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When You've Grown Up With Anxiety

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Kindergarten gym class is meant to be fun. It is meant as a time for kids to run around and have fun. However, for me, it meant feeling different. Feeling left out. I would feel sick to my stomach. I wouldn’t want to do the activities other kids were doing. I would tell the gym teacher I was sick. That I wanted to go lay down in the nurse’s office. As someone with motor skill delays, the thought of gym class was distressing for me. My 5-year-old self did not realize that this was anxiety.

Fast forward a few years. I was 8. I was reading at a middle to high school level. I thought it was fun to read my mom’s books about childhood illnesses. I had a fascination with the human body. I loved waking up early and sneaking in half an hour of Discovery Health Channel (which I was banned from watching due to my age). I was interested in learning everything about my brain and my body and what was going on with it. I would absorb everything I read, but it was not always taken positively. One day, I read something about “cat scratch fever” in one of the childhood illness books I was reading. Reading that small blurb about the illness was enough for me to develop a phobia of cats. I was terrified of my friend’s cats. I would avoid going to their homes and if their cats got near me, I would clam up. 8-year-old me did not understand that this was anxiety.

9 years old. I was in love with the “Babysitter’s Club” series. I would borrow the books from my local library as much as I could. I swear I read every one at least three times, if not more. I picked up one where Stacy and her family faced a house fire. My family had just moved into a new home. We had a fireplace. Having fires in the fireplace would set me over the edge. I would get upset. I would panic if an ash sparked out of the fireplace. To make it worse, the local channels would frequently play a commercial for the Creosote Sweeping Log. This had graphic images of a house fire. That set my brain on fire too. I would refuse to leave the house without my most prized possessions at that time. I would carry around the stuffed animal my grandma had bought me a couple years prior because I was terrified my house would burn down when I was not home. I was much too old for this.

By the time I was 10, I was trying to avoid going to school. My stomach hurt all the time. I would try to get my parents to let me stay home. I would start getting into fights with my parents. By the time I was 12, I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and depression. I was put on medication at 13. It was the greatest decision of my life.

People ask me how I manage so well having such bad anxiety. They tell me things that they would never make it. The truth is, I have grown used to it. It’s always been a huge part of my life. I knew what it was before I understood that there was a label for it. The stomach pains and the avoidance became second nature for me. Now that I am older, I have had a lot of time to practice how to cope. I’m not saying that it’s easy, but I am able to live a successful life and take care of myself. Knowing that I have learned how to build these skills makes me feel accomplished.

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Getty image via varandah

Originally published: December 5, 2017
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