My little sister was diagnosed with a severe anxiety disorder when she was very young. She was constantly getting sick on car rides, restaurant outings, and even fun vacations, like at Disney World. When I thought of anxiety, I thought of what her symptoms looked like: shaking, vomiting, and an inability to catch one's breath. I struggled a bit in high school with body issues and maybe one or two panic attacks, but I knew that there was no way I had anxiety. I didn’t get sick or violently shake. I worried a lot about stuff, but that wasn’t anxiety, right?
I was part of this super adventurous friend group in high school. They loved to explore abandoned buildings, sneak into pools, and set off fireworks in the middle of the street. I was quickly labeled the mom friend because I was not one for breaking the rules. I tried not to ruin their fun by just staying out of those activities altogether, but every once in a while, on a good day, they could talk me into it. The feeling I would get when I joined them was...not ideal. I remember the feeling of my heart racing, my skin turning hot to the touch, and being unable to shut off my mind. I would immediately think of the worst-case scenario. I was able to stand my ground a little more the older I got, and would sometimes get a playful eye roll or scoff from one of my friends for worrying too much.
COVID-19 hit my senior year and my life was flipped upside down. I lost my prom, graduation, and most of my senior year. I was able to make some great memories and I loved spending time with my family before leaving for college. My family has remained incredibly lucky throughout this pandemic.
My first semester of college brought on some stress, but it was nothing out of the ordinary for me. When I returned back to campus, it only got worse. I couldn’t leave my dorm room without feeling guilty. I sanitized everything I touched over and over and over again. I would wash my hands multiple times in fear of not scrubbing them well enough.
One night, I had a complete mental breakdown over the phone with my parents. They both agreed that it was time to talk to my doctor. I scheduled an appointment for the very next day and was screened for anxiety. I scored on the severe end, but that didn’t make any sense to me. My sister has severe anxiety and I don’t have the same symptoms as her, so how could I have it? Turns out chronic worrying is a symptom and I had no idea. Years of being teased by friends for being such a worrywart and there was a reason behind it, an explanation as to why I am the way I am. I thought I was just a goody-two-shoes who couldn’t stand to break the rules. My doctor put me on medication and I returned to therapy after three years.
So far, my experience has been really great. I think the funniest part of all of this is everyone around me knew and had just assumed that I knew too. I’m still new to this and learning more about how anxiety has affected my life. I’ve taken up painting the past week and have fallen in love with it. It’s an activity that has made me feel totally relaxed, but I am not very good it at! Hopefully, that will change over time. They do say practice does make perfect, but I might be a lost cause.
All of this has happened in the span of a few weeks and I have no idea where my journey with mental health will end up, but I recognize how fortunate I have been so far. My parents are my biggest supporters and make sure I get what I need to stay afloat. The school offers excellent mental health services that have been so beneficial for me. I have great friends who do not make me feel ashamed for the way I feel or act. I thought I was being overdramatic and swallowed my problems for years, but that was not the correct way to go. Anxiety comes in all shapes and forms. My sister and I have the same diagnoses and couldn’t be more different. If you or someone you know might be struggling, don’t be afraid to seek help.