I’ve had anxiety for as long as I can remember. Though, I’ve only recognized and taken a proactive approach to deal with it within the past five years.
I used to think I was just shy or even “the weird kid.” I would watch my peers playing, communicating, and making friends and wondered why it wasn’t as easy for me as it appeared to be for them. Why did I have such a hard time doing normal things?
The thing was, I didn’t consider myself a shy person. In fact, I considered (and still do) myself an extrovert and close friends and family would agree. I loved being out and about; seeing and experiencing new things. I’ve always had a curious mind, appreciate healthy discussions, and learning new things. I had a lot of questions and thoughts, but I had a hard time voicing them.
My mom always tells the story of when I was about five years old and had an absolute meltdown because I colored outside the lines. Mom tried calming me down by saying, “It’s okay, Morgan. Nobody’s perfect.” I became more hysterical and responded, “but I am perfect! Grandma and Grandpa said so!”
I believe this could have been my first anxiety attack.
A few years later, I quietly locked myself in a hotel bathroom because I suddenly became overwhelmed with the uncertainty of death. My parents were watching the news or some crime show that was discussing someone who had died. I began wondering what happened to us after we died. Was it just eternal darkness? Were we aware that we were dead? Did our minds still work, but our bodies no longer did? The idea of a body being six feet underground enclosed in a casket filled me with palpable dread.
The thing was, I strongly believed in heaven. My family went to church, I believed in God. I knew death wasn’t something to be afraid of. I knew it was a natural part of life that happens to everyone at some point. But I couldn’t rationalize this with myself. I didn’t know then, but that is exactly what anxiety does. It blocks out your rational thoughts and leaves you worrying about ridiculous things beyond your control.
My mom eventually came into the bathroom to console me. I couldn’t have been much more than 10 years old. I was on vacation with my family. I was a child. I shouldn’t have anything to worry about, right?
Within the next few years, I would continue to have bouts of anxiety that I attributed to puberty. And maybe that did have a huge effect on the preexisting anxiety I felt on average. I grew up Catholic and in high school, I was confirmed. Confirmation is the process of committing yourself to your faith and declaring yourself an adult in the eyes of the church. Before confirmation, your faith is the responsibility of your parents. After confirmation, your faith is your own responsibility.
The entire process of my confirmation was a highly stressful situation. There were all kinds of classes I was required to take, papers to write, and an entire ceremony to participate in at the end. It was a huge deal for my family. There was a lot of commotion the evening before my confirmation. I was with my entire family (grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc) and they were all obsessing over the details of my confirmation. Was I prepared? What was I going to wear? How was I getting there? Did I know what I had to say? How many other people were going to be confirmed at the same time? The questions just wouldn’t stop.
Eventually, anxiety took over and I had a breakdown. I remember excusing myself and going to my room to sit on the floor and sob. I was overwhelmed. I was nervous. I felt extremely pressured.
Around that time I started recognizing my anxiety for what it was. After I graduated high school, I sought professional help. My anxiety had turned physical. Aside from the typical increased heart rate and inability to focus, I was getting terrible stomach aches. I would go weeks without eating full meals. I would panic at the thought of being by myself, but when I had company all I wanted was to be alone. I found it impossible to sit still, but anxiety is exhausting, so all I wanted to do was to lay down.
I began paying closer attention to the things that were triggering my anxiety. I hated feeling this way and wanted to do something about it. I quickly realized that like a lot of people, new social situations caused me a lot of anxiety. This made college extremely difficult. Just as I had begun to feel comfortable in a class, the semester was over and I was meeting an entirely new group of people in a new class. This also caused me to be terrible at making new friends. (Sorry to anyone who genuinely tried being my friend and I blew off. Anxiety makes you look like an asshole sometimes.)
Conflict of any kind also wreaks havoc on my nerves. It doesn’t even have to be a conflict that I am involved in. If I am anywhere where conflict arises, even between two strangers, it immediately triggers my “flight” reaction. Seriously, I’ll do anything to get out of there.
Anxiety doesn’t discriminate.
Anxiety doesn’t care that you’re a child that can’t understand why they are feeling this way. Anxiety doesn’t care that you have things to do. Anxiety doesn’t care that today is an important day. Anxiety doesn’t care that you have responsibilities or a job. It doesn’t care how you really feel.
Anxiety might be something that I deal with every day, but it in no way defines me. It’s not something I am ashamed of or refuse to talk about. It’s not a crutch or something that I allow to hold me back anymore. It is simply something that I am learning to deal with. I encourage anyone with anxiety to really get to know yourself. Pay attention to the things that might cause you anxiety and learn how to manage these situations.
Recently, I tried going out with my fiance and friends after my grandmother’s wake. I thought It would be nice to have a few drinks and blow off some steam after an incredibly emotional few days. We walked into the bar and it hit me like a brick wall. My heart started racing and I began scanning the room. For some reason, I felt like everyone was staring at us. We were still in our funeral clothes, so we stuck out a bit from the rest of the crowd. I began to get very self-conscious of this and was on the verge of a full-blown attack. I rushed out of the bar, and my fiance and best friend followed behind. I was able to explain to them that I just couldn’t be there, I needed to go home.
Anxiety is always something that will affect me. As good as I have gotten at recognizing when and why I am feeling anxious, I still have moments where it creeps up on me.
However, it is possible to still live the life you want. You don’t have to limit yourself or miss out on life because of anxiety. If necessary, seek professional help. The stigma around mental health is changing. Ultimately, you owe it to yourself to live the best life possible regardless of your limitations.