Featured Life Wellness

I have anxiety

Everything was fine up until the moment when things turned really shitty.

These things were true:

I was sitting in a movie theatre.
I was with my friends.
I was breathing.
I stopped breathing.
My chest was tingling.
My arm was numb, it was crawling up my body, it was up my neck, my face was numb.

Was I dying?

I ran out of the movie theatre on Paramount’s studio lot, where I worked at the time, and ran back to the page office. A friend and coworker immediately noticed something was wrong.

“I’m having a heart attack,” I rasped. “I’m going to die. I’m going to die.”

I kept thinking it and saying it over and over. My friend was alarmed and quickly walked with me to the medical building. The nurse examined me and remained calm — but in my head I kept thinking, “This is it, this is it, I won’t be able to breathe any minute.”

The nurse listened to my symptoms — I was shaking and crying — and told me I was fine.

“I don’t feel fine,” I cried feebly, fumbling for my phone, wanting to call my mom. I was so convinced I was going to have a heart attack or stroke that I called my best friend, Chanelle, and she came and picked me up and drove me to the ER.

As I sat there on the exam table in the ER, the doctor looked at me and told me I was having a panic attack.

She was sympathetic:

“You don’t want to live like this,” she told me. “I get it. I’m from the East Coast too. L.A. is tough and being away from family is hard.” She was young, but she looked tired and patient and I was grateful for a nice doctor.

I didn’t say anything, I just avoided eye contact with the medical student, who was a guy my age. He was taking notes. I felt like an idiot.

“You should talk to someone,” she continued, handing me pamphlets. “And maybe go on medication.”

After I left the emergency room the statement kept swirling around in my head.

And maybe go on medication.
Anxiety meds.

Was I going to become one of those people? Someone who needed medication? But I have God, I told myself. I’ll pray it away. I’ll read my Bible every morning, I’ll go running, I’ll eat gluten-free, I’ll even become a vegan before I go on “medication.”

I didn’t listen to the doctor. Eventually I felt better because she told me my skull wasn’t closing in and I wasn’t suffocating and I was OK.

And then a few months passed and I felt a scratch at the back of my throat one day at work. And then my heart started racing, and I thought I was suffocating and I thought my throat was closing and I was having another panic attack all over again.

But I still didn’t take the doctor’s advice — I didn’t go to a therapist, I didn’t go on medication. I avoided it and the anxiety consumed me. It was so bad that it got to a point where I would be out with friends and then suddenly I thought my throat was closing and I would run out and start crying.

If you have ever dealt with severe anxiety you know it feels like there is a dark veil surrounding you at all times.

It started to dictate my life — everything from a car ride home alone to going to bed became a terrifying and huge obstacle. My anxiety was less in the morning and during the day, but the minute night fell or I was alone, it would come back, clawing its way through my body until it had such a strong hold on me I felt trapped and crazy. I really felt crazy — like there was something wrong in my head. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t hang out with friends without being afraid I was about to have another panic attack.

I finally found myself with a small bottle of anxiety meds in my hand after a second ER trip and several concerned family phone calls. (“If you don’t do something, you need to move home, you need to get better.”)

I looked down at the meds — it was this strange line I felt like I was crossing. In so many ways, I felt like I had failed.

But I’m only 24. I should be happy.
I shouldn’t be taking these. 

And then I took them, and I haven’t had a panic attack since. Sometimes it feels like I failed. Like I should’ve prayed harder or ran more or stuck to that gluten-free diet. But sometimes you can’t listen to stigmas and what people tell you and you just have to freaking take Zoloft and stop having panic attacks.

That’s the thing. It doesn’t mean I don’t love God if I take anxiety meds. It doesn’t mean I’m weak, or foolish, or stupid. It is exactly what it is. And what hurts me is when people tell me I don’t need them.

I don’t need them? We don’t need a lot of things. We don’t need to take Advil every time we have a headache. But we do because it helps. I take anxiety medication because it helps.

* * *

“Happiness is just a feeling. Joy is deep and real and isn’t the same thing.”

I lie on my back, staring at my ceiling, thinking about these words. I’ve heard them a thousand times at a thousand different Bible studies, a thousand different sermons, a thousand different conversations with friends. The sunlight filters in through my bedroom window and I close my eyes.

“I don’t feel happy all the time,” I say aloud because saying words out loud sometimes makes everything seem a little more real.

“But I don’t think I’m depressed,” I say again.

The light shines in my room and warms my face and it’s soothing and it kind of feels like I’m dreaming — you know, that space in between sleep and awake when you feel warm and safe and lazy.

Happiness is fleeting. Some days we feel happy. Others we feel sad. It’s normal and it’s life and it shouldn’t dictate the deep joy that is in the core of who we are.

Because these things are true:

I am 24.
I get panic attacks.
I take medication for said panic attacks.
The Creator of the UNIVERSE knows me, loves me, and created me.
I am OK.

Flickr photo (cc) by abcdlish