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Why I Struggle to Explain My New Anxiety Diagnosis


The third trimester of my senior year — a month from graduation — I learn I’m failing chemistry.

“I’m going to art school,” I think to myself as I sit on the floor of the third-floor girl’s bathroom. “I’m never going to use this. I’m terrible at it anyways. I can’t do this. I’m going to fail out. I’m going to live on a bench. I’m a failure. I’m a waste.”

And the spiral continued. I sat on the filthy bathroom floor, ugly sobbing and hyperventilating, close to passing out. Then my phone went off in my pocket. My teacher got concerned I’d left class for an hour. (“I’ve been in here an hour?”) So he called the front desk who in turn called my mom, who ended up calling me. I told her everything, and even though she assured me I had plenty of time, I was close to vomiting because I was convinced I had ruined the rest of my life. A reasonable assumption for me, but apparently not for my mother.

This was my third anxiety attack in the span of a few weeks, but this was by far the worst. The other times, I had just been standing in a crowded room and nearly passed out on my feet because I started wondering if everyone was looking at me to make fun of me. In hindsight, I just heard a girl laugh, not uncommon in high school, but I became convinced I did something wrong and the entire room was laughing at me. But while I was thinking about all of this,

I was still trying to breathe on the floor of that filthy bathroom, and my mom was trying to calm me down.

“What am I going to do, Mom?”

“We are going to the doctor tomorrow. We need to get you help.”

The assessment didn’t take long. My doctor heard my story, took my heart rate, watched me constantly fiddling with something, all while remaining silent. I should mention that this wonderful woman has been my doctor since I came into this grand, old world. And with that point, I mean she knows me very, very well. She handed me a slip of paper and told me to answer some questions with a scale of 1 to 5. When I came back with a perfect score of 30 (“That can’t be good…”) she informed me she would be prescribing me my first dose of SSRIs.

I wasn’t happy with my diagnosis, but I really wasn’t happy with the idea of taking meds. I thought they would make me seem “crazy;” I thought I was fine. It wasn’t until my parents sat me down and begged me that I did start. Now, if I didn’t hate this new world of mental illness already, those pills would do the job for me. Anyone who takes any kind of medication for their mental health will tell you that some just do not match. And those were in no way a match. I was tired even though I did nothing but sleep. I wasn’t hungry; I could be filled after eating a granola bar. I was bloated and irritable and dizzy.

“Alright, we’ll go back and get you some new ones,” my mom said.

And we did. And it was a match, one I still use, but it isn’t perfect. But I don’t know how to tell my doctor that because I don’t know how to describe what I’m feeling. A part of me, the anxious part, is worried that if I say the wrong thing, I discredit everything. That obviously wouldn’t happen, but anxiety doesn’t make sense. I would try to be open about my diagnosis of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), but I would get the lovely follow up of: “So you get nervous?”

“Well, that isn’t working,” I thought.

So like anyone else these days, I went online and searched for how other people described it. On The Mighty, actually. However, I quickly found that people seem to describe it slightly differently from one to the other. One says they feel such and such, another says they felt invalid because they’ve never felt such and such. This meant I had to make up my own vocabulary. Not just for others, but for myself. I thought that if I could communicate how I was feeling, it would help me feel less alone in it, as cliché as that sounds.

Fast forward to now. Summer just before my second year of college. I made honor roll in all of my classes. Came home. Got an awful summer job, but I was just able to tell my manager the date of my last day of work. And I was in a good mood. Not only that, but I stayed past my shift time to help out and I was exhausted because I work at a Dunkin Donuts first thing in the morning. So I wanted to get home, went too fast on a road I thought had a higher speed limit, and got my first ticket. I’m normally a pretty boring driver, so this was my first time getting pulled over.

Now, I went to my dad out of frustration. I was barely over the speed limit and there was someone who passed me going 15 mph faster.

‘You’re a teen, still.’ He says, ‘Don’t worry. We’ll just go to traffic court and I’m sure the judge will say this is too pricey for a first time mess up.’

And I’m sure you could guess my reaction to the idea of doing something scary and legal I have never done before — an anxiety attack so bad I throw up the lunch from earlier because my anxiety didn’t make me hungry for dinner. Sobbing, shaking, inability to breathe properly, the works. But my parents did something any other person would do — they told me to calm down. It didn’t offend me in any way — I’m hard to offend — but it made me sad because they don’t know how to help me because I can’t figure out how to tell them. I would like to conclude my story with the best description I can muster as of this moment. (Monday, 9:42 p.m., July 10, 2017, partly cloudy and humid)

I get butterflies in my chest — the kind you get when you see your crush or rip the wrapping paper off something you’ve wanted for years. But for me, it means I have to sit down somewhere quiet and calm myself down. My hands will start to feel like the way television static looks. If you sleep the wrong way in a cold room, your muscles ache and stiffen up; that’s how my body feels. It feels like someone is pushing in on the front of my ribcage and pushing down on my shoulders. The world starts to move so fast that it feels like I’m in one of those dreams where you’re running but not going anywhere. My ears ring like I got hit in the head with a ball in gym and my throat burns like I just tried the “Screamin’” level of a Buffalo Wild Wings sauce. But while I feel physically immobilized and sometimes in pain, my mind won’t stop moving. And even though I’m trying to hear you, I can’t.

I’ll be honest: When I started writing this, I didn’t plan on finishing it. So I don’t exactly know how to end this. I guess I’ll end it by saying this: drink some water and take time to sleep.

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Thinkstock photo via FS-Stock