Guest Post: My Struggle With Anxiety

Thursday, 18 August 2016

I knew, as a kid, that something wasn’t right. My childhood had two sides. The first side was what my friends saw: the summer vacations, the expensive birthday presents, and the materialistic version of my life. Growing up, people would claim that my family was rich. They would say that I was lucky to live the life that I was living. But after a while, the material things became meaningless. On Christmas, I was left with this empty feeling. While all of my other friends gathered around their families, I was off on a tropical island with just my mother. It sounds like I am complaining, but I’m not. I’d rather much meet with people than constantly being whisked off to a foreign country as if I am on a world tour. By the age of sixteen, the material things came and went, and continued to come. I felt nothing. It wasn’t until I went to college that I felt like people cared about me as a person, instead of what I had. I gained real friends. I gained a sense of belonging. Things like Spotify playlists carried more value than the newest iPhone because I could feel something. I could remember how happy I was when I first heard a song, dancing around with all of my friends. 

The darker side of my childhood could never be cured with a song. As a young kid, I was shackled by the chains of authority. For the protection of the person who had this authority over me, I’m not going to say who they were. But, it was brutal. I was never physically abused as a kid. But, when you’re constantly being put down, told that you won’t graduate high school, you won’t get into college, you won’t have any friends, and you won’t make it out of your hurts. The hurt builds up and gets worse with every insult. I think I had my first panic attack in elementary school. I don’t remember much, but I remember what was said. The person - we’ll call them The Dictator - had just told me that I was incompetent. (Unfortunately for me, that phrase would be tossed around with more feeling than “I love you.”) I remember sitting on my floor, shaking, feeling as if my throat was closing, and crying. I thought I was about to have a heart attack, and die later. But, gratefully, I didn’t. 

Throughout my whole childhood, I became a chopping block for insults about my race, my sexual orientation, and my lifestyle. I think it was because people didn’t understand me. They didn’t understand how I could live a life with such privilege. But like the saying goes, “money doesn’t buy happiness.” As more material things came, the more vulnerable I felt. To put it in perspective: imagine handing a child a birthday gift, while telling them that they really don’t deserve it. Also, mention that they’ll probably break it within the next few days because they’re not smart enough to read the directions and figure out how it works on their own. That’s how things were for me. 

I didn’t have a name for this weird feeling that made me feel like I was dying. I thought I was just being weak, and emotional. That’s what I had been told by The Dictator. I’m a cryer. Everything makes me upset. Throughout my childhood, people would pick on me, and mess with me just to get a reaction. I never felt like I could stand on my own. I really didn’t know the power of independence until after I graduated high school. I felt like, that to live, I needed The Dictator to hold me up. But in reality, I didn’t. The Dictator was the root of my anxiety, and would continue to be until I was on my own. They would say, “I’m so proud of you.” Then, call me lazy in the same sentence for not finding a summer job immediately after high school. I got accepted into college, but that seemed like a mediocre accomplishment. I got straight A’s in my sophomore year of high school, and then in my freshman year of college. But that didn’t matter. What really mattered was that I’m currently sitting at home, “doing nothing”. When in reality, I’ve started my own business, practicing/improving my photography, running a blog, and trying to include self-care routines in every day. 

My anxiety came to a head last summer, when I felt as if the world was crumbling at my feet. The previous year, my anxiety really started to flourish. I’d gotten caught up in a really ugly friendship that made me feel as if I didn’t have any skin. He burned me so many times that I no longer felt it. It was just blow after blow with him, full of embarrassment, pain, and humiliation. I was just an open skeleton walking around, dealing with stares and whispers from strangers. It seemed as if the entire high school had known that I was involved with this person. Every day after school, I’d come home and lay in the bed, panicking, shaking, and crying. I’d lost my purpose in life. I remember writing in a journal that I was made for being picked at and insulted. I had two suicide attempts as a junior. I started self-harming. In this situation, the Dictator did absolutely nothing. They told me not to stress about it and move on because they person had their own problems. The Dictator almost lost their job and we were both severely depressed. It was a dark time. 

Then, as a senior, I had to move back to my childhood home. I remember all I had left in the apartment I was moving out of was a sleeping bag, my phone, and a book. I felt as if I was trapped within the four white walls of my bedroom. I didn’t want to go outside. I didn’t have any friends because they were all hanging out for Senior Week. One day, I had panic attacks every hour on the hour. At one point, everything got to be extremely overwhelming that I actually just laid on the floor, cried until the tears stopped, and wished that I would somehow perish in my sleep. Finally, we turned the keys in, and I was away from the hell hole. I never told The Dictator about my panic attacks. 

I did find relief, eventually. I re-connected with an old friend. I began hanging out again... living again. The vacations started back up, and while I was unhappy, I kept telling myself to focus on where I was and not why I was there. Finally, I thought I had my anxiety under control. But as soon as I started my freshman year of college, the panic returned. I had a few falling outs with my roommate due to some inconsiderate actions on both of our ends. It was always this awkward tension between us. It got to be so bad that she would leave the room all day, return to the dorm at 2 a.m., and slam the door on her way out. I became sleep-deprived and ill. I was barely passing a class. My friend group kept shrinking. I felt as if I’d made a mistake in coming to my dream art college. I not only doubted myself as a photographer, but as an artist. I felt as if I didn’t have a place at school. In result, the anxiety attacks were consuming. I would skip meals. I enjoyed going to the bathroom and crying. I liked pulling at my skin because then I could feel something. I turned to my school’s counseling services and asked for help. I went to counseling sessions every Wednesday for about a month, but it was ineffective. I was too deep into my anxiety at that point. 

But then, there was a small light: a song called “Don’t Kill My Vibe.” An album called “good kid, m.A.A.d city.” An artist named Kendrick Lamar. The line in the song goes, “sometimes I need to be alone.” I connected with that one line. I needed some alone time. I needed to listen to this artist that somehow knew how I felt. Even though Kendrick “raps”, he’s more of a storyteller. He talks about how he suffers from depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. Even though his circumstances and reasoning for the songs are not the happiest, I connected with him. I needed some type of reassurance that me feeling like I was drowning was normal - that it happened to others. I liked how Kendrick went into detail about his feelings because I felt the same. For me, Kendrick was - and still is - my voice. I wasn’t going to walk up to a friend and say, “hey, I’m living with anxiety.” But in Kendrick’s song untitled 05 | 09. 21.14, he says, “See I'm livin' with anxiety, duckin' the sobriety.” He says the things I cannot. 

A reoccurring thing I often see on social media is that people say, “if you have not been seen by a doctor, don’t say that you have (specific mental health struggle).” I don’t understand that. Me doing research about what’s happening with my body and mind in order to figure out a solution is not me putting a label on myself. If the symptoms of a mental health struggle match with what I’m experiencing, I’m not going to parade around saying that “I AM DEPRESSED! FEEL PITY FOR ME.” It’s me making a conclusion about how I can make myself better. I used to read those social media posts and think, “well, I must not have anxiety and be depressed because I haven’t seen a doctor. It’s just me overreacting.” Having suicidal thoughts is not an overreaction! How I feel is how I feel. How is someone sitting behind a laptop screen able to tell me what’s wrong with my body?! The true reason why I won’t go to a doctor is because I’m terrified of being put on medication that will make me lose myself. I have witnessed first-hand of someone enduring the effects of antidepressants AND anti-anxiety medicine. The results are scary, and I would much rather deal with it on my own. These people, who ARE NOT health professionals, should not be telling others what they shouldn’t be doing. If one feels that if they are struggling with their mental health, then they have a right to feel that way. Like me, some people may be afraid of being ostracized for having a struggle people find hard to understand. Unless you personally struggle with something, it’s impossible to understand the pain of it. I don’t want to have to take medications while sharing a room with a roommate. I don’t want them to see me in that light. I don’t want people making assumptions about me. 

I would like to thank Jayde for giving me the opportunity to share my story. I can only hope that it connects with one person.

Written by Courtney Lowry 

Image Source: Urban Matter

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