Why My Anxiety Doesn't Define Me
I’ve had anxiety for a while now. I can remember my first panic attack, which I actually thought was a heart attack. It took a couple of years, and one or two more attacks for me to realize what’s actually happening: Generalized Anxiety and Panic disorder. It's a not-so-fun diagnosis for someone who was horrified to have a mental illness. I thought that was it. I’d have to change my lifestyle. Hide away from the world and stay in my own anxious little bubble.
It turns out this really wasn’t the case. Anxiety is a part of me, but it’s nowhere close to the whole thing. I could still live the life I wanted to. Anxiety would always be there to nag me, but I could survive this. Anxiety tells you to stay where you are, and don’t put yourself in any situation that might make you feel even a little uncomfortable.
That party where you don’t know very many people? Don’t go. That trip you’ve always wanted to take? Not going to happen. This was a problem for me, a social 20-something with a need to explore.
A couple of years ago I had the opportunity to travel to Italy with some family. A trip to the Amalfi coast, to eat the freshest pizza and pasta you could ever dream of. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Every part of me wanted to go, except for that little part of my brain that told me no. The part that tricks you into thinking anxiety could actually kill you. Spoiler alert: It can’t.
I went back and forth, weighing the pros and cons of the trip. After enough convincing, and definitely a little bout of FOMO, my ticket was booked. The trip wasn’t perfect. I had a panic attack the first night, which was awful, and I really did think it would kill me. I thought that was it. Seven days in Italy? There’s no way I could survive.
The panic ran its course, and then it was over, and I was still standing there. It always goes like that, doesn’t it? You have a panic attack you think you might really die this time, and then you don’t, and it’s over. You survived. It wasn’t the first and it certainly won’t be the last time, but you made it.
That was only day one, and then the trip got better. I enjoyed Italian cappuccino, took a boat ride around the Mediterranean Sea, and ate more pasta than I could have ever dreamed of. Before I knew it, it was the last day and I wasn’t ready to leave.
What I learned from that trip is that anxiety is most certainly a part of who I am. There’s no denying that. I’ll always have that little nag that tells me to stay where it’s safe. I’m definitely still working through it, but I’m beginning to understand that the panic attack always ends.
This annoying, unfortunate anxiety thing that we’ve been not so blessed with does not deserve all of our time and attention. We can continue to live however we decide. Take that trip. If the anxiety hits, know that you’ve been there before; it’s a small hurdle that you’ve gotten over before, and you’ll get over again.
By Mary Davidson, 26
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, which aims to raise awareness and understanding about mental illnesses. Every week we’ll be running reader essays about their own experiences with mental health issues. Have a story you’d like to share? Write for us!