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Everyone’s heard about anxiety, and many people self-diagnose themselves with it just because they’re feeling slightly stressed at the moment. However, there is a clear line between feeling stressed and having a chronic mental illness. At 13, when I was being terribly bullied in the seventh-grade, sent home crying every day in my catholic school uniform that never met with their expectations. I went to a therapist for self harm. It was there where she told me I had anxiety.
Of course, I thought of myself as an angsty teenager at the time and believed myself to be smarter than her in every subject including her own medical degree, but that was my error.
For years after that i struggled with stress. I couldn’t breathe, I had random panic attacks, and rather than confronting them with someone helping me, I locked myself in my room. I worried myself physically sick and I still deal with the implications of not eating lunch and breakfast in fear of getting sick at school.
I ended up dreading that short journey up to the high school that i once loved with all my heart. At one point, it was my saving grace. That was before it turned into my prison, where the guards were my thoughts and the bars were my skull.
On the outside, I seemed fine. Almost perfect, if I’m allowed to say so. I had a boyfriend who was older than me, friends who surrounded me, I was on the golf team and in science club as well as rocket club, but deep down inside I knew it felt like I was trapped.
My boyfriend never stopped yelling, my friends never texted back, I never felt as if I could compete with the golf team boys and I never thought myself smart enough to actually participate in many of those clubs. To top it off, one of my best friends who tried out for the musical as an extra, got the lead part that I tried out for.
I know these all seem like little, trivial problems and there are children starving in other countries as well as immigrant children being put in cages, but in the mind of someone with my kind of anxiety, where you’re too afraid to go back to the therapist to ask how to manage it, where you’re too afraid to tell anybody because they might think you insane, the little problems compound into the biggest ones.
But this is a story of survival.
My ex boyfriend broke up with me about 15 seconds before I had to be onstage in the musical. That was the night I had begun to be bullied again over text by some girl who thought I was spreading rumors about her best friend (which I was not). That was the night I knew it had to come to an end. I knew that I had to reach out, that I had to risk people feeling that I was crazy.
So I did.
I reached out to my quieter friends, who gave me the comfort of just sitting next to them silently while they ate lunch with me in the art room, because the cafeteria noise overwhelmed me. I participated in science club and rocket club, and I ended up meeting a boy who I am still dating to this day. I am proud to say that he has never raised his voice at me in the entire time we have been dating. I joined a science competition and found new friends through there, and I ended up actually happy.
Today, I have graduated from that high school with honors, with all of my friends by my side. I have coping methods for when a panic attack begins and secret signals to send to my friends, I know that it’s not always my fault if something bad happens in my life, and I know that even if I have a bad day, it will get better.
But that was only after I accepted that while I may have anxiety, I was the one keeping myself in its grasp.