Coping With My Own Anxiety Has Made Me More Aware and Empathetic about Mental Health Issues

I had my first anxiety attack when I was 23 and transitioning into a new job. I was going into my 3rd year of teaching. In accepting an offer at a new school, I also took on the challenge of working under an inexperienced, and quite frankly, horrible school leader. Unfortunately, the stress of working under someone incompetent who was condescending and dismissive overwhelmed me and caused me to develop anxiety.

I still remember that first anxiety attack like it was yesterday. I remember feeling out of it all day and then around 4 AM, I got myself out of bed because I could hear my heart pounding, and my chest felt sore and I was sweating beyond control. I sat in the living room and cried because I thought I was having a heart attack and I couldn’t get myself to react. When I finally had the strength to get up and ask for help, my mom helped ease my panic. Once I started to calm down, the fear of a heart attack disappeared, but the fear of going to sleep and not waking up, kept me awake for the rest of the night.

That following morning, I rushed myself to Urgent Care. After going through multiple exams, my doctor diagnosed me with an anxiety disorder. Based on all the symptoms presented he put me off work and prescribed me with a series of medications. One medicine was Lorazepam, a sedative that is used to relieve anxiety. During my short leave from work, the medication induced sleep and helped reduce agitation, but it caused me to feel overly tranquilized. It was through this experience that I had my first encounter with the need for self-care. I ended up leaving that job, and while it hurt to leave mid-year, it was the best decision I could have made for my own mental health.

Fast forward to today, I am still battling anxiety. While periods of stress and a sometimes hostile work environment tend to trigger my anxiety, living with it and learning about it has shaped me. It’s taught me to ask for help and respect my limitations while making me more self-aware and stronger. Living with an anxiety disorder has forced me to make myself a priority, it still blows my mind away when I encounter folks who dismiss anxiety and make us question whether we are in fact simply “overreacting to stress.” The truth is, if we stopped tiptoeing around issues of mental health, we would be better people as we would all grow to be more empathetic for one another.

So here’s my ask: stop pretending anxiety doesn’t exist. Be open to talk about it. If there is something I appreciate about this entire journey, it has been the opportunity to now be there for my friends when they too deal with anxiety. We need to create awareness and allow for ourselves to be vulnerable enough to ask for and to accept help when we need it the most. As the saying goes, we can’t pour from empty vessels — let’s not allow ourselves to let anxiety make us feel empty. We must be there for each other.

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Alma Renteria

Alma Renteria

Alma-Delia Renteria is a proud product of Lynwood schools. After graduating UC Riverside, with a B.A. in English and a year earlier than anticipated, she decided to commit her “gap year” to City Year. After City Year Los Angeles, Alma went on to purse a teaching career with Teach For America Los Angeles. Upon joining TFA, Alma began her education career as a middle school teacher. It was while teaching that she realized the need to do her part to help serve the community she grew up in and decided to run for office, getting elected to the Lynwood School Board at only 23 years old. Alma completed her Master’s degree in Urban Education at Loyola Marymount University and is currently pursuing a 2nd Masters in Education Leadership and her Admin Credential. She was recently appointed by the Speaker to the Instructional Quality Commission and also serves as a Digital Learning Instructional Coach at a dual immersion school in Pico Rivera.

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