Anxiety:Team Of One
I remember the day I had my first anxiety attack. I was fourteen years old, visiting relatives in Boston during my summer vacation. The trip signaled my first glimpse of adult freedom. Although accompanied by an airhostess, this was the first time I had flown on my own on an international trip.
As I kissed my mom goodbye at the airport in Barbados, no storm clouds overhead signaled that I would suddenly learn about one of the most complex human emotions. Instead, the weather was beautiful with sunny skies greeting the giant tube of metal as we coasted to my destination.
A few weeks in, I bumped into my uncle as he returned from work, falling backwards onto the floor. My breath became choppy as I suddenly seemed to float outside of my body. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t seem to find my breath.
The excitement and happiness during the initial stages of my trip seemed to evaporate in the span of a few short moments turned into panic. I felt out of control struggling to stand as my body failed to recognize the new sensation. As with anything which seems insignificant at first, I brushed the emotion from my mind after my return to Barbados. I chalked it up to being overstimulated or too excited and quickly forgot that I had dealt with such a scary feeling.
The years passed and my mental health challenges increased. By eighteen, I had discovered the wonderful world of anti-depressants and sleep aids. I learned that the two pills each day allowed me moments of rest and temporarily fought my demons, keeping them at bay.
Still, I didn’t seem to have much experience with anxiety. It was a far-away emotion that wasn’t quite connected to my life. That was, until the pandemic hit.
Following my bout with Covid-19, I once again faced the depression demon head on as I tried to make sense of the illness that had ravaged my body. As I tried my hardest to heal, my mind often slipped away more often than it remained present.
Conversing with others was difficult. There was no way to start and continue a conversation with bouts of brain fog that left me confused and disorientated. There was no one who understood that I had wrestled with death and won, yet somehow hadn’t come through the bout unharmed.
My mind slipped further into the abyss. Instead of focusing on my healing, I focused on control.
At first, it was simple things. I would become disgruntled if I didn’t get out of bed or brushed my teeth that day. I would curse myself for forgetting birthdays and important information that I could easily rattle off before.
As the months slowly passed by, my mental abyss became deeper and darker. Soon, my personality changed. I became frantic, unkind, volatile. The world suddenly didn’t make sense…my world didn’t make sense.
In time, I took the first step on my dangerous path with anxiety. As it grew worse, I began to self-destruct like a bomb with an overeager timer set for detonation. Each day was spent with the same routine of tears before breakfast followed by tears with sprinkles of anger for lunch and an emotional meltdown (panic attack) with a side dish of tears for dinner.
For an entire year, my world comprised of this damaging diet. As time continued, I felt apart completely. I refused to get out of bed unless it was to complete my college assignments. I began avoiding interaction and from opportunities to engage with others. I removed myself from groups where I felt like an imposter feeling suddenly overwhelmed by any sort of conversation.
In the midst of these moments, I faced judgement from well-meaning friends whose answers to my current life challenges involved dating and marriage. In their opinion, my focus should revolve around marriage. I should want to be loved even if on those days I wanted to run and hide from the world. I should’ve been expected to be okay if I had a ring on my finger even on the days where I wanted to die.
Against my better judgement, I downloaded the dating apps wondering if my trigger was related to my singleness. I accepted offers to be blindly set up with men who I knew weren’t a good fit in my life to shut up my critics. I accepted the bare minimum because I believed it was what I deserved for being so emotionally unstable. In hindsight, being single contributed nothing to my deteriorating mental health. I was simply a young women experiencing an emotion I didn’t quite understand.
The judgement stung and to this day it has changed friendships which I once considered close. It’s uncertain if they will ever return to the place they once were or if anxiety has opened a new door where a shift in those friendships now exists.
In those darkest days, my people pleasing tendencies seemed to sprout new flowers as I tried in vain to silence the dangerous thoughts and emotions which seemed to want me dead. I crammed my schedule with activities to keep my mind busy. At the worst parts of my anxiety journey, I attended two institute classes a week, attended young single adult activities, hopped to church wards virtually around the world and listened to friends dishing about the problems in their lives and tried to still gave them advice. It didn’t matter that my world was crashing and burning as I willing to accept the bare minimum in return. In my eyes, I was the “fixer” and unless I was “fixing” I was useless.
At the point where I was close to ending my own life, I decided to share my testimony at church. I asked for help by sharing that I was struggling. I reached out to the only place where I believed had the solutions. I blindly reached for a faith community that I believed would hold me up even as I sank further into quicksand. Instead of the massive support that would’ve come if I was still a member of the Methodist church, blank stares greeted me instead.
Eventually I had to turn off the Mormon thought process, realizing no one truly cared unless I was presenting a happy image of the perfect member. I didn’t want to be perfect. I finally wanted to embrace the struggle and find a way to return to being myself again. Most importantly,I shut off the misconception that I wouldn’t be a good therapist if I had mental health challenges or struggled with anxiety.
In doing so, I was able to find a better path. I was able to shut off the belief that I didn’t need help. I spoke to my doctor who put me on anti-anxiety medication. On those darkest days, she fought those demons with me as she shut down my belief that my anxiety journey was relegated to a “team of one” effort.
Although I hated admitting defeat, doing so has brought great blessings to my life. I started posting about my experiences with anxiety on my Facebook page. I sought to normalize the emotion that I had tried to control by sharing both my wins and losses. I embraced being transparent sharing both my good and bad days.
A few weeks ago, a missionary reached out to me to ask my experiences with anxiety after seeing my posts on social media. While not an expert, I shared the things that had helped me in hopes that she too would be able to find peace and joy. I was able to tell her that her anxiety wasn’t some punishment from God as people believe it to be.
I’m not sure if anxiety will ever leave my life fully but I embrace its presence. Struggling so hard has shown me that through our greatest challenges, we find strength. Even though some days may still be dark and desolate, I embrace the sun knowing that anxiety is no longer something I wish to control but I know that it has no great power to dictate the rest of my life story.