The Full, Unabridged Account of Living With Anxiety

Let’s get one thing straight: having anxiety is not the same as being nervous sometimes. Sure, it’s normal to feel anxious before a big test, or a first date, or a job interview.  But that isn’t the same as having an anxiety disorder. Living with an anxiety disorder like I do (hey, generalized anxiety and social anxiety, I see you!) often means battling your own thoughts constantly. For me, it meant hiding under my bed for a whole year when I was a freshman in high school. It means crying for the first whole week that school starts up again. It means taking medication and going to therapy and talking about ~feelings~ all the FREAKING time. But it also means bonding with others who are going through the same thing and helping others in their time of need. It means reaching out to everyone I possibly can to make sure they feel comfortable because, chances are, I don’t know how they feel. Although living with anxiety is full of highs and lows, I’ve learned to not only live but thrive despite my disability, and I’ve found who I am and how to love myself more than I thought possible.

So this is my journey, from diagnosis to today. At the start of my freshman year of high school, my family moved back to St. Louis from Cape Cod and I was not happy about it.  About a month into school, I began to get excruciating migraines that seemed to have no cause, sending me to the ER a million times and getting me fully hospitalized for three days.

After three months of confusion and headaches, the docs at Children’s Hospital figured out that I had not one, but TWO anxiety disorders!  I was terrified of going into the building which was my school, not to mention the thought of having to be around people seven hours a day, five days a week.  My life was low-key falling apart, and I had no idea what I was doing or if I would ever even make it back to school, or even if I would still be around to see myself graduate.

So here we are, December of 2014: my first therapy session. I wanted nothing more than to be anywhere else, sitting in a squashy armchair and fighting back tears and speaking around the lump in my throat.  I hated my doctor for telling me to go and hated my mom for making me go. I had this stigmatized idea of what therapy was and what kind of people needed it, and I didn’t want others to see me as I saw myself: broken and desperate for help.

I went to therapy once or twice a week from December 2014 to August of 2015.  My mom would drive me the 45 minutes downtown to go see my little lady therapist (whom I now love but at the time resented), and I would go and spill my guts and cry for an hour. Afterwards, we would usually get a snack and a soda (I got my Diet Coke addiction from my mother) and not talk about my session. I learned how to breathe through an anxiety attack, trained my brain to battle aversive stimuli, and developed coping mechanisms for my high-anxiety moments. Little by little, the migraines stopped and I began to feel more like my old self.

During this nine-month stint, I didn’t attend school because I physically and emotionally couldn’t handle it.  I had a HomeBound teacher (who also happened to be my Spanish teacher) who came to my house twice a week to give me my work, administer tests, and generally help out. She was my saving angel in terms of school. Without her constant support of me and my disability, I don’t know that I would have made it back to school ever.

Around came the start of sophomore year, and I was scared shitless.  How was I supposed to go from not being in school at all back to full time?  There was a lot of crying and bribery and ice cream involved, but I went back to school with the tools I needed to succeed.  And I did.

Therapy was quickly becoming a once-every-two-weeks thing.  Then once-every-three-weeks, then once a month, then only as needed.  I became more comfortable with my demons and embraced them as a part of who I am, which allowed me to flourish and grow continuously throughout high school...

Which takes us to now.  I tell anyone and everyone about my mental illness because if I can help someone know there’s hope for them if they’re struggling, you bet your sweet bottom I’m going to do it. Having a mental illness does not, and should not, define a person. What defines someone is who they are and what they want to be. I am a small, sensitive girl who wants to help people. All I’ve ever wanted to do is help people. Hopefully my story can help some of you find who you are and fall a little more in love with yourselves.