Panic Attacks 101.

Here are a few things that have thrown me into an ugly panic tornado:

  1. Confronting someone about something I feel passionate about.
  2. When I’m about to text or call someone new in my life.
  3. Calling the pizza guy.
  4. When I’m meeting friends, and have to show up alone.
  5. Waiting for anyone and they are even a tiny bit late.
  6. When I’m misunderstood in regard to my feelings.
  7. When someone disagrees with me.
  8. When I need to present in front of my company and someone asks a follow-up question.
  9. When someone looks at their phone when they’re talking to me.
  10. When I’m laying in bed at night, going over the day’s events.
  11. Recalling an awkward or humiliating event from XX years ago.
  12. When I don’t wear makeup in public.
  13. Shopping alone and everyone is judging me for it.
  14. When someone doesn’t return my text or call or email.
  15. When I do something somewhat embarrassing – like I mispronounce a word.
  16. When I do something really embarrassing – like my skirt flips up in public.
  17. When I think that maybe the facial expression I have had while talking to someone is really ugly or not appropriate and now I need to change my facial expression, but I am not sure how my face is supposed to look.
  18. Making a typo in an email.
  19. When I have no direction when starting a new project (usually work-related).
  20. Doing math.
  21. When I need to talk to an authoritative figure.
  22. When store clerks try to talk to me.
  23. When store clerks ignore me when I need help.
  24. When my alarm goes off and I have to go to work.

There may or may not be other triggers (read: there are definitely other triggers).

I’d say the worst trigger is, well, not a trigger at all. It’s when I’m just hanging out and anxiety creeps in like a shadow.

What is it like for me?

Before I know it, I can feel my chest tightening, and I get a sick feeling in the back of my throat. I start to look for ways out – physical exits. I need privacy and I need to get away from wherever I am. Immediately.

It may or may not turn into a full blown attack. If I am somehow able to get myself under control, then it basically ends there. I still feel that feeling of dread and tightness in my chest, but it doesn’t escalate.

If it does, though, things get really yucky.

My breathing quickens. I may begin to hyperventilate. I break into a cold sweat. My senses dull. I can’t hear properly, and I can’t see properly. Sometimes I get tunnel vision and I begin to black out.

I cry.

That might be one of the worst symptoms, because you can’t hide tears when you’re in public. And drawing attention when you just want to disappear just makes everything worse.

Not just the feelings, but the anxiety attack itself. It is immediately amplified if I know that people I don’t know or trust can see it happening.

I mean, that’s one of my real triggers – being judged by people. So when I am literally in my most vulnerable state, and people are watching me, things are officially over for me.

I’ve passed out in big crowds because of this. Sometimes I feel like my response is to pass out because then people won’t know it’s a panic attack, and might instead suspect it’s a medical emergency of some sort.

People don’t understand invisible illness, of course. It’s only natural that humans believe that people around them should be experiencing and reacting to situations the same way they are. I don’t even blame them.

I have a wish list when it comes to other people who witness someone having a panic attack:

  • If you know the person, be there for them. Ask them before assuming they need something. Bring the person a glass of water, a tissue. Depending on your relationship, give them a hug, rub their back, or hold their hand. Say nice things. If the person doesn’t want you there, they will tell you.
  • If you do not know the person, but they are alone, offer your support. It would get weird if you started stroking their hair, but you can help them not feel so stressed and awkward. See if you can move them to a more private place. Empathize if you can. Don’t overstay your welcome.
  • If you’re uncomfortable (we get it), don’t watch the person like they’re a side-show. Have some respect. Move your group elsewhere if you can, don’t talk about the person or ask them stupid questions. I’ve seen randos looking at me with this disgusted, judgy face. Exercise a little restraint. giphy
  • Don’t tell the person to calm down. Fuck off.
  • Do remind them that this will pass. It’s temporary.
  • Breathe with them. Help them to catch that rhythm with you. You may not be aware of anxiety-expert-approved breathing exercises, but you can certainly figure out something. A friend of mine once said “let’s do pregnancy breathing!” It was the best thing she could come up with, and it helped a lot.
  • Above all, just be accepting of what’s happening, and convey that. If you think it’s going on longer than you thing it should, keep your mouth shut. They’re already overwhelmed and very self-aware, and making them feel like they’re abnormal or that you don’t approve is going to ruin any progress they’ve made.
  • Follow up. If you’re pals, send a text, stop by their office, or give them a call that night. I’ve had friends send me funny memes the next day to show their support. A simple “how are you doing?” can mean the world to someone. If they get sketchy and embarrassed, just smile and leave it at that. They know.
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K thx.

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Job Opportunity.

There is a really great job opportunity being posted on a couple of websites in my city right now. It’s the same job title I currently have, along with all of the same types of tasks. It looks like it was written for me.

Oh wait. It is written for me. Except it’s not.

My employer has placed an ad for my job.

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&#$*%!

Of course, the moment I saw it, my heart dropped. It was not like I was entirely surprised by this; to be honest, I’d been searching my work’s company name on various career websites to see if they’d ever post some kind of ad like this. So on some level, I knew and expected it.

But I certainly was not actually prepared for this. I felt a panic attack coming on. I felt sick to my stomach and my mind began to race. I can recognize it as my Ego saying “THEY WANT TO REPLACE YOU, THEY DON’T CARE ABOUT YOU, AND THEY ARE TRYING TO WEED YOU OUT.” Yes, my Ego talks in all-caps.

But that’s pretty much exactly what I was thinking. That they want me out.

I immediately texted my Work BFF with the link. She is often the one who actually posts job ads for our company, but she had no idea this had been posted. It must have been my boss who did it himself.

As I walked downstairs to tell Boyfriend, I tried really, really hard to remember what my psychologist had told me. She’d gotten me to write down some simple steps in my phone about what to do when I felt a panic attack coming on, or basically whenever I felt I was going to combat.

But the problem is, when I’m defence mode, I am not able to contemplate much else. I was already vaguely aware of other reasons why my boss might have posted the job, but it didn’t matter. My anxiety was telling me it was because they want me out, and it didn’t want to consider any other reasons.

Boyfriend calmed me down. He made sure I could see that maybe my boss has other innocent reasons for posting the ad. They need to replace me because I have a big job. They legally cannot deny me my job when I am ready to return (although they could fire me and offer a severance I guess), because I am on medical leave. It’s not like I quit.

This helped a little. But I was still struggling to find that rational thought process my therapist had gone over with me. I wanted to put that plan into action and try to make it work.

But I was at a loss – not only was it not really ingrained in my memory, but my Ego was so hell bent on being right about them wanting me out, that my Ego was arguing my side instead of trying to take a step back and look at things objectively.

I went back upstairs, and Work BFF called me to talk it over. She offered very similar advice, and after we chatted for a while, I did start to feel better. She suggested that I write my boss an email setting out a plan. He has no idea where my head is at, and the fact that he is not approaching me about things, although it totally sucks, doesn’t mean he is not supportive or doesn’t care. He probably sees me as fragile and is not comfortable with it.

So I did pen an email. I tried to make it as honest and real as possible. I did not write as though I were a computer (I tend to be very formal and use, as Work BFF puts it, ‘big words’ in my letters and emails) so that I would come off as a person. I had her review it, and I am going to send it to him on Monday morning so it doesn’t get lost in the shuffle.

Meanwhile, I am studying my little cheat sheet for how to handle my panic attacks. It is difficult work. It’s not easy.

Here is an overview of what I need to do. I haven’t really gotten down to business yet. After I wrote the email, I went into hibernation and napped for a couple of hours, then continued to avoid everything until now. Since writing is one of the best ways I can express myself, and really explore things, I may as well do it here and now.

***

  • Ask myself: how can I see this differently? What am I blind to?

This should slow things down, and shift my focus. The goal is to look at things from a bigger place. But I find it near impossible when my Ego has made up my mind and things feel black & white.

But in this situation – My Ego is blind to any other result except the one he’s come up with. I could see things differently by looking at it from my boss’ perspective, or really, any outsider’s point of view.

  • What feelings are here?

My next step is to recognize my feelings as things that are not a part of me – they are just something that I am experiencing. That’s also really hard to do when you are all revved up. My therapist said it’s important not to say “I am sad,” for example, but rather “I am feeling sad” or “sadness is here.” This way, it’s easier to think of the feelings as passing clouds. They aren’t me.

Today, I was experiencing fear. Fear was telling me that I wasn’t wanted, that I was out of options, that I was not in control.

  • Is what Fear says true?

I need to think about whether Fear is really all-powerful and right about everything. It’s Fear that is doing the talking and making the decisions (along with my unwanted BFF Anxiety). But does Fear really know the absolute truth?

No, not necessarily. I have no way of knowing for certain, but I can say it’s possible that Fear is wrong. Or, at a minimum, it’s only half-true.

Perhaps my boss does want me out. Maybe he doesn’t. But that doesn’t matter: I still have control over how I react and what my next steps are. I still have options, I am still a great employee, and there are 100s of other job opportunities out there for me.

  • What IS true?

It’s important to keep my Ego in check.

This is just a circumstance. The opposite of fear, in this case, is honesty, safety, and most of all Trust.

  • If I look at things from the feeling of Trust, what would I be thinking? Feeling? Doing?

This is to help me realize that there are certainly other viewpoints, and those viewpoints are not coming from scary, pessimistic, negative places.

If I felt safe and trusting, I would be thinking that my boss is just covering his butt. He needs to solve the short-term problem of needing more support in the office while I am away. And if Trust really has an opinion, it’s that he has recognized that I needed help (I had, after all, asked for an assistant in our department in the past). Maybe he can finally see the gap I left, and needed to fill it, and also realizes that if I get hit by a bus, they need someone who can take over. They need someone who can take over even if I’m just on vacation, honestly. Maybe this person isn’t a replacement, but rather an addition.

  • Finally, I need to remember the following. The Self is the one who needs to be doing the talking.

I trust myself. I belong, and I’m wanted. I’m a good employee and I’m useful.

Those make me feel confident, open, and receptive. I feel more physically relaxed when I am experiencing those feelings of openness. I can take my time, and I have a choice.

***

I am still struggling with truly feelings the feelings of safety and trust. On paper, it makes sense. I can write all of that out and it doesn’t really have any holes in it. But it’s difficult to truly realign myself to that thought process.

I think that next time something similar happens, I am going to take out a sheet of paper and write things out. If I do this over and over, even for the small stuff, I will be better at it, and can turn it into an automatic response over time.

Hopefully, I will learn to quiet my Ego and think with my Self.

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Breaking the Habit.

I cancelled plans I’d made today, and it’s not the first time I’ve done it.

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The struggle is real.

I tend to do it. I hate to type this, but if I’m 100% honest, I do it often.

I’m that guy.

And it’s a personality trait I am not proud of.

Sometimes, my anxiety will just not allow me to follow through with plans I have made or agreed to. It might even cause me to avoid making plans in the first place by making up silly excuses. And it’s hard because it makes me seem unreliable (because I am) and flakey (because I am) and as though I may be hiding something (because I am).

I don’t want to be suspicious and untrustworthy. But anxiety and depression just don’t let me be who I want to be. Anxiety decides that today, I am going into hiding.

It doesn’t even let me be honest about it. Anxiety opens my email and types things like “I’ve been up all night sick” even when I’m perfectly well. It hides my phone under a pillow when a family member is calling me to confirm our plans, even though I’m totally capable of answering it. It texts my friends “Oh I didn’t get this text until it was too late!” hours after I’ve read and ignored the message.

Anxiety is the reason I am sitting in my bed today, instead of volunteering at a local shelter the way I promised. I picked up my phone, opened my Gmail, and wrote the director that I had hurt my back and wasn’t able to help out after all. I have many other opportunities to volunteer my time, but that’s not the point. Anxiety took the wheel, yet again, and stopped me from following through. I didn’t write that email, anxiety did.

I feel like I’m not taking responsibility for my actions today. But sometimes it really doesn’t feel like it’s me who’s ultimately in charge of what I do. I feel like anxiety strips away the say I have in my own life. It makes decisions for me, and I don’t even know it’s happening. Sometimes it happens so fast that I don’t even realize I’m doing it.

Trust me, I do not want to be the flakey friend. I want to make plans, and follow through with them. I want to go about my day like a normal person does. I want to get up, do stuff, see people, achieve things. I want to come home after a day of participating in life and make dinner, tackle a chore, work in my yard.

I don’t do that kind of stuff too often.

I spend a lot of time hiding in my bed after cancelling plans, and going over feelings of disappointment in myself over and over. I wonder to myself how anyone could believe my paltry excuses, especially those who’ve had to listen to them more than once. People must see right though me, and think I don’t give a fuck about anything or anyone. That I’m selfish. Who in their right mind would want to spend time with me? It’s the same old story when it comes to me.

I wish there was a way I could gain more control over myself. Some way I could break the cycle. I haven’t discovered how, not yet. And I know this is a problem many people with panic/anxiety/depression disorders function. I’ve seen it and I’ve been on the receiving end.

Is there hope for us?

I’m hoping this is something I can figure out with my therapist, who I am seeing tomorrow. I hope she can help me disengage that anxious, depressive knee-jerk reaction to run away and hide from being a part of the world. My response is only making things worse – and I can’t even imagine how hard it will make it for me to eventually return to work in a few weeks. It’s like a bad habit I need to deal with once and for all.

My bed is soft and cozy, warm and safe. But it’s not where I belong – not every day.

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Tinfoil.

There is a reason I have tinfoil as my backdrop on my page. It’s not my attempt at conveying my love for 90s kitsch design.

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Fun prank: tell a friend this is a Magic Eye picture and watch them struggle with it for 10 minutes.

Although, forgive me, it is a symbol for something, and that is just as lamenting.

I’ve mentioned that I have a wonderful, compassionate partner in life: Boyfriend. We’re not married (yet – we’ll get around to it one day), but we live together. We’ve built a home and life together and are truly committed to one another. His love for me includes all of my flaws – including my anxiety and depression. He is my best person. 

It wasn’t like I revealed everything about myself on day one of our relationship. I managed to keep my crazy in check for months and months, actually, and it was a long time before I felt comfortable enough to share this side of me with him. Mental health isn’t something people tend to talk about in general. It can take a long time to gauge whether or a person is someone you can trust and rely on. Whether they are wired with that element of sympathy or empathy that’s required of something to be lean-on-able is not always obvious.

Realizing someone has the capacity to be your “rock” doesn’t happen in a snap, either. It is a series of learning, of reading your feelings and emotions in symphony with their actions. You just kind of slowly discover that yes, this person is a good one. You can share your secrets with him or her, and you are safe. This person is a cornerstone. Your counterpart.

When I first explained to him that I had an anxiety disorder (admitting to multiple disorders seems like a lot to swallow, so I like to start with just one), I was able to recite to him a brief canned address that allows most people to understand anxiety on a beginner level. I never expect much of a response, or even many questions. It’s just something for them to digest. He digested it well.

Like most decent people, his response was positive and supportive. It was a good first step to handling the unhinged bag of loose screws I can sometimes be. It provided him a bit of a warning that I could, at any given moment really, have a full fledged panic attack.

Which did eventually happen, of course.

The first time I had a panic attack near him, he was the supportive person I’d hoped he would be. I couldn’t have asked for better. That doesn’t mean he 100% understood what was going on. After I had calmed down, I did my best to guide him through what it really feels like to have a panic attack.

The best way I was able to explain the epicentre of my anxiety attacks is to think of the heart as being made of tinfoil. It keeps you alive by pumping blood through it effortlessly and rhythmically. It is reliable and steadfast. But it needs to be handled with care: in reality, it is vulnerable, delicate, and intricate.

Now imagine that your fragile tinfoil heart is physically being squeezed.

It takes literally no effort to crush that tinfoil into a hard, compact little ball. All of the life is squashed out of it. It cannot function properly in this state. It feels tight and tense and tiny. It hurts.

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It feels irreparable.

And the rest of your body is useless when that feeling takes place. Every sense is affected: your vision seemed darkened and blurry, your hearing is muffled. You are shaking and sweating. Your breathing quickens. Your mind is out of control.

The only thing you can really concentrate on is the fact that your heart, once open and light, is now dense and solid. Nothing passes though it with ease. The heart centre you’d thought of as your axis of stability isn’t there. This stupid little crushed ball has taken its place.

That’s what an anxiety attack feels like to me. Like my heart is made of tinfoil, and it’s being crushed. It’s kind of hard to un-crush a ball of tinfoil.

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Background Part III.

Ah, meds.

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This has become a very controversial subject according to the interwebMDs.

I am going to share my thoughts on the matter,  because my choice to be medicated is legitimately the difference between being able to participate in the outside world, and developing what I know would have been a pretty decent case of agoraphobia.

In Part II of my story, I shared my inability to do anything alone. I also mentioned that I still struggle with that. But I am no where near as bad as I used to be.

When I wrote that I couldn’t go to the mall alone, I mean it. It’s not that I’d be there and something happened so that I never returned. Nothing bad ever happened that prevented me from wanting to return. It was the thought of going out on my own that cloaked me in so much fear, that it just wasn’t something I could do.

I avoided it completely. It was not an option for me.

It was a flashback scenario. PTSD-style. Being seen alone brought me back to the times I had to spend alone in front of my entire high school every single day for months.

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Fun Fact: Public toilets don’t tend to have lids.

Remember this scene from the movie Mean Girls? This was me for a while in high school. For most people, it’s kind of entertaining. But for someone who lived that – it hits the nail on the fucking head. I make an awkward scrunched-up face during this scene.

I spent nearly every lunch hour alone, hiding in an aisle in the school library. I would pretend to do homework, but since I had more than enough time to complete that stuff, I’d actually just be reading Sweet Valley High books.

But our library forbade food and drink, so I always needed to eat my lunch before going in there. A bathroom stall was the natural choice. It was the only place that offered any sort of privacy.

The underlying reason for all of this was not simply that I had nothing to do during my spare time. My goal was to disappear. I would consistently bump into old friends who knew I was on my own, and it was humiliating to be seen. This flooded past just the ones I knew closely. For me, every single person at that school knew I was a loner and a total loser for it.

This intense feeling followed me. I did eventually make new friends, but things were never quite the same for me. Instead of being the outgoing one with all of the ideas, I became reclusive. I hung back. I went along with everyone else’s suggestions. I hoped simply to be invited along for the ride. It meant I just had someone to stand with at school.

It is nearly impossible to go about daily life successfully as an adult if you are in that world. We routinely need to go to the bank, go to job interviews, buy groceries, attend doctor’s appointments. My issues with doing things alone didn’t truly fuck up my life until I was an adult with responsibilities.

There was no thought process behind my inability to do stuff. I never thought to myself “I cannot go shopping, because I am very anxious, and my anxiety is preventing me from doing it!” It was moreso that if no one was available to go with me, it just was not a consideration to go at all. I wasn’t going to go someplace I’d be judged and watched. Would you walk into a flaming building? No. You don’t make that decision though a step-by-step, well thought-out process. Your knee-jerk reaction is “fire. Hot,” and you stay away naturally. You don’t need to think about anything except the results.

For me, going to the mall was like going into a flaming building. It was just obvious that I could not do that.

Anxiety rarely presents itself as anxiety, especially when you have just begun dealing with it. It is just your reality. It’s just how things are.

When I began university, I also began taking anti-anxiety medication. I quickly graduated to the highest dosage allowable, and it was then that I discovered I was capable of doing things.

Just doing things.

It did not happen overnight. It took a while to adjust to the medication. I got over a woozy feeling it gave me that lasted a few days, and recognized quickly that forgetting to take it on time would make me feel nauseous. But aside from that, I was lucky that I have never encountered many side-effects on this particular drug.

Side Note: I have tried several other drugs over the years, all of which I did not continue using because of the intense side-effects I experienced. For anyone considering trying an anti-anxiety med, you can’t expect the first one to be The One. I’m not even 100% sure that the first one I tried is the one that worked for me long-term. But I do consider myself very lucky that I was able to find a drug that does not make me sick or loopy or more anxious than before. It is a tricky business.

The magic that did occur, however, was that over time, I realized that I was doing things the way a normal adult would. I had started, for instance, going to the mall alone, and without even realizing it. My mind no longer considered the mall to be a dangerous burning building. It was just a regular place. My reality had changed.

For me, medication stopped those feelings of being overwhelmed. It wasn’t that there was a medication that went BOOM and I was brave and thought “I know what I’m gonna do today! I’m gonna go to the mall! I am not anxious about it!” It was simply an absence of the feelings that would have prevented me from even considering it in the past.

Anxiety meds taught me that with their help, I can do normal, everyday activities, and that nothing bad happens. That’s all – I can just do stuff.

Stuff like going back to school, building a career that I’m proud of, talking to a cute dude, and creating a life for myself. I did those things.

DOING STUFF IS AMAZING.

🙂

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Background Part II.

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.

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Actually.

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.

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