekly convinced I had ailments. She recommended and insisted I get help. It was at that moment I realized I wanted to not feel like I was walking on eggshells 24/7, to purely avoid anxiety or brace for each moment I would experience it. I let it completely control me.
It’s sad it took me reaching rock bottom to realize I needed help, but I know many can likely relate. With the support of friends and family, I finally recognized I couldn’t overcome this alone. This was the first step to recovery. I had been so adamant that I was fine and that this was just the way it is. Needing help seemed so pathetic and weak to me. I was still getting good grades, had awesome friends, but deep down, I knew I needed to change and deserved it.
So in 2014, I walked into a psychologist’s office in college and later a psychiatrist. I was eventually diagnosed with PTSD due to my collapsed lung and advised to take medication. I felt ashamed that I was told to take a drug and was SO reluctant, but finally decided to give it a chance because I had truly no idea how else to get better. And I am so glad I did.
Seven years later, I can’t even remember the last time I experienced a paralyzing anxiety attack. Anxiousness still lingers, but I no longer fear the sensation of a muscle spasm, and now know how I can take better control when I sense something uncomfortable. I finally feel free to go out and be social, knowing I won’t get anxious in the middle of an event. I now no longer even take medications. I learned through therapy and my support system on how I can better manage my anxiety. And, more than anything, I now understand the strength it takes to finally take control over your life. I was never weak. I was only taking steps to get stronger.
What’s my point with this honesty hour? Ask for help. Your mental health is SO important and I first hand know how it can truly affect your life. But it is equally as important to never fear asking for help, despite your pride, existing stigmas or what others might think about you. Who cares? Like seriously…probably not many people other than your friends/family.
Point is- you have control over your life. No one else does. You’re not stuck. No one is standing in the way of your success, other than you. I really wish someone had told me that. Sometimes, you’re not choosing to feel depressed or anxious or whatever crippling emotion you may feel. That’s important to recognize too. But it is also critical that you recognize you can take steps to create change. You are your own power and support along the way ignites that power.
So even if your palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy, you can take control of your own life. Be open to help and know that you are not alone in your journey with mental health. I am always here to chat. I’d love to hear from some of you (you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org).
Lose yourself, in the music, this moment, you own it.