A Smiling Girl’s Anxiety

It hadn’t hit me until I was gearing up for the first therapy appointment I’d had in months that I realized how far I’ve come. Three weeks before this day, I was arguing back and forth with a family member about how I couldn’t—physically could not—go to the appointment without taking my anti-anxiety medicine. His argument was that I needed to go to the appointment without medication so that my therapist could teach me how to cope with my anxiety while I was having it. He was saying this out of love, but he hadn’t realized how bad my anxiety had gotten.

“I’ll have such an uncontrollable panic attack, and I don’t know if I’ll be able to compose myself in that hour-long appointment. I understand what you’re saying, but trust me. I need the medicine.”

As I got up the morning of my appointment, I looked at my anti-anxiety medication and it finally hit me. I didn’t need it. In a matter of 3 weeks, I had drastically improved my mental health to the point where my anxiety no longer ruled over my life. I started crying and texted my friend who had been around long enough to see the change for herself. The details of how I turned my life around can be saved for another story on another day, but the fact remains the same: I was no longer spontaneously consumed with fear and unable to live my life because of my anxiety.

The bittersweet part is that no one in my life knew the degree to which my anxiety was affecting me. I had told a few people, and as awkward as it is, a few people experienced it first hand, but no one knew the depths of it.

Before this last year, I never had general anxiety. I had anxiety, but it was always brought on by a clear trigger. I could always pinpoint what was causing it. General anxiety doesn’t work that way.

I would be driving with a best friend and all of a sudden become so fearful (of nothing) and need to get home. I would be eating breakfast at a restaurant and lie to my table about needing to use the restroom just so that I could go outside and compose myself before I had a panic attack. I would run into a familiar face at a coffee shop and be overwhelmed with anxiety but continue the conversation so as to not freak the other person out.

That last one happened in front of a friend, and when I told her that I had just almost had a panic attack, she responded with, “I’m not at all saying that I don’t believe you, but you didn’t even skip a beat! You just talked to her like nothing was wrong? I couldn’t tell that you were anxious.”

And that’s the thing. It’s not always hyperventilating, sobbing in the corner and rocking back and forth in the fetal position. Sometimes, it’s all of a sudden becoming disengaged from a conversation, tensing your entire body and awkwardly shifting in your seat looking for a way out.

I know too many people who think that because I make good grades, smile, laugh, and know how to have a good time that I must not struggle with mental illness in the extreme ways that I have. The reality is, I was barely getting by. There were times where I was so exhausted from fighting with myself all day that I couldn’t get up and go to the kitchen to feed myself even though I was starving. I had isolated myself so much that I sort of forgot how to interact with people in social settings. And the list goes on.

It took me weeks of dedication to get to the place that I’m at right now—a place that I genuinely never saw myself returning to. It took doctors visits, finding the right medications, friends holding my hand as I confronted another trigger and countless hours of building myself back up from the pile of fragments I once was.

This isn’t meant to sound braggadocious. I’m so happy to be where I’m at now, but I know that one day I could slip back to where I was last year. This is to show that anyone is susceptible to it. Anyone can be overcome with anxiety, or any other mental illness, to the point of debilitation. Regardless of public persona. Regardless of social media presence. Regardless of the frequency of their smile. Mental illness can and does affect anyone in this world, and it’s about time that we acknowledge that.

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