My mom asked me, “What is anxiety?” and I didn’t know how to answer her question. Not because I didn’t know, but because I didn’t think she would like my answer. My mom knew I was diagnosed with anxiety when I was a freshman in college, but that was where her knowledge ended. She doesn’t know that I have a Generalized Anxiety Disorder as well as a Panic Disorder; this isn’t information that I hide from her, it’s just information that she never asked for.
Once I realized this, I knew that I couldn’t be the only one with parents who didn’t understand what mental health was, and that this isn’t anything against our parents. They grew up in a generation that didn’t believe in mental health diagnosis. My parents think that happiness is a choice, and I guess they are right to some degree, but sometimes I just can’t stop the tears and the fears that plague my mind.
I wanted to write this because I want others to know that they are not alone in their fight with their own mental health. Perhaps, if someone else can understand and read what I go through, maybe it might help them. Those who struggle with their mental health often feel alone, but you aren’t.
Describing what your own mental health is like can be the most difficult thing; I can’t talk about my anxiety and depression without crying, because it brings me to a place of complete vulnerability. Clayton Jennings has a poem entitled, ‘Dear Anxiety,’ and in this poem he says, “Anxiety isn’t an item you can return at the store.” The first time I heard those words, I broke down crying. It was the first time that the cold truth hit me in the face and I understood that I had to live with my anxiety for the rest of my life. Even if I was taking the prescription the doctor recommended or not, my inner demons would always be there, waiting for me to slip up, and for the sliver of worry to set in.
I was only 13 years old when I experienced my first panic attack. I didn’t know what it was, but I knew that my heart was racing, and I was shaking; I felt like I couldn’t breathe. It started because I thought I failed my math test; I was crying at 3 a.m. while staring at the ceiling.
I chose to never tell anyone about it. I felt weak, and what was I supposed to say? I don’t think people realize that having anxiety is like being afraid of your own mind. It’s the type of fear that you can never run away from because it’s always there.
My anxiety and panic attacks start over little things, and I am always hyper-aware of what I think people think of me. When people find out that I have anxiety and depression, the first thing they say is, “But you’re too happy to have that?” I couldn’t understand what they meant by that for a long time, mainly because the happiest people are the most broken and hurting. I am really good at putting on the mask so nobody knows what I go through. I get told to go to therapy, but how? Sure, I can go to campus counseling, but they can only fit me in once every two weeks, and that’s just not enough; I know I’m not the only student who feels this way.
If you really want to know what anxiety feels like for me, don’t look for it in the broad daylight. It attacks at night. Come find me at 5 a.m. when I can’t breath and I am silently crying so I don’t wake up my roommates. Listen to my sobs get drowned out by the showers I take at 12 a.m. Mental health strikes when you’re alone because there is nothing else to preoccupy your thoughts. It’s all these feelings; I feel them all at once, and there isn’t always a reason for them. They just exist. Sometimes, I just need to cry it out. I choose to bottle up my anxiety, which I know isn’t the healthiest way to deal with it, but when I fall down, I get right back up. No matter how much my anxiety tells me that I am going to fail, I have to try to do my best.
One thing I have learned from having anxiety is that, no matter how bad it may seem, I can’t let it take over my life. I know it’s easier to say that than to execute, but even the little things help.: like going out with your friends when your anxiety makes you feel like you shouldn’t.
I didn’t write this because I wanted the readers to feel bad for me, but because I want them to know that they aren’t alone in this fight. I want you to know that people might not understand and that is okay: they don’t need to. Just know that your feelings are valid.