It comes out of nowhere, and starts with my heartbeat. It goes from a normal pulse to a quicker one. Then a quicker one. It continues until it’s almost as if my pulse is a fast-beating drum. Then my chest tightens. and I get short of breath. Like there’s something that is continuously weighing my entire body down. It works simultaneously with the quickening heartbeat, working in sync until the natural reaction is to burst. It could come in spurts of crying or yelling. Either way, it comes in as a crescendo of emotions and leaves a mess to deal with at the end.
This is what my anxiety attacks feel like. I’ve been living with a moderate anxiety disorder since I was eleven years old. There are days when I completely forget that I live with this condition, days when I forget that I keep emergency anxiety pills hidden away in my backpack for no one but me to see or use. But then there are days when there’s just no way to stop the attacks. They usually come when I’m in a high state of stress, maybe from a big paper due or the opening night of the school play. I have ways of handling it and not letting anyone know I’m having an attack, but anxiety is something that I continue to battle, even as I write this piece about it.
Why am I taking the time to pour my heart and soul into this piece? Because for millennials, mental health is a taboo topic. We seem to think that talking about mental health is going to brand a stigma on our foreheads. But why is having an anxiety disorder something to be ashamed of? Isn’t it healthier to talk about things rather than hold them in?
I can tell you from experience that admitting to your friends that you have an anxiety disorder can be intimidating. I went through middle school and high school living with the fear that if I said something about my disorder to someone, I was going to be labeled as a loser, or even worse, unstable. But I learned that It’s actually better for your loved ones to know what is going on with you, when the alternative is shying away from something that seems to be programmed in your brain. I did just that on the first day of college, when I told my new roommates, girls that I had never met until that morning, that I battled anxiety. And you know what? They were fine with it! They even appreciated that I had the guts to tell them something so personal so outright. It brought me closer to my roommates, and when I go through an anxiety attack, those girls are still some of the first people I call when I need help.
Within our school community, there are many of us who battle anxiety. I can tell you that within the group of friends that I hang out with on a regular basis, a number of us live with the disorder. They just happen to not be as vocal about it as I am. But that doesn’t mean that no one in school isn’t suffering. It just means that we need to learn to be more tolerant of our friends’ situations and how to help them deal with whatever anxieties they suffer from.
I’ve learned over the years that sometimes anxiety can be hindering and cause me to not want to do anything. There are times where I have to skip out on friends’ weddings and miss out on fun opportunities because the anxiety is plaguing me too much. But during those desperate moments where guilt rises along with the anxiety, I’ve learned that I can’t feel bad about not going somewhere. I can regret it later on, but at any specific moment in time, my mental and emotional health is more important than someone or something else. When friends of mine are having their own anxiety attacks, I tell them that there’s always going to be another wedding or fun thing to do–those are a dime a dozen. But having stable mental health will give us the internal strength to go the next fun event, and feel good about going.
So to everyone in school who is battling anxiety and isn’t saying anything: don’t make yourself feel bad about having it. Mental health is nothing to be ashamed of talking about, and discussing the topic in public might actually make you feel better. And to those who don’t hide what you’re going through: be proud that you are open about something that is so personal. Anxiety is nothing to scoff at and by making yourselves vulnerable and being open about it, you are on your way to being a better, and most important, a healthier you.