Upon first meeting me you might think of me as a slightly shy but mostly friendly and talkative person. What you would never guess is that while you’re talking to me my heart is racing and my legs are bouncing to keep my hands from shaking. Once our conversation ends I will then retreat silently away or most often into my headphones to calm my mind and to keep the shaking at bay. If I don’t I’ll over think what might have been a very simple conversation from what I said to how I said it and what I should have said instead.
Meet my anxiety. Yup. Like most 20 year olds in North America I have been blessed with the monster that is anxiety. If you know me personally, however, you will either never know this about me or only have found out about it after knowing me for a while. I don’t really like talking to people about it, in part due to me being a very personal person in general, but also because I fear that people will misunderstand me or begin to walk on eggshells around me. Always fearful that what they say might set me off.
My anxiety has been around since I was young but even still I always felt very comfortable with myself and the people around me. I did gymnastics for 13 years competing in my last four and partook in countless theater performances in and outside of school. By doing performance acivities how could I ever be anxious? Surprisingly, I could.
2011 is where I have the sharpest memory of experiencing a panic attack. I had had them before but never knew that that was what they were exactly. I remember standing in front of my French class full of everyone I knew and all of whom I had stood in front of before. I should have been fine but I wasn’t. This time something was different. My heart raced and my mouth went dry as I dreaded my turn. Once I stood facing the people I had known for four years, something clicked in my brain and told me I couldn’t. It told me my French was awful and my topic was ridiculous. Just as my teacher turned to me to start my knees buckled and my nerves shook in every inch of my body. I collapsed into a ball on the floor in front of my entire class crying and shaking. From that moment on I have been utterly terrified of doing presentations and to this day, I have still never done one.
In early 2013 my anxiety peaked with panic attacks almost every other day. At this time, it had been 2 years since I had moved 2 hours away from home to a big city where I knew no one and was wrapping up my college (CEGEP) diploma while in the process of applying to university. I wasn’t sleeping, I wasn’t eating, and I wasn’t happy. I lost interest in the things I used to love and I hated school. All I was capable of doing was sit on my computer for hours after I got home late at night because I hated being alone and the silence was dangerous.
It was also around this time I met a boy. He was tall with dark hair, strong facial lines, kind eyes, and an adorable accent. For a while my monsters left me as I slowly fell in love. Life was great, life was happy. I’ve read books and I’ve seen movies and I’m a sucker for a good ending and a good romance. So love fixes everything, right? Wrong. Without warning my monsters came back at full force, tired of being ignored and replaced by ridiculous emotions called happiness and confidence.
For another year and a half I tried and failed to make the monsters go away. At this point I was in my second year of university just coming out of academic probation. I had gotten into my last university of choice in my 3rd program of choice and had been failing miserably. In an effort to save my academic career I switched programs into something I was much more knowledgeable and interested in. But my monsters were still wild and just as strong as ever.
Eventually I had had enough. I was now so far retracted into my mind I was depressed. I was still not sleeping properly, I was eating either really poorly or not at all, I never hung out with friends and I never left the house unless I had to. Tired of this shadow that had crept into my life I decided to seek help and turned to the counsellors the school.
So it was. In the summer of 2015 I began this long road to learning to manage my anxiety and panic attacks. I would be lying if I said it has been easy and I would be lying if I said it fixed me quickly. Unfortunately the nature of this mental illness is that it will probably never go away but thankfully it can be managed. I still get anxious and I still have panic attacks from time to time. The difference now is that I know how to handle them better and on most occasions calm the attacks before they take on full swing. I still hate crowds and socializing but I’m finding ways to get through them without incident. I have new friendships and I’ve rekindled old ones. I’ve gone to Europe on my own for 10 days, something my 2013 self never thought capable of and now I will be starting my master’s degree in September.
Anxiety is a strong emotion, but I am stronger. It has taught me more about myself, my capabilities, and ways to love myself including my flaws. I’m a very personal person and talking about this part of me makes me feel extremely vulnerable but I’m choosing to share my story because I want more people to be aware of the realities of anxiety.
In an effort to continue this conversation I have started a new blog in which I will be talking about how I manage my anxiety. The focus will be primarily on my journey of doing my master’s degree but I can guarantee that in a lot of ways it will also be about how I’m managing my anxieties while doing my MA. I will also give a few tips on how to succeed and do well in university and other useful tips to get you through it. So if you are interested you can find my blog here.
Thank you for reading! ♥