I wrote the following entry two or three years ago but decided not to post it out of fear of being labeled “anxiety girl” and out of fear that this was me sharing too much. Today, on World Mental Health Day, I took a look back at what I wrote and decided to release it.
I was 11 years old when I started feeling the worst sensation I would ever feel to date. It was summertime and I was heading off to middle school in the fall. I started experiencing something that I could only call a stomach ache. It felt like physical pain, enough to make me not want to go out and play, but not enough to take medicine. I tried to vocalize these painful feelings to my mom, but struggled to because I couldn’t understand them.
After a couple weeks of experiencing stomach aches and separation anxiety from my mom, she told me that she thought I had something called “anxiety.” She told me that she first started to have anxiety around the same age I was, but no one understood or treated it then. I was so relieved to have a confidant, but even more relieved that I had a name I could call this new pain. Not that it made things easier.
Unfortunately, there is not enough psychological care available to match the high demand for it, particularly in children’s psychology. My mom called a counseling office in our town and asked for the next available appointment, only to find out that it was three months away. She accepted the October appointment for me; my anxiety wasn’t yet emergent.
Then came the night that changed everything.
In August, I had a particularly awful anxiety day. At the time, the only thing that would help me was going for long walks around my neighborhood with my mom. We went for a walk that afternoon and I started to feel better but then I got home and had to sit with these feelings again, no longer distracted by my moving feet.
I remember we were eating pizza for dinner that night, but I wasn’t eating much in general those days, so I finished before everyone else and started to work on a mini puzzle. I tried my hardest to focus on putting the puzzle pieces in their places, but my mind kept interrupting. Today, I recognize this as having intrusive thoughts. I asked my mom if we could go for a walk and she said we’d go as soon as she finished eating. A minute later, I was practically begging to get out of the house. She could see how desperate I was to grasp onto anything that relieved me from my mind even a little, so she took her last bite and we left the house.
I remember walking around my neighborhood and looking up at the sky and wishing I was there. I didn’t want to die, but I didn’t want to live either. I wanted to evaporate into the sky. I was terrified to live like this for the rest of my life. I told my mom that I couldn’t get through life if these feelings lasted and she promised me they wouldn’t. She told me that we would get medicine from the doctor and the chemical imbalance in my brain would fix itself. That couldn’t have been easy to explain to an 11-year-old, but she told me that even if I couldn’t imagine how a tiny pill could help, it would.
When we got home, I had my first panic attack. I finally threw up in the bathroom and my mom called my doctor to ask what she should do for me, explaining that I needed urgent help and couldn’t wait two months for my counseling appointment. My doctor told her to bring me to the emergency room. I thought that meant I was crazy; I certainly felt crazy.
My parents and brother took me to the emergency room and I sat in the waiting room watching a toddler play, thinking to myself, “I wish I could be that little because he doesn’t know what anxiety is.”
The ER doctor was able to get me an appointment at Tufts Medical Center, where I sat a few days later answering questions from doctors around a conference table that seemingly had no meaning, but my answers were producing complicated, scary words on a whiteboard. Then, I had a one-on-one with my psychiatrist (who has been my psychiatrist since that day) and she was quickly able to diagnose me with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and forge a treatment plan.
Two weeks later, with a medication running through my body, I started the 6th grade. I came home that day and cried because I was overwhelmed and didn’t want to go back. My mom brought me in the next day and introduced me to the nurses, telling them that I was newly diagnosed with anxiety and still learning to cope during school. I instantly felt safer after that.
It took a few weeks of adjusting, but I learned to feel comfortable and I became best friends with someone who was also in my 5th grade class. People like her made me want to stay on the ground, rather than float up to the sky in a cloud of anxiety. To this day, I picture that evening summer sky when I feel anxious and I remind myself that I’ve overcome these feelings before and I can do it again.
One day, after eight years of coping well with anxiety, the sky began looking scary again. I’ve noticed the sky’s beauty is the first thing to go when my anxiety is washing over me. It goes from being this universal blanket over the globe that we all stare at, make wishes on, and daydream about to being a black hole, a reminder of how scary infinities are.
I’ve chosen to end this post where I was four years ago with my anxiety, but I am open to writing a part two leading up to present day.