I was always a very nervous, worried child. I constantly made sure the door was locked and the house alarm was on before I went to sleep, I didn't like crowded areas, and I was afraid of pretty much everything.
I was born and raised in New York, and I remember that after the 9/11 attacks my parents were so nervous about how I was reacting, they got me a dog. (Therapy animals are real, people.) They hoped that having a responsibility and companionship would help with my feelings toward the attack.
As I got older, the nerves got worse, and in turn, my worries would turn into anger. I developed a temper and was just constantly out of sorts. I always felt like I had a weight on my chest, would start to cry out of nowhere, and couldn't explain why I was always so nervous.
When I got to my freshman year of college, this was a feeling I couldn't take any longer. I went to the school counseling center and spoke to someone who put a name to this horrible feeling.
I finally had a name for what I was facing.
Anxiety is defined as "a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome." However, as most people with anxiety understand and experience, you can live with anxiety every day even when you don't have an event or something with an uncertain outcome. Anxiety can hit you without any warning, and it can last even well past the expiration date.
It wasn't until after college graduation that my struggle with anxiety was suddenly heightened and I knew it was not normal. It wasn't just the nerves before giving a presentation in front of the class, or even going on my first real job interview — the anxiety I was living with was like a black cloud hanging over my head as I awoke each day and went to sleep each night.
There were days when I couldn't breathe, when I couldn't get out of bed or even log onto a computer. I called out of work sick because the thought of trying to muster up the courage to get on an overcrowded train was daunting. What was the reason for this?
There didn't have to be a reason. That's the issue with anxiety disorders; sometimes you just don't know why you're anxious or why you're feeling the way you are. Even when you know there is nothing to worry about, even when your mind is clear, sometimes the physical symptoms of your anxiety are there and are the hardest to get through.
My anxiety was affecting how I lived my life, and it was creating a problem. I knew I had to take charge somehow because the anxiety wasn't going to just go away. Just as it helped in college, I knew going back to therapy was the first step to taking control of my life. I loved my therapist, a sweet middle-aged woman who understood everything I was feeling. We talked through my childhood, my college years, and everything in between. We talked through my anxious feelings and she helped me understand why I was experiencing such heightened anxiety.
I'm a control freak and like to only do things where I can be in control of the outcome. If I'm presented with something where there is a unknown, that's what really sparks the anxiety. Once I understood more about what triggered me, I was able to control my thoughts and give myself a pep talk. However, even with all the progress I made with therapy, it wasn't enough. My daily anxiety was still there and I knew deep down that I had to get medical help for this.
I was 22 years old and dealing with a debilitating anxiety disorder. I spoke to my normal physician and told her everything I was experiencing, and she was shocked that it had taken me this long to come to her. She said something that has stuck with me to this day.
"No one deserves to live like this. You're only 22 and you have a long, beautiful life ahead of you."
I was put on anxiety medication before my 23rd birthday and I have never looked back. Within a few weeks, my life was different. I felt clear minded, in control, and like a new person. It was the most incredible feeling, to be calm and not anxious on a daily basis. At the times when there was something to worry about, I didn't have the overwhelming, physical symptoms. I was able to clearly think about the issue at hand and deal with it. It was very refreshing to breathe and not have the black cloud hanging over my head.
When it comes to anxiety and mental health, it's important to recognize what you're dealing with and handle it how best for YOU. Whether that is yoga, meditation, or another hobby; maybe those things aren't working for you and you have to go see a therapist or maybe you're like me and need medication. Whatever it is, do it, because no one deserves to live trapped inside their own mind. You can beat anxiety, just figure out what works for you.