You’re not hungry but you haven’t eaten in a day.
You’re exhausted but you can’t sleep.
You’re adrenaline is pumping but you’re not in a race.
You know the facts but can’t piece together a rational answer.
You feel numb but you can’t stop crying.
Your heart is racing but you’re standing still.
Your breathing shortens but you’re not running.
Your stomach flips but you’re not sick.
You’re sweating but you’re not hot.
You’re fidgeting but you don’t know why.
Your body feels like dead weight but you slept 13 hours.
Your head Is spinning and it won’t stop.
With every second your mind convinces you of more and more things that make no rational sense to anyone on the outside looking in.
That’s anxiety. It’s a full mind and body draining experience. It’s something you experience before running a race. It’s something everyone feels from time to time.
Unless you’re like me. I used to feel like this every moment of every day.
In the beginning, I had no idea what was happening to me. I was running a beep test for a provincial soccer try out. I was nervous, and I was scared, normal try out jitters. It eased as I started. Level 1, no problems. Level 2, 3,4,5,6 were fine too. Then people started dropping out. All of a sudden it hit me like a wall, and floods of thoughts came into my head. “If you don’t do well you’ll never play soccer anywhere. Everything is riding on this. Don’t be an embarrassment to yourself”. My legs weren’t tired, but my throat was tight. With every step, I panicked more and with every breath I inhaled less and less air. Before I knew it, I was squeaking, and my throat left me gasping for air through a straw, still managing to put one foot in front of the other. I started seeing stars. Sheer terror fell upon me and I lost all control of my body as I went into my first ever panic attack in front of 30 girls, 5 coaches and enough parents to fill the stands.
I chalked this up to nerves. I was 15 and I was mortified. I didn’t want to talk about it, so I didn’t.
The next time it happened was a year later. I was writing a test that I had spent days studying for in a class that I was excelling in. I was extremely prepared and I was confident until I sat down and looked at the paper in front of me. My heart started racing. I couldn’t remember the answer for the first question. “You’re going to fail” I told myself. My hands started sweating. “You’ll never get into university if you can’t even do high school”. My breathing became shallow. I couldn’t focus anymore. “You’re such a failure”. The stars came back. “Fail this and you’ll fail high school. You’ll end up miserable for the rest of your life”. At this point I ran out of the class…. And All because I couldn’t remember the answer to one question, on one test, in one class.
I didn’t understand what was happening to me. I kept losing control of my body and my mind. I couldn’t find a way to regain control of either, and that was something I found both terrifying and frustrating.
It progressively got worse through out high school. Coping mechanisms came in the form of self harm and excessive and obsessive control of what I ate. But I found myself no further ahead. When a panic attack happened, I was at the mercy of my anxiety.
When I came to university things were no better. Soccer brought new worries: playing time, daily performance in practice, making the weekend roster. I took on 6 courses. I tried to make a long distance relationship work. Then I got mono. I was on edge. I broke down daily and could barely function. Getting out of bed became an accomplishment and my goal was simply to get through the day. I couldn’t go into crowded places, like costco on Saturday, because I’d panic, hyperventilate and cry resulting in sheer public embarrassment. I started staying up late and started going to grocery stores 30minutes before they closed to avoid people. Anxiety started effecting every facet of my life, and it was verging on completing taking over and controlling me.
It took me until grade 12 to be actually diagnosed with anxiety, and until my third year at UNB to finally find a medication that helps me. This has been an 8 year battle and journey and the most upsetting part of it is that there is still such a stigma attached to it.
When I was given my second ZOLOFT prescription, I was thrilled. Something finally worked. I was given the go ahead by my Dr to continue, and I took my script to be filled.
When I picked it up, the pharmacist wanted to speak with me. In a normal voice she said “Okay Emma, so this Is a prescription for….” Then dropped her voice to a merely a whisper “Zoloft”. I was mortified and I was livid. Someone I didn’t even know had taken what I had believed to be the biggest step forward to helping myself, and squished it into something they acted like I should be ashamed of and want to hide.
The truth is, I cannot help how my brain works. I tried for years to manage my anxiety through therapy, through doctors, through naturopaths, through yoga, through meditation. Nothing worked. Absolutely nothing. Until I was out on medication. The Serotonin in my brain just doesn’t act the way it does in the brain of someone who doesn’t have anxiety. Of all people, a pharmacist would know this.
That’s why I’ve joined the #mydefinition campaign. I am not ashamed. I do not want to hide who I am to anyone. Not anymore.
I have anxiety. I’m medicated for it and sometimes I still have panic attacks. I’m still irrational at times, and my breathing still goes shallow when I’m anxious. Sometimes I get overwhelmed and I have to leave a room full of people to gather myself. Things are still challenging, and I imagine they always will be. But what I do have now is more control. I know my triggers, I know how to listen to my body and I know how to react. I can wake up in the morning, and my body isn’t exhausted. I can think irrational thoughts and recognize that they’re irrational. I don’t self harm and I eat whatever I want.
People around me have learned that they may need to be patient, or talk me through a panic attack. When my coach talks to me about soccer, he leaves nothing to the imagination because he knows I’ll think the worst and worry myself into oblivion. My mom knows what body language means I’m going to have a panic attack. Everyone, myself included, has learned.
It’s not pretty. Anxiety is far from glitter and rainbows. It’s a constant internal struggle that no one can see. I and countless others wake up every day and battle.
I’m proud of myself because I do. There was a time my anxiety crippled me. I didn’t get out of bed. I didn’t eat. I self harmed…I have come such a long way from that place.
But the next step is stopping the stigma.
If the stigma didn’t exist, I might have gone for help sooner, and I know I would have felt comfortable asking for help. I know I’m not alone in this. Stopping the stigma of mental illness will save lives, it will get people help and it will help others live life to the fullest.
That’s me and that’s my definition.