I was a freshman in college when I had my first anxiety attack.
I had no idea what was going on, which is pretty surprising, since my mom had struggled with anxiety and depressions when I was in high school, so I would’ve thought I’d be able to recognize what was happening. I remember sitting in my bed, watching something on Netflix and then all of a sudden, feeling a combination of nausea and having a hard time breathing. All of these panicky thoughts started flooding my head, and I immediately started crying. It’s hard to describe, but I know that many of you will recognize the feeling of your body freaking out and the additional panic you feel when you have no idea where it came from or why it’s happening.
I called my mom and, looking back on it, probably gave her a heart attack. I was sobbing and telling her I didn’t understand what was happening and that I couldn’t breathe – she was about 1,500 miles away, feeling nervous and helpless. She did her best to talk to me in a soothing voice and tell me matter-of-factly what was going on – she recognized immediately that I was having an anxiety attack and as a social worker, she went into medical-mode pretty quickly. She had one of my suitemates take me to the ER and told me exactly what to tell them so that they’d know how to help me. When she texted me an hour and a half later to check in and found out that I was still waiting, she went all mama bear and actually called the ER to yell at them! Some poor nurse came over and asked me if I was Amanda and when I said yes, she goes, “Uhm your mom just called, she was less than satisfied that you’ve been waiting for so long – we’re sorry about that, come with me.” I was mortified, and told her so. But she just smiled and said, “honey, your mom is worried that her baby is halfway across the country and in a fragile state of mind. She’s a good mom, she did what I would’ve done.” And that’s sort of when I realized that A) My mom is the shit. and B) I was going to be taken care of.
Since then, I’ve struggled with bouts of anxiety. I would’ve say that I “suffer” from it – it doesn’t affect me every single day, and it’s (almost) never completely debilitating. There are definitely different levels of it, and I’m lucky that mine isn’t severe. A few months after my first attack, I went to my family doctor and was prescribed Ativan. I’m only prescribed 10 pills at a time, and I usually get a new prescription once a year. I try my best to only take them when it’s really bad, because I’m always super worried about becoming dependent on things and I don’t want to get myself into a sticky situation – if my doctor doesn’t feel like I need to be on it every day and neither do I, there’s no reason for me to do it. That does NOT mean that if you’re prescribed it every day that you shouldn’t take it – in fact, if your doctor is recommending you take a medicine and there’s nothing making you inherently uncomfortable with it, you should 100% make sure that you take it and that you take it every single day. There are too many people who stop taking it after only a couple of weeks because they say they’re not seeing a difference. It can take 4-8 weeks in some cases, but you have to give it time! Working with your doctor to find the right dosage and brand is so important.
As a 25 year old in NYC, there are plenty of things that add to my stress. I (and I’m sure many other 20-somethings) have a really hard time not worrying about my future. How am I furthering my career? How much money should I be saving? Why am I barely saving any money? Am I in a relationship that I want to be in for the rest of my life? Do I want to move? Do I want to stay? Am I too introverted? Am I too opinionated? It adds up. And the thing with anxiety attacks, which is really fucking annoying, is that they don’t need a reason to appear. You could be happy go lucky and then BAM, you’re hugging your knees to your chest and trying to breathe. Even when you’re just going through your day and not necessarily having an attack, you might have the creeping sense of it in your chest- I actually have it as I’m writing this post. In fact, that only reason I’m writing this post is because I have had the anxious feeling in my chest all week, and it won’t go away. So I’m hoping that this will be cathartic enough for me that I can go home and relax.
What I’m trying to tell you is that it’s ok to feel like this.
There’s nothing wrong with you. There’s no reason to be ashamed or embarrassed by struggling with this. And actually, I sometimes feel like the more I’m open about it and relate with others about it, the better I feel. And for those of you who find it to be debilitating, I have something to say: When my mom was going through severe depression when I was in high school, I was one of the only people she would talk to about it. It’s really terrifying to hear someone who is your absolute everything say that they aren’t interested in life anymore, because you just want to scoop them up and tell them how much you love them and make it all better. But they hide it from so many people because of the stupid stigma of mental illness. So when we were in an airport, my mom saw a sign that meant so much to her at the time – it said, “You wouldn’t tell someone with cancer to ‘just get over it’.” So I’m telling you – your feelings are valid, even if they’re less tangible than a physical disease. You matter. You are wanted. You are loved. And if you’re struggling to feel that way, send me a message. I want to listen.
Five Things That Help Me When I’m Feeling Anxious
- Being near someone. Even if I’m crying or a mess, being near someone who I know cares about me helps me. Whether it’s my mom and I’m laying my head in her lap while we watch re-runs of I Love Lucy, or its my best friend who knows I just need her to sit on the couch with me and not talk about (it talk about it endlessly), being near someone helps. It feels good to not feel alone.
- Crying it out. This may seem counter-intuitive to what would be helpful when you’re feeling anxious but for me, releasing my emotions is such a load off my shoulders. Sometimes the build-up of stress and heartache and worry gets to be too much and it causes your chest to feel like it’s going to burst but when you release it and just think to yourself, “yeah this really fucking sucks and I’m going to let myself feel how bad it sucks” it can end up helping 🙂
- Sleep – this is especially good after you’ve cried it out, because your body is freaking exhausted. Being emotional is HARD you guys! It takes a whole lot of energy, and getting a good night’s sleep can help you escape from it all and wake up with a fresh start.
- Meditating. Now bear with me, because up until last week, I’d never meditated in my life, and never thought I would. I’m not someone who enjoys yoga, and although I do like to relax, it’s more in the form of bad reality TV, candles, and a quart of ice cream rather than OHMMMMing for 20 minutes. But I downloaded a few different apps to try out because I was feeling the anxiety attack come on before bed, and I couldn’t bear to deal with it. My favorite one was called “Breathe”. In the app store, its icon is orange/red with a white cloud in the middle (if you’re looking for it). It asked you to record 5 emotions that you’re feeling (from a really long list that they provide) and then from there, it gives different meditation recommendations. I did a 3 minute anxiety reliever one and a 2 minute sleep one, and I felt better immediately and knocked out cold.
- Writing out your feelings. I’ve always wanted to be someone who keeps a journal, but I usually only write in mine when someone is bothering me, and then forget about it when I’m feeling good. I’ve found that when someone is giving me stress and I’m feeling an attack coming on, I start feeling better when I put pen to paper. Maybe it’s a letter to an ex-boyfriend with things you never got to get off your chest. Or maybe it’s a re-count of what’s been keeping you up at night, like your career, or that you’re worried about saving money for the future (I know that stuff bothers me frequently). Whatever it is, just do me one favor. The next time you feel it coming on, sit down and write out one page of what it is that’s bothering you. If you do this and you feel better, I’d love to hear about it 🙂
If you have any tips that you’d like to share with me, or just need someone to listen, please reach out. I mean it. xo, AJ