My soul felt like it was fighting to disconnect from my body. The edges of my reality were caving in. My vision went from normal to blurry and dark. Moments before I was fine. I was happy. I was dancing. How in mere seconds could I go from blissful to terrified? It’s called anxiety.
In my twenties I suffered from depression and anxiety. I tried to act as if they didn’t exist, but the truth is the anxiety had always been there. I didn’t know what to call it. For the longest time I thought I was losing my mind, and I was. I couldn’t quite identify the feeling by name, I just knew something was wrong. But whenever my mother or a friend asked me, I couldn’t articulate what was happening.
As a child, that feeling came up at school when I’d sit down at my desk to take a test. I’d studied and perhaps I was even over prepared. I knew the material like I knew my own name. But as soon as I wrote my name at the top of the test, my brain would become flooded with fear and I’d completely blank out. Was it the time constraints? Didn’t I know the material? Wasn’t I actually smart? I didn’t know what was wrong with me. Once in fourth grade, I was so overwhelmed that I didn’t finish the test. Instead I took it home to work on and turned it into my teacher the next day. Although she accepted it and she graded me fairly, she was a bit concerned. I was one of her brightest students and she could see my light blinking under pressure.
My anxiety, I thought, was only associated with school and tests. Outside of the classroom I figured I was okay. Oh was I wrong. Kids in school and outside of school teased me because of my freckles, because I was smart, and because to them I was different. It made me want to hide. I was already quiet and shy, so how was I supposed to defend myself against mean girls and boys? That’s when the social anxiety began to kick in. I thought that if I kept to myself and my tight-knit group of friends only, I wouldn’t have to be exhausted by standing up for myself. I wouldn’t have to deal with people staring at me because of my face. I wouldn’t need to defend the way I talked or my intelligence. If I stayed away from others I would be okay.
Eventually I found solace in things that I was innately good at: creative stuff like dancing, music, and writing. I could be me and express myself without judgment. I could create on any level I wanted whether professional or even for fun and do so without fear. I put my faith and trusted that the those things would always bring me happiness. So when one night I’m out with my friends dancing to my favorite song and a panic attack hits, I thought I was having a heart attack. I thought this isn’t supposed to be happening.
I was in full panic mode and couldn’t figure out how I’d gotten to this point. All I knew was that I needed to leave. I didn’t want to explain myself to my friends because I couldn’t and I certainly didn’t want to have a public meltdown. That would only lead to embarrassment and more social anxiety. So I found the exit and left without a word. The next hour was spent walking home because I wasn’t in the right mind to drive. The entire trip I talked to myself trying to calm me down and reassuring myself that I was okay.
That was not the first and it certainly wouldn’t be the last anxiety attack of mine. That incident did teach me a few things about myself. Whenever I am in a panic, there is a part of me that is still present and that is looking for solutions. She’s guiding me to the nearest exit, talking me down off the ledge so to speak, and making sure I am safe. While half of me is in full blown panic, the other half is comforting me. She’s not asking me questions I can’t answer. She’s not making matters worse. She’s the arm around my shoulders telling me everything’s going to be alright.
Now that I can put a name to this illness that’s plagued me for so long, I am better at handling it. I know my triggers. I know that even when I am experiencing happiness that that’s exactly when anxiety tries to creep in. I know that instead of thinking about the future or the past, I need to remain present in the now to keep anxiety at bay. I know myself and I know that the only person who’s going to get me through the anxiety is myself. So like a good friend, I grab my own hand and say in the kindest voice possible Remember, Nik, you’re okay.
Today is #WorldMentalHealthDay. Take some time to check up on yourself and anyone you love who needs a little TLC. Every single person on this planet is touched by mental illness somehow, so let’s eradicate any stigmas associated with the condition right now. Remember, you are not alone. We can get through this together. Sending you love and good vibes only.