I sat in the fetal position with my feet glued to the hardwood floor, my head against my legs, and my eyes shut tight. The room was spinning. The sweat beads along my hairline were multiplying as though the frigid December wind wasn’t howling outside the window beside me. My heart pounded so quickly in my chest I was sure it would’ve broken a monitor had I been wearing one.
“Please tell me it’s gonna be okay,” I pleaded through the speaker of the iPhone next to me. “Tell me it’s gonna be okay.”
“It’s gonna be okay,” my mom, 400 miles away, answered. “I promise you.” The words I so thought would put an end to this misery didn’t. Nothing could stop the terror shooting through my body and the tears that accompanied it. And the worst part — I didn’t even know what I was scared of.
This was only one of my many encounters with anxiety and it’s evil companion, panic.
It all started during the fall semester of my junior year in college. The worries that once fueled my success in school began crippling it. Every moment of every day I agonized over things that, looking back, didn’t need to be agonized over. When one concern lessened, another one would replace it with a vengeance. I outlined plans B through Z of every possible outcome of the scenarios playing out like horror films in my mind.
The mental symptoms eventually transformed to physical. I couldn’t eat, I was “full” on anxiety. I slept more than eleven hours every day in an attempt to curtail my hours awake and in fear. I checked that my apartment door was locked a minimum of four times before heading to class and still ended up going home on breaks to confirm it. I felt my legs give out under me multiple times on campus as they couldn’t bear trembling anymore.
The memories are so painfully strong that I can list all the dates of my panic attacks. But there’s only one that matters — December 26, 2016 — the date of my last one.
I know what it’s like to think anxiety is a boulder that is impassable. In the height of my anxious days, I considered myself the loser in the battle.
But living every day in fear isn’t something anyone should have to suffer through. Looking back, there were a few aids that were a catalyst in healing.
The first thing for me was accepting help from an outsider. I consider myself lucky that I was so open to whatever treatment was necessary for all of this to subside. I never prolonged the suffering because of denial. With the guidance of a psychiatrist, I was put on Zoloft. I have no regret or shame about going on an antidepressant. It’s by no means the easy way out. With the Zoloft came a plethora of new problems that no one warns about- constant nausea, restless legs, dizziness, and weight gain. 17 pounds in a year to be exact. That said, I would take all of those and more over another panic attack.
The heat of the anxiety inside me cooled off. It allowed me to get to the most important step in my process — psychotherapy. My sessions consisted of intense conversations stretching as far back as I could remember. Analyzing my past allowed me to make sense of the fears that consumed me in the present. After quite a few sessions, I found myself saying “well this is scaring me because of that….” when I began to feel the anxiety creeping up. The ability to rationalize worries is a crucial tool in curbing them.
Another crucial tool — mind-body awareness. I know it sounds like a gimmick, but so many of the natural tips for anxiety are given for a reason. Breathing, for example, sounds like an overly obvious suggestion. After trying deep breaths in and out during an attack, I was not sold. How could breathing ease my rambling mind? It was only when I learned about the four, seven, eight technique (inhale while counting to four, hold while counting to seven, and exhale while counting to eight) that I saw the benefits of it.
Putting all of my focus on counting allowed my mind to drift from whatever fear I had. Getting some distance from the thought helped to look at it with a fresh(er) mind.
I don’t believe that a person can overcome anxiety completely. If you have it, it’s always gonna linger. But you can overcome letting it dictate your life in some of its darker moments.