Forget the world.That’s what I tell myself putting in my earbuds. I could feel the sobs building in my chest as the stinging tears carved paths in the makeup on my cheeks. The fear was overtaking my life. I couldn’t handle it anymore. Why was I feeling like this? You are weak. You are stupid. You are worthless. Why can’t you see it? The voice in my head throws punches at my confidence. I go back to class severely shaken.
Forget the world. This is what I think as I striding up the steps to my small home. I take a deep steadying breath. The front door feels like lead as I shove it open, it takes all my energy. I take in the familiar sight of the drab beige carpet, the large paisley chair in the corner, the broken down brown sofa to my left. It is all familiar but nothing is comforting. Nothing is comforting anymore. I feel the salty tears welling in my eyes yet again. I am sick and tired of shedding tears over illogical feelings. My mother looks at me, concern clearly written across her unmade face. She takes a step towards me and all at once the floodgates open. “I can’t do it anymore, mom” the words come out in a whimper. Supportive maternal arms wrap around me, protecting me from the world outside them, protecting me from the turmoil inside. My world comes to a stop and my emotions take a break from tormenting my fragile state of mind.I am safe in my mother’s arms, nothing can hurt me here. My mother is my fearless protector, my safe place, my happy place. With my mother, my emotions cannot hurt me, it is as if she has flipped a switch and shut off all negativity in the world.
“I think it is time for you to see someone again” my mother states quietly. I sob quietly into her strong shoulder. I am afraid of what will happen if I admit that I need to see someone. I know that I am not mentally healthy, I know that it is time to get help but I am afraid. My mother holds my shoulders tenderly and looks me in the eye. “You are so strong. You can handle this.” We prayed together that night. We prayed that God would provide us with the right counselor and that whatever happened, I would be able to get the proper help. The first time that I went to Penn Foundation, I knew instantly that I was in good hands. “Laura, you have something called Anxiety Disorder,” Miss Lauren said to me in a quiet voice. “Do you know what that is?”I shook my head as I felt the monster inside my stomach stretch at the slightest whiff of fear. “Anxiety disorder is defined as excessive, uncontrollable, and often irrational worry. ” The way she said this made it sound as if it wasn’t something that should be overwhelming me and taking over my life. How was I going to get through this?
After doing extensive research I found out that there are more people like me who struggle with generalized anxiety disorder every day. Twenty-five percent of all teens have anxiety disorder in America. I didn’t believe that there were others who felt the way that I do, but when I started doing research I discovered that there are millions of people all over the world who feel alone and scared just like me. I made it my personal goal to overcome my emotions at any cost. In the beginning of my journey, I spent a lot of time on the computer or at the library. I was afraid of what I might find out but I was even more afraid that I would never learn enough about it to overcome it. I became obsessive about it. It was all I could think about and my anxiety became much worse. I kept going to see Miss Lauren and she suggested that I try breathing exercises. I felt like nothing would work; why would breathing exercises work if I’m breathing already?
The next few months were extremely hard for me, I didn’t know how to explain how I was feeling or what I was thinking. I got angry easily because people did not understand that I cannot control how I was feeling. I started to let my emotions get the better of me and I would retreat into myself for days on end. My family and close friends noticed the change and tried to get me to be more social. I remember one day specifically, my family was going to go to my grandparent's house and my mother tried to get me to come. I told my mother that I would rather be home by myself than go out with the family. That night I retreated so far into myself that I didn’t even realize that I was missing my grandfather’s birthday party. I still regret that decision to this day.
I began reading stories about other people who had anxiety disorder and one story has stuck with me. It was an article that a man wrote called “Being Ok with Not Being Ok”. In the article, the man talks about he learned to embrace his anxiety instead of trying to conceal it or be embarrassed by it. I was in shock when I read his story and I wanted to know more. I wanted to know how he got so confident even though he had anxiety disorder. He said that anxiety is just something that some people have and others don’t. He says “If you do, embrace all of it” in reference to the fact that if a person has anxiety disorder, they should embrace it and learn to live with it. This greatly impacted me because until that point I had been trying to hide what I had. I felt, I cried, I hid. There were so many stories about people with anxiety disorder. Many of them felt alone like I did but many of them wanted to get help unlike myself I started to wonder if there were any ways for me to feel better for longer. I could not take medication because of my heart condition and the breathing exercises had stopped working. I was started to get overwhelmed again. The galaxies had collided and the world was ending. I started to question whether therapy was helping me or hurting me. After much questioning and much more crying, I decided that I was done with therapy, it was not doing anything for me anymore and I felt that I was wasting my parent’s money. One thing that did come from the many sessions that went to was that we found out where my anxiety stemmed from, the trigger if you will. My mom and dad watched me slowly fall to pieces because I would not allow them to try to fix me. There were days that I felt as though I would die if I didn’t keep my arms wrapped around myself. I felt as though I would blow away in the slightest of breezes. My mental state became more and more fragile and the most miniscule of moments would set me off in a downward spiral of hot tears, violent shaking, and heart-wrenching sobs. Once the spiral had started, it didn’t stop for hours. I did not know how to stop it and there was never anyone there to help me stop it. I always chose my alone moments to let the spiral take over. I did not want anyone to see me that way. After all, no one wants other people to see them in that condition.
In the United States, three percent of children have a generalized anxiety disorder. This is percentage is larger than it needs to be. Children all over the world are struggling at this moment and they may not even know what they have. They could be sitting at a desk trying to choke back tears, they may be at home locked in their bedroom wondering what is wrong with them. If you were one of those children wouldn’t you want to get help? Everyone deserves to know that their emotions are valid and everyone deserves to get the help they need. It is very important to know if you have a mental disorder such as anxiety disorder because if it goes undiagnosed than they will go on believing that something is wrong with them. Having anxiety disorder doesn’t mean that you are damaged or broken. Anxiety disorder is a small dent in a car, it can be helped but not completely fixed. In people, you can help them with their anxiety but you cannot completely get rid of it. It will not cause permanent damage as long as it is helped in time. There are many cases that go undiagnosed and people begin to make rash decisions because they don’t understand why they feel the way they do.
As I started to understand my anxiety more, I started to wonder if any celebrities had anxiety disorder. I whipped out my laptop and started a search. As I clicked on various links and websites, I noticed that many celebrities that I liked had anxiety disorder. One of my favorite actors, Johnny Depp, has anxiety disorder! I was in shock. How could he be so calm at award shows if he had anxiety disorder? I remember telling my mother all about it. She smiled and shook her head. “Laura, I told you that you aren’t the only one” she would say. I got into many arguments with friends and family about how I was feeling. My brother, who knows just how to upset me, would say things on purpose to make me go off like the ticking emotional bomb that I was. It was not a good feeling having to tell him how he was making me feel. He would say “I didn’t make you feel like that you just do” and he would stomp off. Alex, being a seven-year-old boy at the time, didn’t realize what an impact he was having on me. I also started getting into arguments with my little sister, Cassandra. She also has a form of anxiety disorder and so we started to clash emotionally. Whenever I got upset she would have a meltdown and at the age of five, it was hard for her to control her reactions. She would begin to cry or yell and she would not be able to calm down for two, three, four hours at a time. The only thing that would calm her down was Christmas music. I did not have that calming mechanism set in place yet. One day, I got into an argument with my closest friend. She called me a cry-baby because I had started to tear up over something that she had said to me. I had been having a bad day and the comment was the last pebble holding up the boulder. “You don’t get it” I wanted to scream at her. I did not scream. I did not yell. I did not utter a single word. I stayed still and silent. I let tears slip down my cheeks because that was the only way for me to show how I was feeling. I thought that I was being weak but the truth is, crying and letting my emotions show was the strongest thing I had done in months.
After a year and a half of tears and anger, I finally figured out what my calming mechanism was. I was most calm when I was losing myself in fictional worlds and falling in love with fictional characters. I developed an even stronger love of reading and eventually started writing stories of my own. One story was about a red balloon, it was an odd concept but it held significance for me. The balloon is floating and lost, just like I felt I was at the time, and it was trying to find the girl who lost it.This story was about me. I was the balloon trying to find my way back to who I used to be before my diagnosis took over my life. It may sound like a children's book, maybe someday it will be, but it is also my story and my feelings. In a way, writing stories was my way of coping with how I was feeling. I would get so absorbed in my stories or in books that I would sit in my room for hours on end. I wanted to stay in my fictional worlds for as long as possible because nothing could hurt me there, except for the death of a certain Weasley. I started trying to recreate the writing styles of my favorite authors but this brought my anxiety into my fictional world. I would get enraged because I could not perfect it, then I would become anxious because I felt that my writing would never be good enough.
I began setting unrealistic standards for myself. I felt that I had to be perfect. I had to say the right things to the right people and I had to act the right way around the right people. I became so self-conscious that I wasn’t even myself around my family. I pretended to be happy and I concealed my emotions until I couldn’t anymore. I would hold my feelings and let them brew until they became a fatal poison that would kill me if I didn’t let them out. Eventually, I would let them out and I would scream, sob, hit things and I eventually I would fall asleep. I always got extremely exhausted after a blow-up, it was my body’s way of telling me it was time to stop. My mind’s way of telling me that everything would be ok. My body knew that if I did not sleep, I would do something irrational. My body knew what I needed before I could even think about doing anything I would regret. After sleeping for many hours, the cycle would start over as if nothing had ever happened. I needed to get help but I did not know how to say it out loud without falling to pieces. After much argument with myself, I decided to tell my mother that I wanted to go back to Penn Foundation. She supported my decision fully. “I noticed that you have been changing but I didn’t want to upset you by bringing it up,” she said with a sad smile on her face. “I am very proud of you for telling me.”
I started going back to Miss Lauren and suddenly I was feeling better. My mother started noticing positive changes in me and she didn’t hesitate to point them out. I started becoming more social and spending less time in my room. I would go to family functions and I would hang out with friends. I also began forming relationships with new people and attending youth group more regularly. I was amazed when I noticed that my even though I still had attacks at times, they were fewer and far between. I began to take pride in the fact that I could now control my reactions and I could handle my emotions. I was no longer being bombarded by my own negativity and I could look in the mirror and see someone who was strong, that could take on the world.
I used to see myself as weak. I thought that I had no right to feel the way I did and that something was wrong with me. Little did I know that I was becoming a mental vault by holding in how I felt. I thought that by concealing my thoughts and feelings, I was being strong but I was very sadly mistaken. I eventually learned that holding emotions in takes the wrong kind of strength, it takes true unbreakable strength to show someone how you are truly feeling, to admit that to yourself that you need to get help. Many people will say that strength is telling someone how you feel but is saying this they say that words are required to be strong. I feel that to be truly strong all you have to do is show how you feel, let your emotions take over your expression and let those around you witness it. Show people that it is ok to not be ok. Show people that it is ok to let others in and be vulnerable. This is true strength.