I had my first panic attack when I was a freshman in high school. I was on my way to take my math final when I felt this intense pressure come over my chest and my heart started racing. I thought that I was having a heart attack. I stopped where I stood in the hallway and held on to the railing of the ramp like it was the only thing that would save me. Other students passed me by, but they were only faces. I didn’t recognize any of them for who they actually were, and if anyone would have asked me if I was okay, I wasn’t sure if I would have been able to speak to tell them no. I definitely was not okay.
So began my life with my anxiety disorder. I was fourteen years old. I had a lot of stuff going on. My parents argued all the time and my dad drank too much. The conditions in which we lived were horrible, and I realize now how surprising it is that child protective services did not intervene. My anxiety disorder did not begin with my first panic attack in the halls of my high school. I have always been a nervous person. I spent a lot of my childhood at the doctor’s office because of stomach pain and I bit my fingernails compulsively. The older I got, the worse my anxiety issues became. Of course, I was not diagnosed with anxiety until I was in high school. Even then, the doctors did not say that I had an anxiety disorder. They just said that I was having panic attacks and gave me tools for how to deal with them.
I coped with my disorder until after I graduated from college. However, I still knew that I had something wrong with me that separated me from everyone else. I could not handle certain situations the way everyone else did, and I struggled with being different. When I was put in a situation where I was asked to deal with any kind of conflict or tackle anything unfamiliar, I panicked. My heart would race and I would burst into tears. I was labeled “hypersensitive” by those around me, and everyone walked on eggshells around me for fear that they would say or do something that would cause a meltdown.
When I started teaching, my meltdowns became more frequent. I was unhappy at the high school, and feared that I had made a horrible decision. I cried every day and struggled with how to cope with my failures. After another year of teaching in the public education system, I finally went to the doctor, and was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. I was prescribed with an anti-anxiety medication, which seemed to aid in easing some of my anxieties. I took it three times a day, and if I missed a dose, I could tell that I had missed a dose. I became jittery and nervous, and did not calm down until I took my next dosage at the appropriate time.
That worked for me for a while until I injured my back in January of this year. With my injury, I could not lift or bend, which left me unable to perform most of the tasks that I considered my “job” as a wife. My husband was forced to do all the major cooking and cleaning, as well as washing the dishes and doing the laundry. All the while, I watched from the couch, feeling completely useless. Why did he keep me around?
My pain also changed the way I taught. I was no longer the teacher who was up amongst her students, pacing the classroom to ensure that all of her students were engaged and focused. Instead, I spent most of each class period behind my desk sitting in my computer chair with a lumbar pillow behind my back. It was the only way I could make it through the day.
When I came home, I was a sobbing mess. I felt worthless. I felt like my husband could find someone better than me. I felt like he deserved someone better than me. I laid the option of divorce out in the table and he shoved it away with zero consideration. He reminded me of our vow to stay together in sickness and in health, and promised me that he meant that with his whole heart. It meant everything to me to hear him say that, but it did not make me feel like any less of a woman. I pushed myself every day to do as much as I could, but with every bit that I pushed, I caused myself additional pain. I was in a lose-lose situation.
I had been to all kinds of doctors about my back, and no one could find the cause of my pain. I finally went to a doctor who not only prescribed me some strong pain medication, but also heard my pleas about my anxiety and how my injury was affecting my marriage. I explained to her that the anxiety medication I was taking just wasn’t working anymore. She asked me how I was taking it, and when I said three times a day, she explained to me that the kind of medication that I had been prescribed was an as needed drug and that I was only supposed to take them when I was having an anxiety attack. She prescribed me another anxiety medication that I take once a day, and that has changed my life. I can now cope with situations that would previously have sent me into a panic. My personality has shifted into the person that I was before anxiety took over my life.
I am not saying that medication is for everyone. There are multiple coping techniques for anxiety such as meditation and breathing techniques. Many people with anxiety also turn to activities such as journaling or exercise to ease their mind and help with their disorder. Those techniques have been proven to work for people with anxiety, although not for every person. When you have a disorder like anxiety or depression, you have to find what works for you. For me, I found that I needed to take medication to get my disorder under control so that I could get back to the life that I was used to living and the life that my husband deserved to have with me. It is a choice that each individual needs to make for themselves.
The key is that anxiety does not have to be a disorder that ruins your life. With the right treatment, a person with anxiety can live a normal life with few limitations. I am living proof of that.