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When I Asked Myself, 'When Was the Last Time I Was Happy?'

As a teenager, I’m used to emotions. Every day, my head and my heart are a rush of feelings I can’t quite explain, my body awash with hormones that make me feel like I’m upside down most of the time. That’s probably why I didn’t notice something was wrong for the longest time.

It wasn’t until I sat on my bed, crying for reasons I couldn’t understand as I texted with a friend that I found out. She asked me if I’d ever been diagnosed with anxiety or depression. My gut reaction was to deny it. Me? Depressed? Anxious? Please. Overachievers like me don’t get anxious. I’m a straight-A student with parents that are still married and friends that were as nice as could be. My life was great. I had no reason in the world not to be happy.

But I wasn’t.

“When was the last time I was happy?” I found myself thinking. Yesterday? Last week? Three weeks ago?

Three months. I hadn’t been happy in three months, the best I could determine. And that’s when I realized my life had changed.

“What happened?” I couldn’t help thinking. What could of possibly triggered this?

And the answer is, nothing happened. Nothing concrete, anyway. The more I’ve thought about it since that day, the more I’ve come to the conclusion that it doesn’t take some traumatic event to cause anxiety. It doesn’t happen all at once. In fact, I couldn’t even tell you when it all started. It could’ve been years ago.

All I knew as I sat on my bed, in my room, alone that night was this: I didn’t know who I was anymore. I found myself finally acknowledging all the self-depreciating thoughts I’d been having recently.

You’re not good enough, and you never will be. Nobody likes you. Your friends just hang out with you because they feel like they have to. They feel sorry for you. And why shouldn’t they? You’re pathetic. You’re a burden who’s just weighing them all down. They’d be better off without you. You are never going to amount to anything.

I made a list of the physical symptoms I’d been having. (The fondness for lists was a fairly recent development, at the time. I’d come to find later that that is yet another lovely symptom of my anxiety.) Chest pains, trouble breathing, headaches, trouble sleeping, feeling faint, loss of appetite… The list went on and on. And they all added up to one thing for me: Anxiety.

Wow. Anxiety. That’s a huge word.

Let’s just say I was terrified.

And I still am. Six months later, I am still overwhelmed by it. Some days worse than others. Parties aren’t as fun; before accepting an invitation, I have to think about how I will keep my anxiety at bay. If I don’t think I can, I just don’t go. Shopping is stressful because I worry about whether the cashier will try to talk to me. Driving leaves me petrified; answering the phone makes my hands shake. Some days, even answering a text or an email takes 20 minutes because I worry about saying the wrong thing. And you can just forget about small talk with strangers.

But I’m so much better off than I was those three months when I didn’t know what was wrong with me. I think that once you realize what it is, anxiety is easier to deal with it. Giving it a name gave me a real and palpable problem to confront. Anxiety is my constant companion now, yes. And, as result, it changed my life. But as long as I don’t let my anxiety control me, it hasn’t ruined it.

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