How My Anxiety Disorder Has Made Me Stronger
Each time I log on to write an article, the little box asks, "What's on your mind?" Well, for the first time, I'll be completely honest.
I remember when I started having anxiety attacks.
I was a senior in high school, trying to pretend that I didn’t have extreme commitment issues so I could just pick a college and life path and be done with it.
My whole life I had had little bits of anxiety when life was being, well, life, but it wasn’t until that year that I completely changed.
No longer could I just randomly talk in class for all to hear and go on and on about what I was thinking, enjoying all the attention. Nope. I shook just answering a simple question and rattled the answer off so quickly I could barely remember what I said.
That wasn’t all, though.
Have you ever started playing a video game and about halfway through, your character dies? You can still see everything around you and all the commotion in the game, yet your character isn’t moving at all and you can barely feel the controller in your hands? Your character's just lying there, waiting for you to press replay?
Imagine if, instead of a video game character, that was you.
Sitting, knowing all of this commotion and life is going on around you, but not able to really feel anything. You’re waiting for someone to press play so you can keep going. But while all of that is happening, you’re still holding the controller, and you realize you’re in control. You know nothing will happen unless you initiate it.
You just stare and wait.
You need to press play but you physically cannot bring yourself to do it. You know the second that you do, you’ll start feeling again. And when anxiety is what you’re feeling, no matter how depressing those moments of being checked out may get, you cherish them because once you’re out, once you start feeling again, all you want to do is stop.
No one likes tight, confined spaces. Being trapped somewhere, not being able to breathe properly, wondering why your mind can’t stop racing.
Eventually, though, a door opens and you’re out of that tight space and can take a deep breath again.
What if, however, that space were your mind? You can’t leave your mind. You’re trapped and there is no door to open so you can feel better. All you have are your thoughts, battling each other, telling you bad things will happen.
Your mind starts spinning, the dizziness making you nauseous. The volume of your thoughts mixes with the lighting of the room you’re in and everything becomes mangled. You turn your head for a second but the image you just had is still there, your mind needing a minute to catch up to where your eyes just went.
You avoid mirrors, because the reflection you see confuses you. The person in front of you has to be you, but it doesn’t feel like you. You’re disconnected from whomever that is in the mirror, and looking at it only makes your mind scream more.
You think sleep might be your escape, but in the hours it takes you to finally fall asleep, after fighting off all the mini shockwaves your brain sent jolting through your body to remind you that there is no escape door, the dreams start.
You’re fighting battles, running from people, basically starring in your own horror movie. Then you wake up again, with a headache from straining your jaw during the stress of your dreams, more tired than when you went to sleep.
Sometimes you may even experience sleep paralysis. It's this weird middle ground between awake and asleep when you try to wake up and move around but you're still fighting something in your dream and it's not letting you move. It's like someone big and strong is pinning you down to your bed, except that that someone big and strong is your mind.
Getting out of bed is the last thing you want to do, but you have to.
You have rituals you do everyday to keep the thoughts from creeping into your mind and you have to start them. Everything has to be in its spot, at the exact right degree, and if you touch one thing you have to touch whatever will keep it balanced.
Your right hand knocks against the wall, your left hand has to, too.
If the lotion is angled with the hairspray, then the deodorant next to it needs to be angled, too.
If your clothes, the dishes, little knickknacks on the table, aren't all exactly where they belong, you won’t breathe right. Because if everything isn’t as it’s supposed to be, bad things will happen.
You don’t know what bad things, but you know they will happen. That’s what your mind tells you. That’s why it won’t stop spinning, pulsating, pinching at your neck and back. It’s warning you, and you know that if you don’t listen, it won’t stop.
You do what you need to do to shut it up, but no matter what you do, no matter how long the anxiety stays tucked away in the back of your mind, you know it’ll be back.
The thing is, though, you can see it. It’s right in front of you, in the little mannerisms the people who suffer from it exhibit. No matter how smiling and joyful someone may look, little things can always give them away.
If your friend who usually texts you back within seconds is taking hours and you know they're not busy, you see it.
If you move something and they automatically move it back and adjust everything around it, you see it.
If, when you want to hang out, they change their mind a million times and finally give one definitive no, you see it.
You only don’t see it when they're happy, optimistic—encouraging you with whatever is happening in your life. They want that for you, the positivity they wish they could have all the time.
And sometimes they really are happy. There are times when they’re completely fine, and their things can be wherever, and you can all joke, and everything is amazing. But then something in them switches, and their mind is fuzzy again.
It makes no sense to people who've never experienced it, who've never been unable to stop crying and catch their breath because they felt like they had zero control.
It makes no sense if you've never felt like if you don’t do one thing, everything will spiral out of control and everyone in your life will be affected, if you've never felt the pressure of everyone’s happiness depending on your actions, of anything that happens to the people in your life being your fault, even though you know logically that you had nothing to do with it and that no amount of ritual could have stopped it.
The worst part is, you know that this makes no sense. You’re fully aware that angles and rituals have no domino effect for bad things if you don't execute them properly. But when those voices are screaming in your mind, tangling with lights that go dim and bright all at the same time, all logic is lost.
Asking, “Why don’t you talk about it, then?” is always next. But what people don’t get is that in the moments when somehow, some way, you manage to do everything right so that you can get a few, miraculous moments with no anxiety, the last thing you want to do is talk about anxiety.
And when you’re going through it? Or even worse, fighting an attack? Nothing sends more panic coursing through your body than talking about it.
So you sit, in silence, desperately trying to carve a door into your brain. I’ll go into more detail in another article about why people keep quiet, but for now, just go with it.
After all those years of trying to do anything I could think of to be the happy, carefree person I once was, I finally am starting to feel like myself again—which is the only reason I can write this.
While I do still fall back into my old patterns, I’m much quicker to get up and not let anxiety control me anymore.
I've stopped overthinking my decisions.
The “old” me acted on every whim and never regretted it because I had trust in my gut feelings, and trusting myself again helped. Working out and eating healthily again did a lot, too. Basically, just slowly implementing changes that reminded me of the pre-anxiety me gave me the chance to create a much more mature, grown-up version of the impulsive person I used to be.
So I guess, in a way, I’m thankful for my anxiety disorder. It's made me stronger.
Some people think that it is weakness that causes people to suffer from anxiety. But really, a person has to be incredibly strong to deal with it.
Because even though they have to constantly fight that demon inside them, they get up and go. They manage to have amazing days when they laugh and go on adventures, engage with friends and family. They battle a force stronger than themselves every day and always come out on top.
Even if they get knocked out for a few days, they always manage to come back in triumph.
When you have anxiety, you feel like you have two totally different people living inside you. They play tug of war and don’t knock it off even when it’s past bedtime.
But just because a person has her moment of weakness, of extreme sadness, doesn’t mean she can’t have equal moments of happiness, silliness, and normalness.
When that video game character is back up and moving, she is a force to be reckoned with.
Mia is studying criminal justice. Mia is obsessed with the classics and is always saying people need more Gatsby and Huck Finn in their life - not to mention anything John Hughes. She also spends her time as a staff writer for HackCollege.com. You can follow her on Instagram at @myohhmiaa.