I was 11 years old when it started. We didn’t know what was wrong, and thought maybe it was a stomach bug. I was sick to my stomach almost constantly for weeks at a time, and I had no desire to eat anything. Eventually it got better, and life returned to normal, as normal as it could have been for me. See, “normal” was waking up at around 4am and going over to our grandmother’s house where we would crash out for a few more hours. When we woke up, we would eat breakfast, get changed if we weren’t already, and start on schoolwork. Our dad would get off work at around 3 or 3:30pm and we would go home. This repeated every day.
From ages 11 to 14 I had no idea what was going on with my body. I was sure that I was going to die just like my mother did and leave my family to deal with life without me. That thought terrified me. But with every anxiety attack–which I thought was a heart attack–the feeling intensified. I had no idea what was happening or how to make it stop. I was told constantly to “get over [my] nerves” “it’s all in [my] head.” I wanted to scream every time I heard that. Because although I didn’t know exactly what was going on, I knew that it was NOT in my head. So hearing that just further drove me to thinking that something was seriously wrong with me. But by the time I was 14, I knew that something was wrong with my head. Something wasn’t right. I thought I was crazy. I had no idea that there were other people out there that struggled with what I did. I don’t think I even really knew it was something to be struggled against. I just knew it was like hell.
After I moved, I began to realize that there was something wrong, but that I could do something about it. C told me about this app called Instagram. I had no idea what it was, but that summer I decided to get it. It was through C’s friendship and willingness to listen that I became aware of what was wrong with me. It was through Instagram that I discovered I was not alone in the struggle.
C was the first person to ever really listen to me when I told her about my anxiety. She was the first person to tell me that what I was experiencing was not something abnormal. She was the first person who did not judge me or tell me that it was all in my head. She was the first to acknowledge it as a real, tangible problem.
I remember the first time I had a panic attack when I was with her. She was hosting a sleepover party so we could watch J’s DVD of ABC’s Once Upon A Time Season One. I’d never been to her house before, so it was exciting and scary in and of itself. I was looking forward to it because J and her friend were supposed to be there. S was coming, along with E, another woman who I knew because she was related to my aunt.
We started the night by pigging out on chips, cheese/salsa dip, chocolate, and soda. For any normal teen, consuming such food within the space of two hours would not be a big deal. They might regret it later, but not so quickly as I did.
We were all curled up and starting the second or third episode when I felt it start to happen. I got so sick to my stomach, the room suddenly felt 20° warmer, and I started to gag. I got up to throw a plate away and didn’t want to sit back down. S saw me and silently asked me if I was alright. I shook my head. She motioned to the door, mouthing that it would be cooler outside. However, the door was in EVERYONE’S line of sight. I wouldn’t be able to leave without them seeing me.
Finally, after only a moment or two of continued pacing, I grabbed my Tweety Bird water bottle and walked outside. The cold air in my lungs and the rough concrete on my feet helped almost immediately. I took one, two, three deep breaths and the feeling of panic started to subside. However, the other feelings stayed. I started pacing the length of the porch, and grabbed the railing. I gripped it hard as I clenched my eyes closed, fighting off another wave of nausea. I remember telling myself that I would never ever live it down if I threw up in her bushes.
I felt a hand on mine and opened my eyes. C was standing beside me, looking down with big, motherly, worried eyes. She asked if I wanted her to call my dad or drive me home. It wasn’t late, and it wasn’t far at all. But I told her no, almost begged her not to. I was not going to let my panic stop me from enjoying this night. She nodded and put her arm around me. After a moment she gently tugged me to take a step backwards to the bench. We sat down and she kept her arm around me, making me feel safe as another wave hit. I was gagging, so much so that I couldn’t talk. I refused to throw up, even though she told me several times, “It’s okay if you do. I’ve seen it before.” I was already embarrassed that this was happening, so actually throwing up would have left me mortified.
This night is something I will never forget. But one thing that still sticks out to me is when she asked if I would like a cool cloth for my neck or forehead. I just kind of looked at her like she was crazy and told her that I didn’t know how that would help. The look she gave me then, partly pity but mostly love, was all motherly. She said, “It’s just something moms do.” And then she pulled me closer and let me rest my head on her shoulder until I calmed down.
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity to me, I was calmed down enough that I could go inside without fear of puking all over her living room. When it finally subsided completely, the night went on without another hitch. I had an amazing time and really hated to leave the next morning. The night was host to many funny memories, though most are just painful to think about now.
After that night I knew that I could count on C to be there for me. It wasn’t until later that I fully explained to her what was wrong, but I think she knew anyway. Or at least had some idea.
Since then, it hasn’t been easy. It’s been three years of constant ups and downs. Many, many times I have made plans and then cancelled or changed them at the last minute because panic had me gripped so tightly that I couldn’t go through with them. Even for something as simple as going to a Bible study or a volunteering opportunity. I know that, while my struggle is very real and very painful, it is also a sin.
I am only now coming to terms with that fact, so I doubt I’ll be able to answer many questions because I am still asking them myself. But I know that letting this consume me, doubting God’s ability to take care of me, is a sin. Not putting my trust in Him is a sin. It’s something I’ve struggled with since my mother died. It’s why I struggled with my Salvation for so long and still do at times. Putting my faith into One Person or belief is an incredibly scary thing for me. But I know that I CAN trust Him.. I trust Him with my life and I have been brought closer to Him because of my struggle. Because I rely on Him and His strength to get me through even the worst of panic attacks. C’s arms are a huge help as well, but they’re not the same as His. I need to learn to be still and know. To know that He is God and that nothing/no one can steal me from His hand.
In my next post I am going to try to have verses about anxiety and how they have helped/can help in anxious situations. Also, probably a list of songs as well. I wish you all well! I realize that you have found this blog post because God wanted you to, and not by some random chance. To anyone who is battling with anxiety or any other form of mental illness or any struggle, know that you are NOT alone, and you are loved by the One Who created the universe. He knows and cares when a sparrow, which is worth two pennies, falls from its nest.
How much more does He care for you and I?