This is Part II in my little backstory series.
We left off as I left elementary school, and had just begun Grade 8. Things got sooooo awesome for me, as you can imagine.
Near the end of the school year, I had a relationship-ending fight with my girlfriends. For a 13-year-old, it was traumatic. Looking back, I had it coming. Unfortunately, young teenagers lack foresight. I always acted impulsively and without considering how my actions would be perceived or how they would affect my life.
At this point in my life, I have been very anxious for almost 20 years. So I’m kind of a pro when it comes to handling my anxiety triggers most of the time. I do my box breathing, think about kittens, chew up my fingers, etc. But back when I was a teenager, I did a lot of random hyperventilating and passing out without any discernible trigger to blame. There was a lot of confusion and embarrassment.
I wasn’t really sure what to do with myself. I certainly did not link fainting to anxiety. In fact, anxiety wasn’t even a concept I was familiar with. To me, I was just a typical teenaged girl, sitting there legitimately minding my own business in class, very interested in the intricacies of elements, compounds, and solutions, when this random experience hit. I didn’t even think I had some disease. I thought I was just very wimpy.
My mom had me visit a psychologist and I was quickly diagnosed with General Anxiety Disorder. They told me the episodes I’d been experiencing were panic attacks. The entire concept didn’t shake me, to be honest. I liked that I was getting some attention I guess, but the label didn’t exactly do much. It was too foreign and I knew too little about disorders. It was the first I had really heard of anything like this. Up until then, my understanding was that there was this thing called depression, and that depression was when you were sad. That sums up my then-understanding of the human mind pretty succinctly.
I did some therapy, but mostly that just confirmed a set of sad facts and occurrences that further confirmed my diagnosis. I can’t say that the therapy really did much for me. I wasn’t really sure how to work on myself, and felt uncomfortable in having to express things in a way my therapist could understand. I didn’t know that therapy is not a magic cure.
My understanding of therapy was that if you were crazy, you’d lie on a sofa and relay whatever jumble of thoughts that come to mind to a doctor. The doctor would write down some notes and that would solve your problems.
Accordingly, my expectations were very misaligned with reality. I found myself sitting uncomfortably across a desk from a frizzy-haired lady who asked me to use children’s alphabet blocks to show my previous and current social rank within my group of friends. I haphazardly stacked three blocks on top of one another and pointed to the top one, indicating that that one was me. Then I moved that block from the top to the bottom.
Then she asked me to draw my picture of what I was feeling. I drew a tear-drop.
I wasn’t sure if the whole thing was supposed to evoke some mind-blowing revelation or something, but I didn’t really see any part of the exercise as being helpful. I already told her how things were using a few words that she coaxed out of me. I concluded that therapy wasn’t fun. It was awkward.
On subsequent visits, I really hadn’t anything to say. There were no updates to provide. I didn’t have the mental capacity to elaborate on any answers I gave, and I didn’t know how to express myself even if I did have something to say.
I had learned that therapy was not a magical tool, but I was too young to understand how to help it help me. I stopped going after only a few sessions.
Severe damage had been done. I had developed a very deep social anxiety disorder. I was horribly self-aware and felt like everyone was judging me at all times. As time went on, I began to hate everything about myself. My shoe size, my frame, my face. The way my hair hung from my head. The sound of my voice. The way I walked. The way I smelled. I hated all of these things because in my mind, I knew that everyone around me noticed and agreed. I believed that no one actually liked me, that perhaps my mom had paid them to spend time with me. This wasn’t like my childhood experiences of other kids literally pointing and laughing at me for whatever reason (i.e. wearing the wrong brand of shorts). This was an overwhelming feeling of being watched and judged constantly, and not favourably.
To this day, I have trouble being seen alone in public. New people, people I need to impress, people I don’t even know – they all trigger an incredible feeling of dread. Am I standing normally? Are people laughing at my hair colour? Am I actually in a reality TV show and everything around me is orchestrated? Am I a joke? It is very difficult for me to believe that honestly, no one fucking cares about 90% of what I’m doing. My pal anxiety just likes to constantly remind me otherwise.
When I started college, things went from manageable to intense in a matter of months.
I began to rely on my best friend far more than anyone should rely on ay 19-year-old girl. I ensured that we’d registered for all of the same university courses, met in the parking lot each morning to walk to class, and spent lunch and study time together.
If I had to go to the mall, I would not go alone. She would be there, too. If we were meeting for dinner or drinks, there is no way I’d get out of my car before she called to tell me she’d also arrived. I would check to see what outfit was acceptable for every occasion.
I essentially assigned myself an anxiety bodyguard.
Maybe it was good in some ways. But I was also not doing myself any favours. You can’t bandaid anxiety – you need to become accustomed to the situations that cause you grief, otherwise you will never become a functioning adult.
But of course I didn’t know that.
The more responsibilities I accumulated, the worse things got for me. School became impossible to drag myself to. Unlike in high school, professors didn’t care if you actually showed up. I began to skip class regularly and dreaded having to return and catch up. I became known for making excuses to my friends about why I was never there. Eventually, I dropped out entirely.
I had decided that it was not only perfectly acceptable, but entirely satisfying to turn my part-time fast food job into a full time career. It was the easiest way out of facing adulthood I could come up with.
I believe that it was around this time that I began taking medication for reals.