We use this word so often today that it has become almost meaningless in our society.
While everyone does experience feelings of anxiety from time to time, some others, including me, experience life in a constant state of alert. For us, our minds never stop running. It comes on quickly and unexpectedly. Our hearts race fast, we feel lightheaded and nauseous, we can’t stop shaking, lights and sounds are overwhelming, we feel suffocated, and the list goes on. Our own mind is a prison we can’t escape.
Severe anxiety has been an ongoing occurrence in my life for the past four years. However, upon reflection, I realize I’ve always been anxious, I just didn’t always know that what I was feeling wasn’t normal. I had social anxiety as a child, and to this day I still do, although I am able to hide it much better now. As a child, I literally wouldn’t speak to people I didn’t know. And it’s not that I didn’t want to, it’s that I physically couldn’t. My whole body would freeze up and my mind would stop working. I didn’t know why. I didn’t know how to explain it to my parents, let alone anyone else. The crazy thing was, at home, I was great. I felt safe and free to be myself. Those who actually knew me found it hard to believe I was so shy in other places. It was by far the worst at school. Thankfully, each year I had a few select friends who I talked to effortlessly that were able to help me not feel totally isolated. The older I grew, the more I realized that this was not okay, but it felt impossible to change. My identity was “the quiet girl”. I was so deeply rooted in fearful thought patterns of what might happen if I did try to change. What if I failed? What if people didn’t like the real me?
I know this probably sounds really stupid to people who’ve never experienced social anxiety, but to me it was always a huge deal. I didn’t want to be noticed. I hated attention from people I didn’t know. It literally made my insides cringe. So I stayed silent, and unfortunately missed out on a lot of things other kids my age got to experience because of my fears. Luckily, I was never bullied for being shy. But I do remember many times where I’d meet someone new, or an outgoing kid in class would finally notice me for the first time and ask, (always in front of other people, too), “Why don’t you talk?” It was the worst question. I could feel everyone’s eyes on me. They wanted an answer. But what do you say to that question? I never had an answer, and I still don’t. Every time I was asked this I would get so angry at that person. “Why are they bothering me? I don’t ask them why they are so loud.” But even deeper than my anger toward them was my anger toward myself, for giving them a reason to ask that question in the first place. For making myself an outcast. There were plenty of times when I truly hated who I was.
In high school, I made some friends who didn’t go to my previous schools, so they didn’t know my reputation as the “shy girl”. These friends were all very outgoing people. We went to parties every weekend and life was so fun. I started to forget the person people thought I was. At these parties, I could talk to people. I could be someone else. They didn’t know my past. They didn’t think I was weird. But there was always that thought lingering in the back of my mind. “Don’t let them get too close. They might find out who you really are, and they definitely won’t like you. You are too weird. They’ll leave you if they really know what you’re like and if they know who you once were.” So, I pushed a lot of people away, or purposefully didn’t get too close. In my mind, it was better to leave someone, than to be left. I didn’t want to be the one to blame for failed relationships, because then I would have to come face to face with the ugly demons inside of my mind.
I graduated high school in 2010. Fast forward a few years to 2012. The year I met the guy I am currently in a relationship with. The beginning of this relationship seemed like a dream. I thought he was perfect, definitely too good for me. However, unbeknownst to me, the person I thought he was was all just a cover-up. In reality, he was an alcoholic, and had a lot of mental issues that he hid very well due to what I now realize is part of his narcissistic personality disorder. I went through a great amount of verbal abuse from him, and he made me feel like I truly deserved it. He made me believe I was not a good person. I now realize that along with my well-hidden social anxiety and negative thought patterns I’d had since childhood, the verbal abuse I experienced from him was a major cause of the horrible anxiety I soon after began experiencing.
For me, the panic attacks and other anxiety symptoms came on overnight. One day I woke up and just didn’t feel right. I felt disconnected from the world around me. After much research, I came to the conclusion that I was experiencing something called derealization, which left me feeling like I was in a fog constantly, like nothing was real. Everything seemed “off” but I couldn’t quite explain how, even to myself. Soon, I could no longer even go to restaurants or the grocery store. Lights and sounds were too much stimulation for me. Any time I was out in public, I felt like I couldn’t breathe and I would start shaking, sure I was going to pass out. The derealization was so bad, it felt so otherworldly, that it would make the panicky feelings intensify because I thought I was going crazy. I was so scared of feeling this way, and not knowing why, that I became completely isolated me from the people and places I once loved. I felt trapped in my mind. I couldn’t tell my boyfriend, because anytime I tried to tell him my problems he would just tell me how over-dramatic and stupid I was being. I thought I was legitimately sick or going crazy, and it terrified me. I always managed to keep a job, but going to work was almost unbearable. I always dreaded it because I never knew what symptoms I was going to feel. I didn’t tell anyone. Surely, they wouldn’t understand. So I kept my suffering a secret.
I lived this way for the next few years. Always fearful, and thinking anxiety was going to do me in any minute. Fortunately, after almost two years of being out of college, I was able to gather enough strength to get back into school. I aspired to be an elementary teacher. I love working with kids. It’s always felt like it was what I was meant to do. But deep inside I had this overwhelming fear that I couldn’t do it. I thought, “If I’m a teacher, that means my job is public speaking, the thing I hate the most. I’ll have to talk to parents all the time, other teachers, administrators. I’ll be OBSERVED all the time. There is no way I can do it!” These fears tried to stop me so many times. To make matters worse, often times when I was sitting in class, I was still feeling panicky, nauseous and lightheaded. It was hard to get through a class anxiety-free. This made me doubt my abilities to be successful because I was afraid of feeling these symptoms while teaching, and not having a way of escape.
But as each semester passed, things got a little better. I finally told myself, “If I’m going to get sick or pass out, it’s going to happen regardless of where I am. I can’t control that. Even if I did, what is the worst thing that would happen?” Plus, I noticed, that after three or so years of feeling like my worst fears were going to happen to me any minute (passing out, throwing up in public, going crazy, etc.) none of them had ever, NOT ONE SINGLE TIME, happened. So, I started to call anxiety’s bluff. It began to seem highly unlikely that after four years of feeling this way, whatever symptom I was feeling in that moment was finally going to be “the one” to do me in.
Slowly, but surely, the more I went to class, the more I gave presentations, the more I taught kids, the more I was observed and had my teaching critiqued, the more I accepted feeling anxious, the less scary it was. I even gave a presentation in my health class ABOUT how to help students with social anxiety. One of my friends told me how confident I appeared, and this person has no idea I myself have had social anxiety. In that moment, it hit me. I am beating this. I feel better. I CAN do this. I CAN be a teacher. I WILL be a teacher. I went home and cried because I knew my purpose in that moment, and my dreams finally seemed achievable.
This past semester, I was in a classroom for five weeks straight and I absolutely loved it. I taught many lessons and each time it got easier. By my last day, I was actually looking forward to teaching, whereas I used to dread it so much. I used to spend hours upon hours preparing for a lesson, so I wouldn’t slip up and look stupid. But on my last day, I taught the whole class the entire day. And while exhausting, it was the best feeling ever. I, the girl who couldn’t talk in school, is now going to be the one leading the classroom. I cannot tell you how much of a miracle this is. If you had told me three or four years ago I would be a teacher, I would’ve laughed in your face. It wasn’t possible. I could never do it. But now, I am. I’m living out the seemingly impossible. And I have to give all the credit to God. He made the impossible, possible. He has helped me totally renew my mind. I am a forever changed person. It didn’t happen overnight. I’ve cried. I’ve wanted it all to end. I’ve almost given up. I’ve taken five steps forward and ten back in one day. I’ve hit rock bottom many times. But I wouldn’t trade any of it for what I have now. I don’t think how I used to. Even when I wasn’t experiencing severe anxiety, I always had negative thought patterns. I had no faith in myself, no belief I could accomplish anything worthwhile. Now, I have more dreams than I’ve ever had, and not only that, but I actually believe I’m going to accomplish them. I know I can.
If you’ve taken the time to read all of this, I can’t thank you enough. For so long I didn’t feel I was worthy of love. I didn’t feel worthy of speaking out, didn’t feel like I had anything worthwhile to say. I thought that if I was truly myself, nobody would like me or want to be in my life. Now, I realize other people’s opinions about me are none of my business, because I cannot change them. I have decided to be unapologetically myself, and whoever wants to leave can leave, and whoever wants to be in my life I welcome with open arms.
My message to those of you who are struggling with anxiety, depression, doubt, insecurity, and feeling lost, is to start over. Start today; where you are, with what you have. Do everything you can to renew your mind. And when you mess up, because you undoubtedly will from time to time, just breathe and keep going. It will take time. The fear will be screaming within you to stop, to stay, to do the “safe” thing. But you must keep going. Don’t necessarily fight the fear. Let the feelings come. The more you accept them, the quicker they will fade. I promise you, in contrary to what your mind is telling you, you aren’t going crazy and you aren’t going to die. (These were real thoughts I’ve had more times than I would like to admit.) Do what you love, unashamed. Be who you are. Cut out people, places, things, and thought patterns that do not lead to growth and positivity in your life. It isn’t being disloyal. It’s self-loving. There’s only one you in this world. You have something to offer, something to contribute, that no one else possibly can. What do you have to give? You can’t give it hiding out in fear. Don’t settle for what is familiar and safe. It’s time to let the fear go, and live the life you have always dreamed of. It is possible, and I am here to help in any way I can. Know that I am going through this too; we are in this together. Please feel free to share this post with others, or if you have something on your mind, leave a comment below or message me privately! I would love to hear from you! Stay strong ❤