Photo credit: Bradley Parker
When I was in 11th grade I was working harder than I ever had or have since; I worked 35 hours a week, did 6 hours of theatre, went to school full time, and performed two plays within the span of a month. I was numb the whole time, running on about 3 hours of sleep every night.
When the school year finished and everything suddenly ended I realized that I had no idea what I used to do in my spare time; I didn’t know what I liked, what hobbies I had, or who I was. That was when I had my first panic attack.
By October of grade 12 I had stopped attending school, quit my job, and required constant supervision by loved ones for my own protection. It was a very dark time in my life and mostly constituted of one vicious circle: I would have a panic attack while trying to do a regular, everyday activity (such as buying lunch) and think, “if I can’t do this than how will I live the rest of my life” to which I answered, “why bother trying?” My anxiety was the defining characteristic. I missed out on countless grad year activities because I would panic about the thought of panicking at them. I hated the thought that I was overreacting, that people should be able to control their minds, that I was “just doing it for attention” so it took me a long time to begin healing.
I started at university in September of 2013: the first step in my recovery. I moved out of my parent’s house, an environment that stressed me out more than anywhere else: step two. Slowly, I began doing “normal” things again. Every time that I was able to go to class or talk on the phone without having a panic attack made me think, “wow, I can do this!” Every hurdle I overcame made me a little less scared of the next one. That is still true today; I occasionally have panic attacks but I am mostly able to control the physical symptoms with deep breathing and visualization exercises. What is harder to overcome is the “I can’t do this” mentality. But I can do it; I have proven that to myself with every time I make it through something that, 2 years ago, would have turned me into a hopeless mess.
I still struggle with anxiety; I think that I always will. But I also know that I am strong and that if I can’t do something it’s not a failure, it’s a learning experience. If you are where I am 2 years ago I want to tell you that you’re not alone. You’re not over reacting. You’re not less of a person because you have anxiety or any other mental health struggle. You are valuable and will be stronger because you have fought to survive this dark period in your life.
I do things today that I never would have if I hadn’t dealt with anxiety and depression because I want to take full advantage of all of the opportunities in my life. I am not ashamed to tell people about my anxiety because it is a part of me and a lot of other people and that connects us together. Every hurdle we overcome personally, and in the fight against the stigma surrounding mental health makes the next one easier.