I didn’t think there were any dots to connect until recently. I never realized that some of what I was experiencing throughout childhood and adolescence was linked to my anxiety and depression. It’s interesting now to look back at my experiences with a different lens- a lens that allows me to view my symptoms with a deeper understanding and a whole lot of empathy.
From a young age, around 8 or 9, I would wake up for school and be hit with unbearable nausea and lightheadedness. I remember sitting on the bathroom floor, crying, and telling my mom that I was going to be sick forever. This happened almost every morning for a while- I don’t remember for how long exactly. I do remember that when I would go to school, I would almost always go the nurse’s office complaining of the same symptoms. I remember it getting so excessive that the nurse called my dad and asked him what I was eating every morning for breakfast and if I was getting enough sleep. Obviously, with time, the symptoms either went away or changed form. I never thought much about it until now.
As an adult whose anxiety and panic attacks trigger intense somatic symptoms, I’m now able to put the pieces together. That unbearable nausea and lightheadedness as a child was my anxiety manifesting in a very physical way, just as it does now. I remember the intense fear that would come over me while on the bathroom floor. I remember the embarrassment and shame that I felt in my classroom every time I got sent to the nurse’s office. It’s identical to the shame I felt every time I had to leave class while in college because of my panic attacks. I remember the intrusive thoughts that would replay over and over again in my head. It’s all so clear to me now because over the last year and a half, I’ve been experiencing it all over again.
I also remember being really afraid of nighttime. I hated sleeping alone, so I slept with my sister on and off until I was around 13 years old (whoops, sorry bout it). I remember waking up in the middle of the night sweating and gasping for air on numerous occasions. I wanted to have someone close to me so that I didn’t have to experience it alone. Now, I know what it’s like to wake up having a panic attack and I’m able to see that I started experiencing them much earlier than I originally thought.
I could go on and on about how my symptoms have manifested throughout my life, but I think it’s important to mention how I felt as an adolescent. Granted, some of my behavior during this time stemmed from the fact that I was a teenager filled with angst, curiosity, and a sense of invincibility. Honestly though, I was sad. I was really sad and I didn’t know how to effectively express myself at the time (I still struggle with that sometimes). So, instead of being sad, I became an overall angry and negative person. I wasn’t always that way, I had tons of fun and so many good times. I just remember listening to The Used (still love them oh so much) and feeling like they were the only people that understood me. They understood what it was like to feel everything so deeply- love, heartbreak, pain, frustration, happiness, excitement, and uncertainty. During my teenage years, I faced depression more than anything. I don’t remember feeling particularly anxious, but I do remember feeling like sometimes, life wasn’t worth living. (In order to do this time in my life justice, I’ll need to write about it in a whole other blog post. I’ll get to it at some point).
It’s confusing to have those thoughts at such a turbulent age. I often wondered, “Is it just my age or is something wrong with me?”
Little did I know I would end up asking myself that same question over and over again.
Acknowledging and writing about these patterns that I’ve noticed throughout my life gives me hope. It gives me hope because no matter the symptom, feeling, or thought—I SURVIVED.
I’ve survived it all. I’ve come so far. Just as my symptoms have changed, so have my coping skills and support systems. I’m stronger than ever, but most of all I have a deep appreciation for my new and improved baseline.
I’ve come to realize that my life is worth living. Now, let me share something with you—IT GETS BETTER. Your life is worth living. If it doesn’t feel like it’s worth living right now, don’t forget that things change. Our thoughts, feelings, and situations change. Our capacity to grow and transform is endless. This isn’t it for you, just like all the shitty moments in my life weren’t it for me.
With so much love and gratitude,
Mommy is dead.
I’m inside of my pink and purple Lion King sleeping bag during naptime, and the all the lights are off in the classroom. The inside of my sleeping bag is a velvety pink, and repeatedly traced with my right index finger over and over and over are the words Mommy is dead. Mommy is dead. Mommy is dead. I’m five years old. And my mother wasn’t dead, nor was she in danger of dying.
This is the first memory I have of abnormal anxiety. I say “abnormal” because everyone experiences anxiety to some degree in life; it’s a normal emotion. What’s past “normal” is when it’s felt in situations that don’t have any inherent threat, to the point that the anxiety is not based in any current, here-and-now reality. But it is definitely based on something real: sometimes it’s purely the hereditary chemical imbalance, sometimes it’s a trigger for past trauma, even if it’s purely generational or historical.
I was always a shy kid growing up, and I had severe social anxiety. I found it utterly impossible to socialize with other children my age, so much so that I remember staying in the adult service at church with my mom because the thought of going to Sunday school with the other kids was absolute torture to me. I often felt ostracized and bullied and just...not “like” them. In the adult service, all I had to do was face forward, sometimes stand, and be quiet. And that felt safer to me.
I remember being very very young, no more than nine I’d say, and staring fixatedly at my hand while I forgot what and who I was. My mom said she would find me just staring at it while sitting, looking both captivated and lost. I don’t know how long I would sit like this, but I distinctly remember that, if done correctly, I could forgot all earthly affiliations, most noticeably the word human. I didn’t know what species, or even substance, I was, and what the name and/or sound was for that. I swear I’m not making this up, and there were definitely no psychedelics involved; I can tell you that. Was it Enlightenment? Worldly plane-splitting? Dissociation? I don’t know. I know what my Western education would want me to say. But I refuse to hold such an assumptive ego-centric notion. It just wouldn’t be me. I’ll stick to not knowing.
I don’t remember very much of my childhood because of a very unfortunate, very poor decision I made which consisted of me suddenly stopping my anti-depressants in college. I’ll save that story for another time, but, bottom line: do not mess with your meds. Memory loss is real.
I don’t remember when being shy and being anxious overlapped, or if there really was one over the other. I’m starting to wonder if there is even such a thing as being “shy”. I understand being bashful. It’s my belief that “shy” is the socially acceptable, alternative term for “anxious”.
I also don’t remember when my cold, cruel, lashing mood swings came crashing down, and I don’t know what was a normal “teenage” phase and what wasn’t. I don’t know. I remember having moments of genuinely believing no one understood me and viciously scribbling horrible things in my composition book, things that I can’t even utter because they are so shameful.
On the other hand, I remember feeling things so deeply. I remember drawing depictions of animals crying and running free when I was in elementary school, with words written in the corners like When will I be free, I don’t want to hurt anymore...and so on. I remember seeing a picture of a bunny crying as it was having makeup tested on it in my Zoobooks magazine and crying for all of animalkind, for what we had done to them. I remember, flash forward to seventh grade, lying on my bed with Linkin Park’s Opening track from their Reanimation album playing on repeat while I cried for an hour; there were no words, only music.
I remember feeling left out and unimportant in high school, even though I had a very rare, very special close-knit group of friends whom I considered my tribe, not to mention a family who loved me fiercely and steadfastly. It mattered. But it didn’t stop feelings of worthlessness, nor dysmorphic thoughts from entering and living in my mind. I remember crying on my top bunk freshman year of college in my dorm room in between classes. If someone had asked me why, I wouldn’t have been able to tell them. I remember feeling SO MUCH. I didn’t know what to do with it. Enter self-loathing, shame, and generational Catholic Guilt. College was when I had my first panic attacks (that I can remember at least- who knows?). These were influenced by feelings of isolation, paranoia, and bullying by my peers (who, coincidentally, were also in my MSW program..."disappointed" doesn't even begin to cover it).
The mania was productive in high school and college. Without even knowing what “it” was, I channeled it through visual art and musical endeavors. I took up flute, guitar, drumming, painting, sculpture, you name it. It fueled some of my greatest creations. And that’s the thing about mania: when it’s a “good” high, there’s nothing else like it. And, once again, is it mania? Or is it the Great Spirit working themself through me? Is great, obsessive, crazed preoccupation of thought toward a central idea or theme normal? Is there such a thing as normal? You guessed it. I don’t know either.
I have so many "I don't knows".
The “bad” highs and dangerous behavior came out starting in grad school. When feelings of severe social anxiety, worthlessness, isolation, and self-disgust came at me hard, I drank. I drank to focus because it calmed me down. I drank because it made me feel like I could function at what others may have called a “normal” level. And I drank to be able to attend social events with my peers and feel like I could know how to socialize. Everything worked except for the dangerous parts. Thank god I’m alive. Really. I'll explain more another time.
The overspending and impulsive behavior came out at or after that time. Spending binges that would wipe out my savings, and thank god I lived with my parents, otherwise I would 100% be homeless. And the last time I wiped out my savings on meaningless shit? About two months ago.
It’s an ongoing thing.
That’s the thing about mental health recovery. Re-covery. It’s constantly re-defining, re-formulating, re-turning, re-cycling, and re-evaluating. It’s never really gone. So that’s when I decided to use it to re-late. To be honest about my fight. Not to waive it like a trophy or a brag or a pity party, but as a message of, “You’re not alone.”
So, to you, dear reader, you who reads these lines, you are not alone. I genuinely understand what it feels like to be a ghost, to believe you’re a worthless piece of shit, to be ashamed. I’ve been there. And I’m not going to lie and pretend I’m this put-together, “I’m so wise” bullshit person; I still fight these feelings every day. Albeit, they’ve gotten a hell of a lot better. And a lot of that has had to do with finding the right people, allowing the people who love me into my head, and living through experiences that have taught me what I never want to feel ever again.
Connecting the dots has been scary, mortifying, saddening, interesting, and freeing, all at the same time. And what I’ve found to be the most helpful? Having people to talk to about it with. And that’s where you come in.
To you, me, us, and all of our dots, connected and unconnected, here’s to us.
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