Before I had anxiety, I never knew how much it could negatively impact someone’s life. As a child, it was hard to grasp the constant pain and struggles one endures on a daily basis. Even if you have anxiety, it’s hard to know how it specifically affects someone else suffering from it too.
When it comes to mental health issues, everyone is affected differently. There are high-functioning people and those who are lower-functioning. Some of us have random panic attacks in public, and others have triggers that set off anxiety attacks. Even the symptoms of our attacks can vary. There are so many different ways mental health impacts our life, and they’re all valid. For me, battling anxiety seems like an endless war that leaves me exhausted, battered and feeling hopeless.
I experienced my first anxiety attack in High School. By then, I was already suffering from social anxiety. I was unable to order food anywhere, speak to cashiers and even call stores on phones. Having to go to class every week scared me. I couldn’t handle being around other people and being looked at. If anyone even talked to me, it was traumatic. One morning, the stress of having to endure another school day completely broke me. I started hyperventilating, feeling like I was going crazy. My body had never experienced a full-on attack before. It left me so shaken and weak that I ended up skipping school that day.
When I became a senior, I thought I was done with anxiety. I didn’t suffer from social fears anymore, and I especially didn’t have any attacks. For about three years, everything was smooth sailing. Then, I transferred to UMKC, a four-year university. It was so much more stressful compared to community college, and although I didn’t think I was stressed in my head, my body knew I was.
The next anxiety attack happened while I was driving. I don’t remember where I was going or what day it was, but I do know that my body was incredibly weak and sick from all the stress. I hadn’t been healthy for over a month. Suddenly, I was on the highway going 80 mph, and I felt like I was going to die. Panic was pounding through my head. Taking breaths eluded me. I couldn’t focus. I couldn’t stay in my lane. My heart was beating out of my chest while sweat riddled my body. But instead of pulling over, I fought through it. It didn’t fully register as an anxiety attack at first, and it seemed so random that I figured it was a one-time thing.
Then, it happened again while I was on the highway. And again. Soon, I could no longer fight through the attacks. I would have to pull over, calm myself down and take the city streets. My anxiety reached its peak and anytime I started to drive, I was prone to an attack. Not even going slow on the city roads could help. Since then, I’ve experienced a multitude of triggers, but driving is still the worst one.
Experiencing attacks like that on a regular basis can inhibit your life. Most people on the outside don’t realize it. They assume that if you show up late to a class, it’s because you’re irresponsible. If you reschedule an appointment at the last minute, it’s because you’re a flake. What they don’t understand is that you may have just had an anxiety attack on the highway, had to pull over and then re-route your destination by avoiding the freeway entirely. It’s just one of the many ways anxiety can impact your life.
I have a hard time going anywhere anymore. I use the ‘avoid highways’ feature on Google Maps constantly, and it ends up taking double the amount of time to get somewhere. It makes hanging out with friends a battle and getting to work on time a struggle. Wanting to enjoy an excursion outside of my home is like an uphill battle that physically and mentally drains me. If I experience anything that spikes my anxiety that day, I can’t drive anywhere. I also get anxious in social situations, and I honestly don’t know why. If I’m surrounded by a large group of people or an uncomfortable situation, my heart starts to pound and I begin sweating profusely. Sometimes, it feels like I’m going to pass out. I’ve had a few close calls.
I don’t want to have anxiety. Most of the time, I don’t even have anxious thoughts in my head. It’s my body that tells me I am. Those who haven’t dealt with anxiety may not always understand us. Some people will even call us weak. They think we can just reject it, or say no to our fears. I wish it worked like that. In reality, dealing with anxiety on a daily basis takes an enormous level of strength. The mental fortitude we exert to lead our lives like everyone else creates fighters out of us. Anyone who deals with mental issues, whether it’s anxiety, depression, OCD or anything else, are all stronger because of it.
So, what is it truly like to live with anxiety? It’s like suiting up for war every single day. You may be outnumbered sometimes, and the battles are long and arduous. Yet, the war can still be won. Those of us with anxiety aren’t weak. We’re strong. We’re warriors. We battle each and every day for our lives.