teenage girl behind wooden beam with tears in her eyes

Dear Teen,

I hear you are feeling pretty bad. I’m so sorry. I have felt like you do, and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.

Listen — anxiety doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with you. I know it seems like you are the only one struggling like this, and that feels embarrassing, but anxiety is so common it can be considered more normal to have anxiety than to not have it. It’s just that it is invisible, and just like you can hide it pretty well, all the other people with anxiety do the same thing.

You don’t have to anymore! Many, many people, like celebrities Adele, Kim, Zayne, Selena are being more open about what they are experiencing. They have felt as alone as you and want you to know that you are not “crazy,” and you are not going “insane.” You will not feel like this forever. If someone told you that you will, they were misinformed about anxiety. People used to think of it in a different way. Now we know better, but the word is not as widespread as it needs to be.

Trust me. I’ve struggled. I clawed my way out. I have witnessed the recovery of thousands of others in my counseling practice get better. What you are experiencing is temporary and it is OK to ask for help.

You might feel like nobody understands, but that’s not true. People do understand. Everyone experiences anxiety on some level because the parasympathetic nervous system is biological. Everyone releases adrenaline and norepinephrine. It’s just that people think about anxiety, worry, fears, stress and panic in all different ways, and they use different words to describe it. Plus if you say, “You don’t understand!’ enough, people will start to believe that they don’t. Or agree, “You’re right, I don’t understand,” so they validate you hoping it’ll make you feel better. They are scared and worried and feel helpless.

I know how you feel. You both want them to understand, maybe because you don’t and you hope they can explain it to you. But you also want them to know they don’t understand so they can really get how intense you are struggling. If they understand too easily, they must not get the depths of it, you think. Or, if they don’t feel it, if anxiety doesn’t stop them in their lives, then they can’t possibly understand.

Just for a moment suspend that thought about what other people understand. What if you spoke about your anxiety like everybody got you? What would that be like?

Anxiety is a weird and difficult problem, because it exists alongside most other problems. It complicates other problems and makes them worse. It often becomes a worse problem than the original problem. It can happen to anyone, and it has nothing to do with strength, character and courage. Actually living a day with anxiety takes a huge amount of courage, so people with anxiety often have more courage than people without.

Remember, you are not alone in this feeling.

Here are some things I want you to know about anxiety to get you on the path of feeling better.

1. Anxiety needs you to be scared.

Anxiety perpetuates when the brain continues to release adrenaline when you are afraid of the feelings of it. So this becomes a cycle. Cognitively you know you are not in physical danger, but it feels so horrible you are afraid you’ll lose your mind. The more you are afraid, the more your brain releases adrenaline, the higher your anxiety gets and then the more afraid you are. Understanding what is happening in the brain really helps you to stop this cycle, because you are no longer afraid of anxiety.

See in my bio for a link to a video on the Biology of Fear.

2. Anxiety lies, constantly.

It tells you that you can’t handle it, that you are weak, that you’ll “go crazy,” that this is really something to be scared of, that you bother people, that you are overreacting, that you are losing your mind and that you simply can’t. None of these are true. They are just ideas that sound logical and convincing because everything seems hard when you have anxiety. Anxiety has you seeing all of the bad in you and not see any of the good. This is a ploy to keep you vulnerable to it. As long as you listen and believe it, anxiety will play and wreak havoc on your life. As long as you don’t trust yourself, anxiety stays in power over you.

Stop judging yourself. You are so much more amazing than anxiety wants you to believe right now. Judging yourself — which everyone does — makes anxiety so much worse. Be gentle and understanding to yourself, and then tell the anxiety you will not believe the lies anymore.

3. You have more power than you think you have.

You always hear that most of life is out of your control. I understand why that thought is overwhelming — it would freak anyone out —  but that is not entirely true. The things that are out of your control, like other people and weather, don’t matter as much as the one thing that is in your control: Your response.

You are an agent in your life. No matter what is happening around you, you decide what you can do in response. It’s called personal agency. You have total control over what you think, how you make sense of it, and what you do next.

Your response means more to your mood, your self-image, your level of happiness, your relationships and how you see the world, than what you can’t control. That means your happiness, sense of peace, and self-opinion is 100 percent in your control.

Anxiety might make you think you are out of control, or might “go off some insanity cliff,” but that is a big lie. There is no insanity cliff and I have never heard of anybody in thousands of clients in 20 years as a psychotherapist lose control. It simply doesn’t happen. You always have your wits about you. In fact, the adrenaline makes you hyper-focused.

4. It is temporary.

There is one guarantee: Anxiety never stays the same. It changes, so let’s change it in your favor. Anxiety is highly treatable, we just have to change some beliefs, and we can get you better. We have to build trust in yourself and encourage your self-confidence, and then you will not be vulnerable to anxiety any longer.

Knowing it is temporary will help you be less afraid of it and less judgmental of yourself.

In my book, “You 1, Anxiety 0: Win your life back from fear and panic”, I list 15 skills and abilities people use to get over their anxiety. Some are: find a higher priority, believe you can and remember what you know. They all involve taking action, because action and distraction are the best ways to shift your anxiety.

If you are struggling with anxiety, don’t wait to get help. You don’t have to suffer. Read a book on it, watch videos, see a counselor, start a distracting project and talk to a friend. The worst thing you can do is pull back from everything in life and stay home and think about the anxiety. That will make it worse. The caring adults in your life want to help. They have been where you are. If someone is not being nice to you, find an adult at school who you can trust.

It may seem like you have no one to go to, but that is often the anxiety lying to you about being alone. You are not alone. People do care.

I know life feels out of control right now, but find the little pieces of evidence of the control you have and focus all your attention on that. Repeat it to yourself over and over. You will get better. I promise.

You biggest fan,


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Spoiler alert, I have anxiety.

My husband and I were recently enjoying a date night at a small local bar when, for whatever reason, a wash of anxiety suddenly came over me. He looked at my face and knew something wasn’t right. My heart started pounding, my body temperature started rising, my breathing became shallow, and I scanned the room for signs of danger (a shady character, a fire hazard, a blocked exit). Then I recognized this panic attack for what it was, and in my head I said, “Oh, hello anxiety. I know it’s you again.”

Along with my chiropractor, PCP, neurologist, transplant docs and nurses, and acupuncturist, a psychiatric nurse practitioner is part of my health care team. I have a diagnosis of generalized anxiety disorder and have tried a dozen prescription medications, a dozen more supplements, and numerous alternative medicine techniques, but my anxiety is not going anywhere. And I’m not alone.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, “anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 18 percent of the population.”

That’s a lot of people. Maybe like me, you are one of them. Or maybe you know someone living with anxiety.

Anxiety Feels Like…

For me, anxiety produces the same feeling as unexpectedly running into an old fling or an ex-friend. Do you know that feeling? Even though you are not involved with that person anymore, seeing him or her is like a ton of bricks hit you in the chest. That’s what a panic attack feels like to me. My anxiety is like the ongoing fear of running into that person, having a confrontation (or not having one!), second guessing everything that happened, and expecting something terrible to occur as a result. The irrationality is that in this metaphor, the ex now lives in Siberia and the likelihood of a chance run-in is tiny.

Mindfulness and Anxiety

A few weeks ago, I had an Aha! moment when I realized (while talking to my NP) that yes, I still have anxiety, but I now can recognize it as anxiety. Recognizing when my thoughts are anxiety-driven takes away some of their power. Being able to identify a wave of panic for what it is makes it less scary. In the best times, I can catch my anxious thoughts before they start to spiral. It is still super hard (and not so fun), but at least I can give irrational thoughts a name when they show up. The mindfulness I’ve been “practicing” for years seems like it finally has made a difference in my mental health. I have focused on mindfulness as the key to my sitting meditation ritual and have used mindfulness to examine physical symptoms in my body for years. Now I’m starting to use mindfulness to notice when my thoughts are anxiety-driven rather than reality-based.

When Mommy Has Anxiety

It’s one thing to have a panic attack when I’m out with my husband, and a completely different thing to battle constant anxiety or a encounter a panic attack when I’m with my kids. What’s a mommy to do? I breathe. Notice how it feels to squint my eyes tightly. I pray. Listen to the sounds around me. I put on sunglasses. Ask Alexa to tell us a joke. I randomly break into Pilates (another reason I always don athleisure wear). Breathe again. And I call out the anxiety or panic for exactly what it is. In the best times, my mindfulness helps me to notice my anxiety like I notice that my daughter needs to blow her nose. Hopefully it is in that order. In the worst times I put on the Beatles, text one of my closest friends, have a cry under my sunglasses, make avocado pudding, and bring the kids to the library.

When you fly, you put your own mask on first. As someone who has anxiety, I learn to recognize my own anxiety first, and then I can move on to mommy duties. I try to avoid triggers I know will make me anxious, but that simply is not always possible. I am not a mental health practitioner, but I can tell that my anxiety isn’t going anywhere despite my attempts to evict it. Instead of fearing anxiety as the ex that I should fear seeing on campus, I try to accept that if I can notice my anxiety first, then I can give a requisite head nod and keep walking. And that feels OK.

Follow this journey on Mom Seeking Balance.

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I painted the walls of my room yellow when I was 14 years old. My sister told me the shade was too vibrant and I should choose a more neutral color, but I persisted. I’m 22 with yellow walls and I would make the same decision again. They look juvenile and allow for much more sunlight than is needed at 6 a.m. However, the reason for the color remains strong and lasting, just as the obnoxious color. I couldn’t paint neutral, I couldn’t paint dull and I couldn’t sway from yellow. Bright and vibrant inspires positivity and happiness, or so it did to my naïve 14-year-old mind. I thought if I could surround myself with colors of happiness and joy, that I could forget the thoughts that come at night. I thought if I could trick myself into a sunny disposition, then I would be able to forget the self-loathing, the insecurity and the guilt that plagues me at night. See, the yellow walls weren’t a décor choice in the slightest — they were a grasping of straws for something, anything that could offer me some relief.

Let’s talk about relief. It is not the absence of thoughts, it is not the absence of hate — it is simply the absence of fear. Relief allows me to grow numb and to develop what feels like an immunity to the slow deprecation of my idea of self — a self that was never strong but grew weary with each passing day. I used to think I was nothing. I still do. My life was a constant flutter or worry of annoying those closest to me with my problems. Simple requests like watching a movie, going out for lunch, or just sitting at each other’s house began to feel like a burden. Not just for me, but of me. How could I ask my friends to spend time with me when I had nothing to offer them? I would constantly tear myself down into thinking that, if someone spent time with me, it was because they had no better offers. I put myself as a perpetual back-up plan. I believed my own company was burdensome and something no one would willingly seek. This deprecation was faceted from my own thoughts of self. I was never someone I wanted to spend time with. I was never someone who I found worthy, interesting or deserving of love.

I was 14 and I did not know the power of these thoughts. I did not understand what they meant, or what I was doing. So instead, I painted my walls yellow and tried to hide the thoughts. I tried to pretend to love myself. I hid my insecurity in a flurry of parties, extracurriculars and hangouts. Anywhere I was around a lot of people but not in an intimate setting. Here I could spur off story after story of fantastic possibility, embarrassing endeavors and wild happenings — stories which painted me as someone who was an open book when all I was doing was setting up walls to hide the inner-workings of myself. If no one thought I was hiding anything, then they would not look into it. I was surrounded by friends but no one I could talk to. I misconstrued this as happiness. I thought, if I ventured out every day and could talk to people without reservation then I was happy, I was adjusted and I was not in need of the yellow walls in my room.

I’m 22 and have continued patterns of isolation. I found a way to slowly chip away at my defense, so all that is left is me and these yellow walls. As I got older the parties stopped, the extracurriculars were left abandoned and I no longer had an array of friends to make small talk with. I was left alone in a room with my own thoughts, only now I could not pretend they were not there. The magic of the yellow walls started to fade and what was supposed to encourage a happy disposition only serves as a memory of what I cannot achieve. Holding onto friends became something of an impossibility. Suddenly large groups and parties fell out of style for intimate hangouts and talks. I had no stories to hide behind because they had heard them all and I suddenly the relief vanished. I felt the sickening feeling of fear creep its way back to my mind.

My breath got shorter, my nights got longer and I stopped going out. I didn’t understand the guilt that came from being unable to talk. I did not understand the worry that came from not being to stay in touch. All I knew was, if I couldn’t open up, I might lose the only people who were still in my life. However, at the same time, opening up was a foreign concept — one which plagued me with fear of abandonment. Just because the façade wouldn’t work anymore did not mean I was ready to give it up. I needed to believe I was fine because to admit otherwise was to remember all my thoughts of inadequacy. It meant I would have to understand I did not like my company and no one else could possibly feel otherwise. So I stayed silent and looked at my yellow walls for something to change, something to wake up inside me, but it never happened. I started having one to two panic attacks a week, I let go of a lot of people and I made my life nothing but school and the four yellow walls of my room.

No one tells you how to identify when something is not right. You are not informed when worry turns into something unmanageable. There are no guidelines for someone who is not looking to realize that maybe the thoughts which come at night and spill into your days are not OK, that these thoughts are not a part of yourself but something you can fight. So when someone finally did tell me, I was not ready. I was not ready to chip away at the yellow paint to the neutral dull paint beneath. Yet, I know the only way to fight this is to take down these yellow walls and explore what I have neglected.

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Thinkstock photo via zingraphic

I am not a statistician. I am not a law-maker. I am not the owner or manager of a housing property. I am not a psychologist or an expert on service animals and how they affect the treatment and coping process of folks with disabilities. My only knowledge of service or emotional support animals is what I have Googled or read on government documents, which explain my rights as a citizen of America.

Offhand, my knowledge of service and support animals seems feeble and insignificant. And that’s definitely how I felt when I first began the process of finding an emotional support animal. Over the last month though (throughout this horrific process), my confidence has risen because I have realized that I am, in fact, an expert. In my situation, I know better than my husband, my landlord, the adoption agency — even my psychiatrist. I know what I need and I know what I feel. I am the one who lives with my condition every single day. That’s why I felt the courage to write this article.

I live with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and a depressive disorder which is currently in remission. I’ve come a long way and I have learned a lot about my illness, but that makes me all the more qualified to stand up for how I feel and to speak out about this subtle issue within our community.

Most people have their own idea about what an emotional support animal is. Many of the people I know probably think like I used to: a service animal makes sense for those who are blind, experiencing seizures, or impaired by physical disability. Many would probably expect public places and housing properties to allow these animals because they are necessary to the lives of those with these disabilities. Additionally, I understand the belief that, as privately owned businesses, owners should be able to choose whether or not they allow service animals (and the karma of their customers’ outrage would cause the company’s self-destruction without any government involvement). But on the other hand, I also understand the belief that the government’s job is to protect its citizens and ensure their ability to “pursue happiness.” Lastly, I know there are plenty of people out there who abuse the laws protecting the right to service animals – taking advantage of websites that will certify any animal or give a “doctor’s note” to anyone who pays enough money. Because of this fact, I also understand why many landlords might be skeptical when presented with a reasonable accommodation request for a service animal.

During my junior year of high school, I was diagnosed with my mental disabilities. I have been receiving therapy and psychiatric help ever since and I have become a highly functional person. I have a job, healthy friendships and a great marriage. Nevertheless, even in the best times of my life, I have had constant underlying anxiety.

For the past few months, I have seen my anxiety rearing its ugly head like it hasn’t in years. This scares me. I have always been afraid of relapsing. Additionally, I am in a completely different life stage (and part of the country) than I was when I last learned to cope with intense, immobilizing anxiety. Recently, when I am home alone, I find my anxiety increases significantly and I have, in the past, come close to having panic attacks during these lonely times. When I spoke to my psychiatrist about my concern, she and I came to the conclusion that I could really benefit from an emotional support animal.

My husband and I found a young cat who was looking to be adopted. The foster parent thought this particular cat would be an excellent candidate for providing emotional support for me and, when I told my doctor about the cat’s demeanor and personality, she agreed this cat would be an excellent match. Early on in the process of looking for a fitting support animal, I contacted my apartment manager to find out how to go about properly changing our lease and placing my request for a reasonable accommodation.

emotional support animal tag in person's hand

This is where this story truly begins, because this is where I discovered problems that are subtle and seem to be commonly joked about or ignored.

Automatically, my apartment manager acted suspicious of my request. Now, I will give him the benefit of the doubt; perhaps he has had a tenant in the past abuse the laws which protect those with legitimate disabilities. Perhaps he had been conditioned by previous negative experiences to assume I was trying to work the system. People without disabilities who exploit these protective laws are a subtle contributor to this issue I want to address.

I provided the apartment management with all of the information they asked for: a doctor’s note, proof my animal had received his shots, and documentation of my animal’s certification as an emotional support animal. My husband read up on all of the rights I possess as a psychologically disabled citizen and typed up a formal request for a change in our lease, referencing the proper section of the Fair Housing Act. After this, we waited … and waited … and waited. As I am writing this, we are actually still waiting. It’s been about three weeks now since I first contacted the management to get the ball rolling. There have been plenty of folks within the long ladder of management who have been helpful and apologetic for the time this is taking, but they are all powerless because of the management’s system.

We decided to go ahead and adopt the cat my psychiatrist had approved. I didn’t want someone else to adopt him and I assumed it would only take a few days for the property management to process our request. Considering they couldn’t legally deny my request for reasonable accommodation in accordance with the Fair Housing Act, I assumed they would see the request, send us some documents to sign, and we could bring my support animal home. Of course, in the meantime, we are not allowed to have him in our apartment, so he has been staying with friends… for weeks. I get to visit him on days when they are home and aren’t busy. I have been able to pick him up for his vet appointment and bring him more food and cat litter, but then I have to go back home without him and the amount of stress and anxiety this entire process has caused is terrible.

Herein lies the second subtle problem within this system: on top of being met with suspicion, my request has not been taken seriously. For whatever reason, the management company has not made my request a priority. One of the ladies at the property management company has been helpful; she has explained some of the process and has kept me up to date. A request for a reasonable accommodation ultimately needs to be reviewed by the owner of the property; after the review, I will receive a document to sign, and my service animal can finally be brought to my apartment. This seems simple enough, but the chain of command is so unreasonably long that it has taken weeks for the documents to reach the owner of the property (the only one who actually has the power to help me). I made the decision to get an emotional support animal to minimize my anxiety, but the stress and anxiety my apartment management has put me (and my husband) through are exuberantly more than I would have experienced living without a support animal to help me cope.

According to the housing acts which protect my right to fair housing with a support animal, “discrimination” is charging extra rent on account of my service animal, denying my service animal access to my apartment or evicting me because I have the animal on the premises. Even avoiding processing my request or ignoring my request for reasonable accommodation is considered “discrimination.” If all of these things are prohibited, why then can my request be treated so irresponsibly? Why isn’t it considered discrimination for my request to be put on the backburner and given little to no priority?

I realize there are so many people with far, far worse conditions than my own, and that is part of the reason I feel so strongly about the failures within this system. My life is significantly hindered by my disability, but it is nothing in comparison with the impairments of many folks I have known and read about. I can’t imagine someone struggling with a more severe case of anxiety disorder than my own trying to manage the waiting, the nervousness, and the stress this management company has caused. Acts and movements to prevent discrimination and give equal opportunity to minorities with disabilities are great, but they are only a starting point. Now that we are beginning to see these acts being put into place, the true problem is the hearts of people whose understanding and compassion we (the mental health community) need and the relationship between us.

We need the support which comes from people without disabilities showing integrity and not taking away from the resources which have been set up for us. We need the consideration of those in places of power who can choose whether or not they honor our needs. We need the support of each other and of folks outside of the mental health community (like the friends who have been housing my emotional support cat all of the time we’ve been waiting). And we need our rights and our requests for accommodation to be about people and not laws. We need requests like these to be seen as a request for help and tenderness, rather than an intimidating demand that could result in court dates, if not handled properly. We need the efforts on behalf of the mental health community to be focused more on relationships and less on legality. We need to give and to receive compassion.

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I have chewed my fingernails for as long as I can remember, and I don’t mean in a sweet little, “Aw, I’m nervous, let me give my nail a little nibble” way. I mean I gnaw and chew until they are non-existent. I do this when I get nervous – which is every second of the day.

Many people don’t know I have anxiety, except those closest to me. In fact, I take medicine to keep my anxiety at bay. I don’t advertise this part of me because it is actually a very dark place for me to be. Many people close to me have a hard time understanding why I react to things the way I do. It is difficult to make someone understand something they have never felt. If you were to have a ball thrown at your face, your knee-jerk reaction to this situation would most likely be to throw your hands up or duck. My knee-jerk reaction to almost every situation is to stress, worry, and imagine the worst-case scenario possible. It’s automatic and out of my control.

After reading this, you may judge me. I’m prepared for that. You will most likely think I am overreacting and unreasonable — that’s OK too. The truth is, however, that your potential reaction to my way of thinking is the main reason a lot of people keep quiet and struggle silently. I am hoping to shed some light on this subject so anyone else who may be dealing with this can know they are not alone, I’m right there with you, and there is help available.

This is what my life is like with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).

My sister asks if she can take my son, her nephew, to the park–  I say no, because if she were to get into a car accident with him and he died, I could never forgive her.

My bonus daughter asks if she can go in our backyard, 2 feet from the back door, to play on our playground by herself – I say no because if someone were to come kidnap her when I looked away, I would never be able to live with myself.

My husband wants to give our baby a banana to try – I say no because I don’t want her to choke and die. We will just stick to baby food until she’s 15.

I leave my house 45 minutes early to pick my bonus daughter up for school because being late to places makes me feel like a soda bottle that has been shaken to the point of exploding the cap off. To avoid that feeling, I make sure I am 30 minutes early – everywhere I go.

My mother-in-law wants to take my son for a sleep over – I say no because he is not used to her bed and may fall off in his sleep and break his neck.

If I have a stomach pain – I convince myself my appendix just burst and I currently have poison filling my insides and am going to die within the hour.

If more than two people are talking at once, it feels like they are holding a megaphone to my ears and screaming at the top of their lungs.

If you invite me somewhere, I will smile and excitedly say yes. When the day comes, I wake up dreading it because it requires me to get myself ready and have conversations with people. I will spend the entire night absorbing other people’s energy and entertaining small talk, and by the time I get home, I am completely drained.

If I leave the house feeling self-conscious about my hair, I will spend the entire day watching every single person I walk past to see if they look at my hair. Then when they do, I will convince myself they are thinking about how hideous it looks today and that I never should have left the house looking like that.

If I tell my sister to call me later and she doesn’t, I will call her. If she doesn’t answer, I automatically assume she has been kidnapped and murdered. I even envision my reaction when the police will call to confirm my suspicions.

If someone asks to hold my baby, I will stare at them the entire time so when they drop her, I will be prepared to catch her.

If someone I don’t recognize knocks on my door, I grab a weapon with one hand and have 911 on speed dial with the other.

If I am lying in bed and hear a noise, I envision a robber coming to kill us all. I visually locate a weapon and mentally plan my sneak attack for when he comes in the room.

This probably sounds ridiculous to you, right? I know. Trust me, it feels ridiculous. Who the hell would want to live like that? I don’t think anyone would.  Yet, many people do. Some people may have it easier than me, some, probably worse. There are so many variations of anxiety disorders, each of them equally as difficult to live with.

I live with the excessive, relentless, unrealistic fear that at any moment terrible things are going to happen. Most people can enjoy a day at the beach with their children. I will spend the entire day rolling them around in sunscreen and searching the water with binoculars for sharks.

I have been this way for as long as I can remember, and I’m certain a lot of it has to do with the fact that I have lost both my parents and all but one grandparent. Part of me recognizes that a loved one can be taken away in an instant, therefore I go to extreme and illogical measures to keep my loved ones safe.

This is the first time I have ever shared this with anyone other than those closest to me. Reading back to myself what I have written and seeing my thought processes in black and white is painful, and I see how ridiculous it must seem to outsiders. I have laid my deepest fears and imperfections at the feet of anyone who chooses to read this in hopes it will make someone realize they are not alone and help others realize we aren’t just being “worry warts” who need to “relax” and “calm down.” Because trust me, if we could, we would.

I have started meditating and praying, and it has helped tremendously. The problem stems from my need to control, and in reality, nothing is in control. I cannot control the wind, the time, the flow of traffic, gravity, the weather or anyone other than myself. I need to recognize this and release the tension associated with making sure everything goes perfectly according to my plan.

In the meantime, I need people to understand we are not faking it; it is very, very real. We need less criticism and judgment and more love and support. If you know someone with anxiety, don’t downplay it, don’t make them feel foolish, or “crazy.” Ask how you can help, and let them know you are there for them. It is very difficult to live this way, but having a strong support system makes all the difference in the world.

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A panic attack always begins the same way. I lose all warmth in my extremities and I begin to shake. My lungs begin to heave as if they are screaming for relief, and I can’t bring myself to inhale the air I so desperately need. While a lunch break, a university class or an episode of “Law and Order: SVU” tends to last longer than these attacks, they are not to be underestimated as mine often bring about shockwaves for weeks.

It was not until possibly my 123rd panic attack across a number of years that I realized there is more to me than my anxiety.

I found myself in an unfamiliar place, and I began to notice my knuckles buckling, my lungs struggling and my thoughts turning as cold as the fingers I could just about feel. I was reminded of my friend’s close proximity, and was sure this would develop into another panic attack. There was fervor in her question, “Are you OK?” It was in her reverence to my decision to battle the frontline of my mental illness alone that I knew I had to fight fervently — if not for my sake, but for her.

I drew my attention to what I could see, hear and feel. The walls were white and the fan was on; its clicking and churning of humidity helped fill the silence of my panic, together with the warmth of my friend beside me, helped me grasp reality. It was in my reliance on my own senses that I was able to draw my panic to the surface, where I could acknowledge it and subdue it rationally. My breathing began to slow, I was beginning to regain feeling in my fingers, and I felt as if I had won a battle that had beaten me countless times before. I was victorious.

I am a woman, a daughter, a classmate and a friend. I have generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) but I also have enduring resilience and strength. I can’t pack away my anxiety in a case and throw away the key. I wear it on my back and along my wrists like a sweater or a sleeve. I am a human being with a future and with dreams, and this was the night I realized I can have anxiety along with my future and my dreams.

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Unsplash image via Brooke Cagle.

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