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How Getting Help in College Changed My Perspective About My Anxiety

Here I am. It’s just me and the keys of my laptop, wondering which combinations will suffice to tell the story of my struggle with anxiety, and more importantly, my recovery.

Perhaps I will never illustrate everything I hope to say. Maybe some things are too personal, or maybe things just need to be said and heard. Each word will be carefully chosen, and evaluated. I’ll try not to babble, or talk about irrelevant details. But this is my story. This is the process I have gone through to get to where I am today.

I don’t know how, or when, it began.

Timid at age 5, hesitant at 9, anxious at 13 — I believe everyone has the capability to be anxious because it’s a natural response to life. I overlooked my constant worries, fears and stresses, as I believed this was how my life was meant to be at 13. This was until I had my first panic attack.

I remember I was sitting with friends during a lunchtime at school, it was crowded and people were pushing and shouting, people were trying to talk to me, but I went into “lockdown.” My breathing accelerated and my heart leapt as my body exploded. I was shaking and crying, yet I was frozen. What was happening to me? What was I meant to do? A friend noticed my pain and helped me leave the situation. Put simply, it was the first time I had ever been truly scared. I thought I could die. Eventually, I regulated my breathing, wiped away my tears, put on a brave smile and returned. No one knew what to do or say. I didn’t let anyone know its impact on me.

I thought whatever happened was over, and I could forget about it. That is, until the same thing happened the next day, at the same time, in the same place. This time, I noticed earlier on what was happening, so I left sooner than I had the day before. Confusion consumed me. I couldn’t understand what was happening to me. Perhaps this was the start to the habitual and routine panic attacks which would become a part of my life some four years later. How was I meant to know how to deal with this at age 13 when I couldn’t even understand it myself? I didn’t know what panic attacks were. I didn’t even know anxiety was a mental illness — more so, a mental illness I had. I ignored it. Maybe if I forgot about it, then it would never happen again. 

What a fantasy that could have been.

For the next year or two, I had occasional panic attacks, but never within a time period where I could indicate a pattern, a cause or a trigger. Within this time, I was diagnosed with anxiety by my doctor. I learned about my mental illness and began to accept it, although I hoped — I always hoped — each panic attack would be my last.

Then, my final years at high school arrived, and took exams I was informed would “decide my future.” At that time, I received heartbreaking news. I lost three extremely close relatives — all within the space of 11 months. I enclosed my grief within a chamber buried deep inside of me, because I didn’t want to let my sadness and anxiety affect the grades I’d receive. Somehow, I valued that more than my happiness and health. I had locked away all of my emotions, but I knew one day I would have to try and find the key.

Despite my success in those exams, they were far from easy — especially for my mental health. That final year included lessons I would have to escape from due to impulsive attacks when I would least expect it. It meant there were attacks during exams, leaving me struggling to fight away the symptoms to prevent them damaging my future. What did I get from that? I got pieces of paper. Meaningless pieces of paper, each with a letter on them. I drained myself, for something that was not worth taking my health away from me.

Though, once it was over, I became myself again. I felt happy and I had strong relationships with the people in my life. That summer I travelled, and I went on flights halfway across the world to visit new places and experience different cultures. I still had stumbles along that journey, but I was doing OK.

Just when I thought I was leaving something difficult behind, September came, along with my new start at college. This brought a whole abundance of experiences I never thought I’d have — none of which were experiences I’d have dreamt of.

My anxiety escalated, my panic attacks became progressively worse, and I was struggling more than ever before. Each day was painful. It was a challenge to walk through the doors of my college, let alone for me to get out of bed, because I feared what would happen. I knew the possibilities that could occur. I spent my nights lying awake obsessing over the thoughts that consumed me. I never thought I was good enough, yet I had a deep need for perfectionism. I lived consistently worrying of losing the people I was close to in my life again. I feared my own fears, and the panic attacks corrupted me around a dozen times every day. The most difficult thing was, I didn’t know why this was happening. How could I explain this to others, when I didn’t even understand it myself?

I knew something needed to change.

Once again, it was impacting my grades, but also my relationships with people around me, and both my physical and mental health. It was draining, I was exhausted.

So, I sought therapy.

In October, I began CBT, counseling and hypnotherapy. I was desperate for recovery. I was prepared to try everything I could, and I never stopped trying. Slowly, I got better.

The panic attacks diminished, to a level where now I can stop them as quickly as I feel them seeping through. I changed my mindset, or at least that is something I am currently working on. I have tried to erase negativity from my life, which has been essential to my success.

Anxiety will always be part of me. As much as I would happily rid it from my life, it’s not as likely as I’d hope. Though, I know I have come such a far way.

You may wonder what worked best for my recovery? Honestly, there is no clear answer. I knew I wanted to fight my illness, so I did, and I used the tools I had available to help me. I was lucky enough to have constant support from family, friends and my boyfriend, as well as the staff at my college who were incredible with me. I always had someone to talk to and I knew I wasn’t alone. I trusted they wouldn’t hurt me, that they were there to help me and their positivity would radiate to boost me up to my true potential. I certified, and they confirmed, that there was no time pressure for me to get better. They just wanted to see me OK.

Certainly, I found that changing my perspective was key. I stopped blaming myself for all my hardships, and now I am beginning to become truly happy once again.

There are so many positives in my life right now, and I am proud of my success. This isn’t the end of the story, for I know I am a girl who has anxiety, and that isn’t going away. Though, it doesn’t control me anymore. I am the one in control. I decide where my path leads, and I choose happiness and health. The past is in the past, and I won’t worry about the future. For me, it’s about living in the present. So today, I am OK and I am happy. I decided my anxiety doesn’t depict my life.

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Thinkstock photo via Jacob Ammentorp Lund.