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I have anxiety. It’s not a huge deal in my life; I live how I want, and I am who I want to be – but that wasn’t always the case.
When I was in 5th grade, I didn’t know what anxiety was. I thought I was a shy, well-mannered introvert. I didn’t recognize that the reason I never talked back was because I was terrified of any and all repercussions. I didn’t know that other people didn’t feel as I did – scared of every interaction because I might say something wrong or that someone would judge me. I realize now that certain things that were common for me, weren’t typical for everyone else. Take, for instance, the time my 5th grade teacher asked me to get the class’ attention.
There I was, little 11-year-old Claire in her cotton shirt and khaki shorts, with her nose shoved deep in a book. Reading workshop was almost over, and I had the misfortune of sitting next to my teacher.
Normally, I loved Mrs. York. She was an incredible teacher who challenged me as a student. But she was also of the mind that we needed to face our fears, and at the time no one knew I had an anxiety disorder. I was “just shy.”
So I was jerked from the incredible world of Divergent, Hunger Games (or whatever other YA dystopian novel I was devouring at the time) by Mrs. York tapping me on the shoulder and asking me to call the class back to their seats.
“What?” I asked, still half in my book.
“Get everyone’s attention, please,” she said. “I’ve been sick, I don’t want to yell across the classroom. Use a call and response.”
alls and responses were commonly used at my school. From, “shave and a haircut,” to “clap three times if you hear my voice,” they were the tried and true way for a teacher to get their class to listen. And I was assuming that role now, apparently.
“But ... can’t Jola do it?” I asked. Jola was a nice, extroverted girl sitting to my left. She would love that job, and I could already feel the fear knotting in my stomach.
“I want you to do it,” she said.
Okay. So evidently I was doing this. Except I couldn’t.
People were chatting with their friends, Mrs. York was explaining something to Jack, my heart was thundering in my chest. Everything was so loud. And God, was I angry at myself.
What kind of person can’t get the attention of a room full of 20 people? What kind of wimp is too chicken to just do what her teacher wants?
I was spiraling.
Later on, I would learn that this is what people call a panic attack. I’ve found that when I panic, I somehow don’t let it show. I feel like my world is crashing down around me, but to everyone else, I
looked bored and somewhat annoyed.
I suppose this is why Mrs. York got angry at me. I had agreed to call everyone together, I hadn’t done it yet, and she had no idea that I felt like that moment.
“Claire!” she said sharply, “Just call everyone over!”
I opened my mouth to initiate the call. I swear I did. But nothing came out.
I widened my eyes and shook my head frantically at her. Maybe it dawned on her what was happening. Maybe she took pity on me. But all I know is that she took one look at my face and turned to Jola and had her do it.
Jola stood right up and with confidence and yelled, “Shave and a haircut!”
“Two bits!” the class chorused back. Mrs. York told everyone to return to their seats, and that was that.
I didn’t face my fear that day. I couldn’t. Anxiety isn’t something that you can just decide to get rid of and suddenly you’re cured. It takes time and work. So yeah, I wasn’t able to face it that day.
But later on, I did. I did the brave thing I couldn’t do that day in fifth grade, and I found a way to help my anxiety. I told my mom how I felt. I went to a therapist, got calming apps on my phone, and got a lot better. I still have anxiety. I still get scared. But I do things now that I never could’ve done before.
I look over the edge of tall buildings I’ve climbed. I make small talk with strangers. I tell people when they make me feel bad instead of letting them walk all over me.
And today, I'm putting myself out there and sharing my story.
No matter how bad I end up feeling, or how much anxiety pains my life, I know that I’ve grown since 5th grade, and I will continue to grow from here.