How ironic is it that writing this post gives me anxiety. My struggle with anxiety is something I’ve never talked about or shared before. Those who are extremely close to me (parents and a few friends) are really the only ones who know about my social anxiety. I hope some of you are able to relate to me and my story, if not lets talk a little bit about what social anxiety is. Social anxiety is a common chronic mental health condition in which social interactions cause irrational anxiety. It can be genetic or caused by your environment. I think when we hear the term mental health we sort of freak out and think there’s something wrong with them and that person is crazy, but that is not at all the case. I promise I’m a normal person and most of the people who do struggle with anxiety are.
Both my parents and siblings have struggled with anxiety in the past and still do. Some have been medicated and that’s worked for them, but my mom didn’t want me to be (because it had caused even more issues for her than it did good) and I was against being reliant on something when I knew I was strong enough to overcome (I also just don’t like taking pills even ibuprofen in general). This isn’t the case for all people and every person has a different mental capacity but for me I definitely thought it was possible. I also didn’t have full-on panic attacks like some.
The first episode:
Looking back there is one specific story that comes to mind while I was riding the bus to school in kindergarten (yes I can actually remember exactly how I felt). My mom had just bought me a new water bottle that was extremely hard to open/close. I opened it to take a drink and soon realized I wasn’t strong enough to close it again. (This story sounds so silly now but it was terrifying to this shy little girl.) I started to panic because on a bumpy bus ride how was I supposed to not spill water all over myself? I held the lid closed and continued to try to close it while my anxiety levels started to rise to the point where I felt physically sick. Eventually I decided to ask the bus driver to close the bottle for me and even she struggled to get it to closed (thanks mom). After I had gotten off the bus to go to school, my best friend wasn’t feeling good either so we called her mom and she came and picked us both up from school.
After that point I don’t remember having anxiety again until I was in 5th grade. My best friend (the one from the first story who I grew up with) moved to Chicago. I had other friends at school who I even played with outside of school, but she was this place of comfort for me. She was always there and her leaving sort of set off this trigger for me. I couldn’t go to the last day of school because I felt physically ill. All summer I struggled with going to church and out to restaurants with my family (they all give me crap for that to this day). I became so worried about getting sick somewhere that I was stuck (i.e. church or school because I couldn’t drive at this point) that my mind would get so worked up over it I would get physically ill. I remember thinking back this summer and how scared I was to think about having to go to Jr. High and even High School one day. It was absolutely inconceivable to me that I would have to do those things and I was sure I would die before that happened but look at me now!
My mom took me to many doctors visits to have x-rays, blood work, and tons of tests done because she didn’t know what it was at first. Starting that next year of school my mom had to follow the bus to school and sit outside of my class for the first 30 minutes of the day and then I would be fine. This lasted for about 2 weeks and I felt comfortable with my surroundings, but it came back again at the end of the year. My mom made me listen to meditations in the mornings before school and I would start to pace back and forth as time drew closer and closer to leave. We also worked on breathing techniques which I still use to this day. Eventually her and the doctor decided to put me on a stomach acid reducer (basically tums to help with the placebo effect) which did work for me.
Finally moving up to junior high I was fine the first day of school but the 2 weeks after that were super hard for me. I threw up everyday before school. Something about change has always been a big trigger for me. New places, flying, or having to eat out in a restaurant basically I became a mess of a person. After I got acclimated to the year and my classes I was fine, but every school year it seemed to come back. 9th grade was the first year I didn’t get anxiety because we were the big sharks of the school, but it was back again my sophomore year of high school. Just like all the years before I used my breathing techniques and faked it until I made it. Someone once said to me “it’s just one day, you can make it because you’ve lived through so many” and this has stuck with me. Since that year I really haven’t had anxiety but maybe 2-3 times.
My next struggle (and continuous struggle) is flying. I don’t know that I’ll ever get truly used to this because there are times when I have been totally fine flying and others where I’m confident I’ll be fine and then I’m not. One thing I have noticed is dramamine will calm my nerves and almost dull that feeling so I don’t get anxious. When flying without it if I think even for one second that I might get sick, it’s over. When flying from Salt Lake City to Charlotte last year on a red eye about 45 minutes to landing I started getting anxiety. Talking to people helps me so I woke up my boyfriend at that time and he watched a movie and talked with me and it was fine. We made it thru the airport to our next gate and we even got jamba juice. Sitting there waiting again for the plane to Punta Cana I had time to think about getting sick and boom, I was throwing up in the bathroom at the airport while everyone was boarding. We were the last 2 to board the plane (which gave him anxiety) and needless to say we both threw up on the plane and then passed out, it was a super fun experience let me tell ya.
I think the most important thing to keep in mind is not to let these fear and anxieties conquer us. Don’t stop doing the things you love to do because your anxiety controls you. I love to travel and I will continue to do so regardless of being trapped in a tiny plane in the sky packed with strangers. There will be days when it does win, but keep fighting. Making it through a day of school without anxiety gave me so much power and confidence that it truly helped me to completely get over it. Conquering fears will empower you. Having a good support system will also help you SO MUCH. Find someone to talk to about it, it is so healing to share and talk and ask questions because we’re not alone in this struggle. When I was going thru this at the time I hated my mom. I just wanted her to let me stay in bed and not have to leave, but what would that have taught me? To give up? To let my fears win? I am so thankful to have my mom because without her I would not be where I am today. I have gained so much confidence I could go anywhere new and talk to pretty much anyone now given I might analyze every word I said afterward but that’s a story for a different time.
If you’re still reading this THANK YOU! It means so much to me that you took the time to read my story and I’d love to hear yours!