My junior year of college was a good year.
Not a great year, but not a bad one either. I had a great internship, starting dating a guy, helped run the college radio station with my best friends - it was definitely a good year. Towards the end of it I started having panic attacks. They came on every few weeks, and they came out of nowhere. I had experienced an attack before, so I didn't think it was anything unusual. I'm just a nervous person.
After each attack I would come up with an excuse. "Shouldn't have had that cup of coffee." Or, "I have that test coming up." My favorite was "I drank a twisted tea in the shower; that definitely caused that panic attack" (please don't judge me for my choice of beverage, I was only 21). But then they went away, and the semester ended without further incident.
The summer started off well. I was working at the beach again. I worked with a bunch of friends and was out in the sun all day. We did a lot of bullshitting and very little work. In theory, a pretty relaxing 'job'. But then it started again.
This time I would wake up and be overwhelmed with anxiety. I wouldn't call it a panic attack, but just an overall feeling of unease. In mid June I slowly started to unravel. Every morning would be worse than the last. It was a completely physical feeling. Mentally I wasn't worried about anything, at least not consciously. But my chest hurt, my stomach hurt, my hands were constantly trembling, and I could. not. sit. still. I started waking up at 5am, even when I had to be at work at 9am, and I would walk. I would leave my house and just walk for miles. In my mind, by walking I could escape the anxiety. I wanted to get as far away from it as possible.
Now is the time to mention my phobia of vomit. This is important because without this phobia, I wouldn't have gotten as sick as I did. Let's just say- its bad. Imagine one of those people on Maury or Oprah who are scared of clowns and they bring a clown on stage to try to help them get over it but the person loses their shit so badly you're too embarrassed to continue watching. Yeah, that's me when I feel nauseous.
So my anxiety is mounting and it's getting close to July. I had constant nausea. I started losing weight and it's very noticeable. I'm small to begin with, so this is a serious problem. But I was too nauseous to eat. After a day of not eating I was finally hungry, I would eat and when you eat after skipping meals for a day or two it's easy to overdo it and get nauseous again. I would calm down enough to eat, then eat, then get nauseous, then stop. So on and so forth. It was a quick downward spiral, and by the end of June I was living off of vitamin water and the occasional yogurt, when I could force myself.
While most of that time is a blur, there are a few moments that still stand out to me. Having a panic attack in the ticket collection booth at work and needing my parents to come meet me to drive my car home because I wasn't capable. I stopped going to work after that. Not being able to fall asleep unless I was sitting up and had an empty stomach, so I knew I wouldn't throw up. A four hour train ride from Jersey to Long Island that consisted of me crying continuously and wishing I was dead. Having to admit to my mother I weighed less than 80 pounds. And the constant thought that I was going to have to be hospitalized and everyone would know.
I don't remember the exact moment i decided to see a doctor. I went for blood tests. I saw a therapist. I did yoga. But eventually I realized I needed to see a doctor who could give me more help.
Right before the 4th of July, I saw a psychiatrist who diagnosed me with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and put me on a combination of anti-anxiety medications. After a few days I started sleeping through the night. And a few days after that I was eating like I used to. Which is a lot. I slowly became myself again. By the end of the summer, things were looking up and I was okay.
Now five years later, I'm no longer on medication. I took myself off of it (do not ever do this without a doctor's help, it sucks) after about a year. I still have panic attacks occasionally. I still become overwhelmed with anxiety some mornings when I wake up. I still have a phobia of throwing up - that will never go away. But I feel stable enough that I don't need to take medication every day to ensure that I eat and sleep and make it to my job. I'm grateful for that every day, because I know many people who don't have that luxury. And yes, I call it a luxury. Having an anxiety disorder can be debilitating and it is absolutely terrifying. But it should never be embarrassing.
Writing this brought back a lot of bad memories for me. I'll admit, I'm teary eyed right now. But it also brought back some good ones. Meeting my friend Dylan in the city for his birthday and getting our first tattoos together. Listening to Every Day I Said a Prayer for Kathy and Made a One Inch Square, my favorite Wheat album, and being so moved by it I contacted the band and thanked them. Partying with my friends from work and not having to make up excuses about why I couldn't leave my house. My summer ended well despite how sick and scared I was.
I'm not embarrassed to talk about my anxiety now. It's a part of who I am. The people who love me understand that. They don't tell me to calm down or relax when I'm panicking. They don't force me to eat when I'm too nervous. And they love me despite how uptight I get and how annoying it can be when I obsess over hand sanitizer and salmonella, and ask questions that I know the answers to, simply because I need a little extra validation - we all do sometimes.