Me And Anxiety
The month of May is recognized as National Mental Health Awareness Month in the United States.
“Approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. (46.6 million) experiences mental illness in a given year…and 1 in 5 youth aged 13–18 (21.4%) experiences a severe mental disorder at some point during their life. For children aged 8–15, the estimate is 13%.”
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
I was seventeen when I experienced my first one. I was lying in bed, trying to get to sleep. I lay awake, my brain wondering. I think about a lot of things when I’m trying to go to sleep. That night, I was thinking about my birth mom. A few days before, I had found out the devastating news that she had passed away a couple of years prior, and I never got to say goodbye or that I loved her. Suddenly, I felt a sharp pain in my chest. A pain that I have never experienced before. I started sweating. My chest started to tighten. I felt as though my brain was disconnecting from my body. I started rapidly breathing, then trying to take deep breaths, as though I wasn’t getting enough air. Oh my God…I can’t breathe! Am I dying??? I felt as though I needed to go outside in order to get a really deep breath. Unfortunately, due to my cerebral palsy, that was not possible. I started gasping for air even harder. Help!!! Hellllllp! Was all I was able to get out. I have never screamed out like that for help before. My foster mom ran into my room. “What’s wrong?” She asked, with worry in her voice. I can’t breathe! I exclaimed. My foster mom explained to me that if I was able to talk and scream out for help, then I WAS breathing. I explained to my foster mom that I felt like I could not get enough air; like I was suffocating. And that I also felt like I was dying. By this time, my breathing was returning back to normal. I realized that I was able to speak, therefore I was breathing the WHOLE TIME! I felt a little silly when my foster mom pointed that out. Because I was able to scream for help. What just happened?
I thought to myself. I had never been through something like that before. It was terrifying.
My foster mom helped me take a couple of deep breaths. During this time, my teeth started chattering, as if I was cold. I felt tingling in my hands and fingers. A warm sensation swept over my entire body. I noticed that my body started to tremble some too. I also lost control of my bladder. What is going on? I thought to myself. After my foster mom helped me clean up and get me settled back in the bed, I tried to go to sleep, but I was afraid that what I had just went through an hour ago would happen again. I was afraid. I thought for sure that if it happened again, I was going to die.
The next day, I felt normal, like I usually did. I was happy it was daytime, because I felt like during the day, around other people at school, if I had another episode like the night before, at least someone could help me. I also felt that I would have less of a chance of that happening during the day. I felt safe during the day from whatever episode I had had the night before. Like when a child is afraid of the boogeyman at night. That is the only way I could explain how I felt.
However, when I returned home from school, I had another episode. But this time, it was different. Instead of feeling like I could not breathe, this time I felt as though there was a cloud of fear lingering over me. I felt a feeling of dread. Then a few seconds later, I felt terrified. My foster mom noticed. “Are you okay?” She asked me. “You look scared.” I was, I felt as though I knew that there was a ghost right behind me. But I could not do anything but freeze in fear. As soon as my foster mom mentioned that I looked scared, I burst into uncontrollable crying. I did not know why I felt scared. Or why I could not stop crying.
Later that night, my foster mom decided that we better go to the doctor to see what was wrong. I agreed. I usually do not like going to the doctor, but with these “episodes”, I was happy at the thought of someone helping me get rid of these feelings of fright. But then I also thought to myself, What if I try to describe my symptoms and feelings, and the doctor has never heard of anything like these episodes?
The next day, my foster mom picked me up from school, and we went straight to the doctor. I had an appointment scheduled for late afternoon. We arrived, and the automatic doors into the lobby greeted me and my wheelchair by opening both double doors. (Being in a wheelchair, I consider automatic doors a fun little side attraction! Yes, I am a nerd!) My foster mom and I wheeled up to the check-in desk to inform the doctor that I had arrived for my appointment.
A couple of minutes later, the nurse opened the door and called out my name. “Jennifer!” …
The doctor came into my exam room.
She knocked and opened the door. “Hello!” She exclaimed, with a cheerful face. Hello. I said in return, but without the cheerfulness behind it. Looking at my foster mom, and then looking at me, the doctor asked, “So, what brings you in today Jennifer? I tried explaining my symptoms over the past couple days as best I could. “She’s going to think I’m crazy! I thought to myself. “Ok.” The doctor responded. “Have you experienced any stressful situations or a traumatic event during the last few weeks?” My doctor asked. I told her that yes, I was experiencing stress, as I just learned that my birth mother had passed away. And that it also took me by surprise. ” When you experience these episodes, does it feel like the walls are closing in on you? I was confused as to what she was asking. No, it feels like I’m dying. Like my brain is disconnecting from my body. Like the only way, I can get air, and a deep enough breath is if I were to go outside.
My doctor explained my symptoms to me. They were symptoms similar to an anxiety/panic attack. She explained that some individuals who have through traumatic or stressful events can experience these anxiety/panic attacks. And that they are usually associated with Generalized Anxiety Disorder.
After finally getting a diagnosis and learning about what exactly anxiety disorders were, I started to think back when I was really little. I remember being about 3 or 4 years old. I was living with my mother at the time. I remember that I would just get this fear or dread. I would sit in my little wheelchair, playing with one of my toys. Watching cartoons. And out of nowhere, I would start to feel uneasy. I would get the feeling as if something bad were going to happen. I would start bursting into tears. I had symptoms of anxiety when I was a child! I thought to myself.
Today, I am managing my anxiety with therapy and medication combination. I was also diagnosed with Depressive Disorder. The medication that I take for my anxiety also helps with the depression. As I’ve reached adulthood, my anxiety has leaned more towards Social Anxiety . However, with my medication and the techniques I’ve been taught in cognitive behavioral therapy, I am able to cope in the moments when I feel anxious.
For individuals who have mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety disorders, it can be pretty hard to talk about with others. This is because there is a stigma that comes with mental illness. In our society today, there is a stigma attached to mental illness; as though having a mental illness such as depression, anxiety, or even bipolar is not “normal”. Or that if you struggle with a mental illness, you are “weak” or “crazy”.These false labels, stigmas, and stereotypes are just not true! In fact, I believe we who handle these mental health conditions are a lot stronger because of them!
If you, or you know someone who is struggling with mental illness or Suicidal Thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255. Help is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You can either call directly or they even have a chat line for FREE.
If you live in the UK, call SAMARITANS: 116123. Help is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for FREE.
You are never alone!