I can't remember if it was my fourth or fifth birthday, but I vividly recall everyone at my party circling around our kitchen table to sing happy birthday to me. This distinct sense of terror came over me as all eyes locked on me. My face started to heat up. My heart began to pound. As everyone started to sing, I began to cry.
I didn't know why, but all that attention was scary and I didn't want it and I began to scream, "Stop singing to me! Stop singing to me!" Well, I was a little kid, so everyone just laughed at how silly I was being. Inside, those laughs made it all worse. I was so, so embarrassed and upset. I wanted to run away from all those eyes, all that attention.
Looking back, I know that was anxiety.
For a long time I didn't have the right words for what I've experienced my whole life. Or maybe I just didn't want to admit that I had a problem because that would have made me a "crazy" person. There is still so much stigma surrounding mental illness, that people who seek treatment often feel guilty or ashamed or both. I know I did for a very long time.
So instead of treating my anxiety, I let it rule my life. I just didn't do things that triggered my anxiety. As a teenager and college student, that meant I didn't date much because I was afraid to touch people or afraid that they would touch me. I didn't go to dances, because the thought of moving my body in public and people seeing that? Yeah, I'm getting anxious just thinking about it, even now. When people invited me to go skiing or boating or something as simple as going to a foreign house, I would find excuses to stay home so I wouldn't have to get nervous about doing something new. And anything that even resembled a competition? No way. Losing, failing, coming in second...the anxiety of competition, of losing, was way too much to handle. I'm still a really sore loser.
Basically, I didn't really live my life how I wished to live it. I lived it avoiding all the things that scared me. And I had a nice quiet life, dreaming instead of doing.
Then I saw this quote by Henry David Thoreau while, curiously enough, buying books at Barnes & Noble. It simply said: Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Yes, exclamation mark. And those words struck me to the core—I had so very many dreams, and I'd never really chased any of them. Oh, I wanted to, but I was always too scared to.
That's when I decided to change things.
The anxiety never went away, but I started doing things anyway. I did start dating (and got married). I did start writing. I did start exercising and moving in public. I fought to do things I wanted, and you know what? The anxiety got worse.
Maybe you thought this would be a happy story. It is and it isn't. The truth is, the more I have gone for my dreams, the more anxious I've become. I've had to get out there in ways that leave me panicked and crying and gasping for breath—it all came to a head in 2010, when I was having panic attacks every day for months just for trying to live my life and DO things "normal" people find simple.
I went on anxiety medication for the first time in my life. And it felt like giving up, admitting I was weak and lesser and incapable. At least until the medication began to work, and I saw for the first time how it must be to be "normal." I realized just how anxious I'd become, just how dysfunctional. And I also realized that people who think I'm weak are the crazy ones, because I had to fight three times as hard just to live my life without totally losing it. I learned that my brain really was sick, and I didn't have to keep it that way.
I mean, do people look down on diabetics for taking insulin? Do they say, "Suck it up, you don't need meds—just deal."? No, because a diabetic can't function without insulin. Sure there are types of sugar issues that can be dealt with sans insulin. I'm hypoglycemic, for example. I control my sugar through diet. Right now, I'm lucky I can still do this. I've had diabetes while pregnant, and in all likelihood I will at some point develop Type 2 diabetes when I get older. If I eventually have to take insulin, I really hope people out there won't shake their heads and think, "She copped out. Sad."
Well, anxiety is much the same. There is a level of anxiety that can be controlled without medication. But there is also a line where medication does become necessary, where your brain is just not working right and you can't fix it no matter how hard you try.
This is where I am again, after having had my baby. I have a good life. I am generally happy and things are going well for me in general. So why do I wake up in the middle of the night, my heart racing with panic so crushing I can't breathe and sleep becomes totally impossible? Why do I go through my day on the verge of crying because everything seems so hard and overwhelming? Well, it's because my brain is letting off the panic signal when it shouldn't, and for no reason that I can tell. It's incredibly frustrating to feel this, to tell yourself you have absolutely nothing to be afraid about, and not be able to turn off that panic signal. I know I'm be irrational, and I try to stop and can't. It's a helpless feeling.
So yeah, I just jumped back on medication. And I'm talking about this because I'm not ashamed anymore and I don't want others who struggle with mental stuff to feel like they have to hide or "tough it out." You have every right to get help, to live your life like "normal" people do. Every day doesn't have to be a battle—it can be a joy. Don't let "shame" or "guilt" take that away from you.