With my heart racing, my breath erratic and my vision blurred, it seemed as if my grip on the table might leave a permanent dent. To anyone else in that small fast food joint, it was just another Sunday night. But to me, it felt like the end of my life. While I didn’t know what was happening specifically, I sensed the pain and frustration I was feeling was connected to the lack of control I had over my own thoughts, fears and anxieties.
I wanted to call 911, but my brain automatically went into hypothetical mode. I thought about how they’d have to rush over, and then I’d be known as the freshman who lost it at a fast food joint the night before the spring semester. I imagined my lungs to be on the verge of collapsing, and it became increasingly difficult to focus. I was at a loss, and that realization alone was enough to renew the cycle of panic and vertigo. Everything after that is a blurry and fuzzy memory.
My life changed dramatically the weeks following that night. I landed a part time job at the preschool where I had volunteered the previous semester, and I loved every second of it. Unfortunately, my mental health was deteriorating quickly at the same time. I had panic and anxiety attacks two or three times a week. Any little thing could a trigger an episode during which I’d fall into cycles that I had no control over.
One morning, for example, I noticed that my roommate and I had run out of bananas. So I decided to make a quick trip over to our local Trader Joe’s. All was well for about a block or so into my walk there. A little voice in my head suddenly began posing hypothetical and highly unlikely situations. “What if you slip on the escalators?” “What if they run your card and it’s declined? How will you pay?” “What if that lady near the frozen food section is talking about you behind your back?” I was powerless and afraid as I ran back to my dorm, empty-handed.
It became increasingly more difficult to leave my room. I visited the dining hall with friends less often while my delivery orders became more frequent. I could feel myself retreating into this deep and dark hole. I didn’t know what to do anymore. I was tired of fighting this demon that had taken over my life; I was exhausted all of the time. My obvious depression only deepened when its natural companion, anxiety, moved in. I visited therapists and psychiatrists, tried reconnecting with past faith, turned to anything that showed promise, all to no avail.
I fought for my life, and simply having to admit it was an uphill battle made my eyes swell up. I felt angry and upset at the fact that I had finally made the move to my dream city, found the friends, gotten into the school, landed the job and had the freedom I’d craved my entire life, only to have THIS happen.
By late March of last year, I knew I had a decision to make: I could stay in San Francisco and risk the likelihood of deteriorating my mental health while remaining “free,” or go back home and take the time I needed to work on myself within the comfort of a familiar setting. I almost stayed, until one day, I knew it was time to leave. I was in the city for a quick errand and wound up in the throes of the worst anxiety attack I have ever had. Because stares from everywhere seemed to be somehow fixated on me, I became convinced that the whispers from the back of the train were directed my way. Betrayed by my lungs, I began to cry out of fear. The other passenger became worried and some were even scared off by my behaviour. I wondered how I would ever make it back home. That’s when I knew I couldn’t do it anymore and knew I had to ask for help.
I was fortunate enough to have the support of my family. I’m sure having their daughter back home after just a year of college was worrisome to my parents. Like a lot of people, they probably asked themselves “what now?” in their private thoughts about me. But adding worry to my own struggles, regarding how my parents felt did not break me. I knew I had to keep moving, anywhere, but just keep moving.
And I say this to you now: Please don’t lay down and let it wash over you, KEEP MOVING. I know it’s a difficult thing to grasp. You may be thinking “Did she really just try and pull this super basic line on me?” Hey I get it. It’s okay to be angry; it’s okay to be upset; and yes, you’re right, it IS unfair. Just don’t let it stop you from living the life that you so rightfully deserve. Tell a family member, text a friend, tell a professional, call a hotline, email me if need be, but tell someone. Mental illness is already difficult enough to live with, no one should have to face it alone.