I am jolted awake by people moving and music playing. Where am I? I wonder. I look around and see my friend’s mother next to me, whose shoulder I had fallen asleep on. Then I remember. I’m on my high school’s east coast tour, in New York City, on Broadway, inside a theater, seeing Phantom of the Opera.
I feel so hot and cramped. It’s getting harder to breathe. I’m scared. My stomach turns in pain. Oh no, I think, I’m having an anxiety attack. I quickly climb over the people sitting next to me, not caring if I bump into them. I need to get out of here. I sprint up the stairs of the steep balcony. Where is the bathroom in this place? I burst through the opening to the main hallway and see an extensive line. So many people. “Is this for the bathroom?” I ask a girl standing in line. “Yeah,” she responds. No no no no no no no. This can’t be happening.
I NEED to get out of here.
Stairs. I see stairs. I go and sit down on the stairs and feel a moment’s relief of calm. I wish it had lasted longer. Then a man approaches. I look up at him. He has such a kind face. He looks like he works here. “You can’t sit there, Miss,” he says. I I become more upset. “I’m having an anxiety attack,” I say. He looks at me, confused. “I’ll be right back,” he says. He runs down the stairs and a few minutes later returns with a folding chair and a cold water bottle. He sets the chair up against the wall adjacent to the bathroom line. “Thank you,” I say to him. He nods and quickly disappears.
I start to spiral down the rabbit hole. My heart is pounding, my ears feel like they’re stuffed with cotton, my vision is tunneling. I feel like everyone in the line is staring at me. Chaperones on the trip come up and talk to me. I’d had a fever for four days straight until this morning, so they think I have a fever again. They try to give me medicine for a fever, but I’ve already taken medicine just a few hours ago. I try to tell them what’s wrong. They won’t listen to me. I can barely hear them; I just wish them and everyone else would disappear. I wish I would disappear.
Suddenly, a woman is kneeling in front of me. She’s a very attractive, middle-aged, blonde woman. “Are you okay?” she asks me. She seems to be the only person who genuinely cares. “No,” I say.
“Can I pray with you?” she inquires.
“Okay,” I say. She prays for me and I feel the slightest bit of calm. When the prayer ends, I am terrified again.
God, please help me. This was all I could think for the remainder of the night.
It only got worse after this moment. That night and the last 3 days of the trip became a never-ending nightmare for me. The panic didn’t leave me until I got to the airport to fly home. I barely ate for those last three days, feeling sick whenever I tried to eat. I thought that once I got back to California and was with my parents again, I would be back to my normal self. And I was, for a few weeks. Little did I know, those last three days of the trip would haunt me in times to come.
I’ve struggled with anxiety and OCD ever since I was in the third grade. I’ve always felt like the odd one out because of it. At times, even going to school was a struggle. It held me back from enjoying things and going on trips. Most people have a misconception of anxiety; they believe that it’s just a little bit of nervousness and that they can just say “Don’t worry!” and everything will be all puppies and rainbows.
Having anxiety is like being trapped in your own body. I remember many times when I would be sitting in class and would suddenly feel a rush of panic flood into my body, almost as if something had been injected into my bloodstream. It was so terrifying when it would happen that I became afraid of being afraid. Events and trips that used to be appealing and exciting to me increasingly became things I dreaded and avoided. My life gradually became sucked of joy and excitement and saturated with fear and loneliness.
One of the worst parts about this struggle was that many of my peers didn’t understand it. I found it very embarrassing, and still do, to have a panic attack in front of other people. I had a friend who would occasionally make fun of my struggle, like it was some hilarious thing to joke about. It hurt me a lot because she was one of my closest friends at the time and the fact that she made those jokes and no one else stood up for me made me feel even more alone and trapped inside of myself.
I went to many therapy sessions, did EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), took medication, practiced deep breathing, exercised, and listened to podcasts. While these things definitely helped, I still struggled to be calm again. My mother (who is a licensed marriage and family therapist) and my father have helped me immensely. I remember one of the times my anxiety had gotten really bad, my dad told me, “Don’t think about tomorrow. Just win this moment, right here, right now.” Simply focusing on the importance of the present really helped take the pressure off me.
Although I am not perfect, I have come such a long way from where I began, and through this I have learned so many life lessons. No, it was not easy. It was incredibly painful and devastating at times. However, I made it through, and I continue to push through. Because of my experience with anxiety, not only have I been able to help some of my friends who struggle with it, but I have also been able to educate some of my peers about anxiety so they can have a better understanding.
As Leo Buscaglia puts it, “Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, it only saps today of its joy.”, I am reminded to stay present in every moment and push my hardest to enjoy today, while today lasts.
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“Leo Buscaglia Quotes.” BrainyQuote. Xplore, n.d. Web. 11 Feb. 2019.