I interviewed a friend of mine who struggles with anxiety. Please take a few minutes to read what she had to say.
When did you have your first anxiety attack?
I was a freshman in college, dealing with a lot of stress. I remember waking up in the middle of the night, not feeling right. I thought if I got up and drank some water, I would feel better. I recall getting up, and it felt like I was dying. I yelled out for my roommate. I’m sure I convinced her that I was dying, which must have terrified her. She walked me to the health center, where a nurse reassured me that I wasn’t dying. She told me I was having an anxiety attack. That was the first time I had ever heard that term. I rested in the health center until Monday and eventually felt better.
Did you get treatment after your first anxiety attack?
No. I saw my primary care doc who confirmed that there was nothing physically wrong with me and that anxiety was the problem. He didn’t mention counseling or anything else.
How did you feel?
I felt so alone because I didn’t know anyone who had anxiety. Of course, I didn’t talk about it because I felt ashamed. Eventually, I fell into a deep depression. I later learned that’s not uncommon for people with anxiety.
Did you share your diagnosis with anyone?
I did not. There’s a lot of shame that people with anxiety carry. I spent a lot of energy trying to hide it. In hindsight, carrying this secret only increased my anxiety. I also felt like most people wouldn’t understand, and I’d become more frustrated.
Do you know what caused your anxiety?
I grew up in a chaotic home. It wasn’t always chaotic, but when things were terrible, they were terrible. There was domestic violence, drinking, threats of parents divorcing, and other things. As a child, I had no idea how all of this was affecting me. Like most kids, I went about my life. I was so passive. I was a victim of bullying but didn’t tell anyone. I just accepted it. It was the perfect storm for anxiety between what was going on with me at home and school.
Wow, I had no idea you went through all of that, and I was your close friend.
I told you I was good at hiding things. However, looking back, keeping all of that to myself is what caused the anxiety disorder. I never learned how to cope. I never learned how to count on others. I honestly don’t know how I dealt with all that I went through.
Who in your life knows about your anxiety disorder now?
Everyone! I have learned that there is no shame in having anxiety. In fact, I can no longer hide it. What started as a panic disorder is now generalized anxiety, which means I pretty much feel anxious all the time. If my stress level gets too high, I might have a panic attack, but that’s rare these days.
What do you wish your parents had done differently?
I wished they had recognized the impact of their problems on me. I hoped they had comforted me and reassured me everything would be okay. I also wished they knew how their problems would affect me long-term. I wish they had gotten help because maybe I would have gotten help and avoided this anxiety disorder.
There’s a lot of talk about the effects of trauma these days. Do you think trauma played a role in your life?
Without a doubt. I started experiencing trauma very early on in life, and it wasn’t just once. It was ongoing.
How do you think trauma has affected you beyond the anxiety disorder?
I found myself always in the position of being a victim. I allowed others to mistreat me and didn’t have a voice. I’ve since learned how to set boundaries and to value myself. I think trauma is the reason I’ve had so many weird medical issues. As I deal with my trauma history, I see that I’m getting healthier on all levels. It’s quite amazing.
What’s your best advice for anyone who has anxiety?
You do not have to suffer. Anxiety stinks, but treatment can help. In therapy, I learn how to recognize my triggers and sit with my anxiety, so it doesn’t control me. I’ve learned how to engage in total muscle relaxation. When I’m in a relaxed state, anxiety has no room to enter. If you have anxiety, you will pass it on to your child if you don’t get help. I’m not trying to make anyone feel guilty, but that’s just a fact.
Thank you for your perspective and for allowing us to share your story and journey with anxiety.
If this story sounds familiar or you have an anxiety disorder, please give us a call. We can help you find relief.