I don’t think anyone knew the real truth of the matter. There were so many people around me, and sometimes I felt like screaming at everyone to get away from me. Of course, I couldn’t though. How would people respond? I’d looking like a complete freak in public.
School was always a challenge for me. It seemed like everyone casually walked through the halls- laughing with their friends- pretending to search through their bag when their were really texting someone. But it was different for me.
There were the popular kids, band geeks, “weird kids”, the tough crowd- your basic cliques. I settled in with the theatre nerds though I like to think I was friendly with people of all groups. I even won “friendlist” two years in a row which was a real honor to me- even if it was just a middle school award.
When the popular kids would talk to me, I would stammer. I would be paralysed with fear that I’d say or do something stupid and I’d end up looking like a spaz because of it. Once, a boy told me I was ugly and I was so overwhelmed with embarrassment that I couldn’t move. In that moment, I felt so small. Kids can be so cruel for no reason…I suppose adults can too for that matter.
The point is, my anxiety was running the show for the first bit of my life, and no part of me had any kind of control. My fight or flight response was strong- it still is. What made it worse was that mental illness wasn’t as widely talked about as is it now. It’s crazy to think that seeing as it wasn’t even that long ago. Therapy never worked for me as a child- because no one ever really listened. Now that I’m older and have a really great therapist, I can say that with certainty.
My parents and siblings tried what they could to make me feel better, but I got really good at hiding how overwhelmed and on edge I was at every moment. I only got good at it because I didn’t know what it was myself- anxiety. Honestly, at the time, I didn’t even know that that word could mean what it means to me today. Looking back, I would have panic attacks all the time and I never knew what they were. That’s sad and scary to me. I don’t blame anyone for not knowing what to do with me. I never really voiced what was going on- just cried and said that I didn’t want to go to school (or dance, or baton, or to a sleepover, etc.).
When I think about the level of panic attacks I would have, it honestly blows my mind.
Now, let me be clear. My childhood was not unhappy and I wasn’t a constant anxious mess. However, anxiety is an intense emotion and if you’re feeling it at an unsafe level at all, its debilitating. There are and were such happy times that I can remember. Days where we’d stay at home on the weekends and play all day. I was a home body even then. Those are days I cherish.
A day I don’t cherish? Easy…
There was this one day where I went to the office to call my mom because I was having a panic attack (although I didn’t actually know it). I went there a lot to do that, and the lady behind the desk knew that all too well. I walked in, asked to call my mother, and- I will never forget this- she looked at me and said, “You’re always trying to get out of class. No.”. I was dumbfounded. I wasn’t trying to get out of class. Hell, I would have loved nothing more to be in Earth Science with the rest of the class learning and happily getting along with others. I would have loved to have been normal.
This woman had just made an assumption about me that was wildly inaccurate but made me feel guilty. So, now I not only had this panic attack going on, but I also felt guilt pouring into my body and strangling me. And you know what? That wasn’t fair. It just wasn’t! I burst into tears in front of her and she rolled her eyes. I tore out of there, went to the bathroom and called my mother from my cell phone. I forgot to mention I was a goody goody and very rarely broke the rules. Luckily, mom understood that I needed to be out of there and came and got me.
I missed a lot of school due to panic attacks, and I got in trouble because of it. I think most of the teachers assumed that I was too lazy to come to class or just wanted to go home and lounge around. Let me say this again: I would have done ANYTHING to have been able to sit in class with my fellow students comfortably and have a normal school day. Sometimes I could, and then other days it felt like an elephant was sitting on my chest. And I never told anyone other than my family- and not even they knew the real extent of it.
I was ashamed. Why was a so weird? Why couldn’t I just have sucked it up? It just wasn’t a possibility for me. I was always so in my head, and by middle school I had really developed some OCD tendencies. I would repeat my name in my head over and over again to try and ground myself, but after a while it became more of a OCD twitch than anything else. There were more but I really don’t think I want to get too far into that. Maybe one day.
Here’s the point i’m trying to make with all of this: We need to LISTEN to people when they say they don’t feel right- that something is off. Many people don’t know that they are having panic attacks- just like I didn’t. This is especially true for Children and Teens. You never think these things will happen to you, but guess what? They are way more common than you think. I was shocked when I started to tell people that I take medicine for my anxiety- so many others told me that they have to take something for theirs too and even depression. It can happen to you and it’s nothing to be ashamed of.
High school me was constantly in her head talking to herself about holding it together and not looking like an idiot. High school me thought she wasn’t worth the time because some people treated her like what was happening wasn’t important. When teachers would get onto me about missing school, I felt that guilt. Like I was doing something that was wrong when really I just wasn’t getting the help that I needed. As an adult now who’s looking back at the situation, I now know that it wasn’t my fault.
I was a good student, a nice person, and I tried hard. So, why did I feel like no one was noticing that something was up with me? Sometimes I’d legitimately lose my shit at school- I was crying out for help in my own way- and people would just look at me like I was a crazy person. I had to miss a show choir show once because of a panic attack. My dance partner came up to me and said, “You really let me down.”. All the while, I’m sitting there crying. Did he think I wanted to be acting hysterical in front of the entire group? That I wanted the attention? I wanted the complete opposite.
I was so self conscious about all of this, and it didn’t help that I was an absolute bean pole. I weighed less than 100 pounds until I got to college and I was often hearing gossip about me being anorexic. One of my teachers even brought it up almost every day saying that I needed to eat more. She legitimately thought I wasn’t eating on purpose when really I was just a very small person who had a fast metabolism.
NEWS FLASH, PEOPLE!!! SOME PEOPLE ARE JUST SMALL. JUST LIKE SOME PEOPLE ARE JUST HEAVIER SET! Everyone is beautiful in there own way, and picking out someone’s qualities and telling them they aren’t good enough…it’s just not right.
To all those out there that are struggling with body image,
Don’t let anyone tell you that you aren’t beautiful at whatever size you are. Just focus on making yourself healthy and happy. I love the quote that says,
“We get so worried about being pretty. Let’s be pretty kind. Pretty funny. Pretty smart. Pretty strong.”
– Britt Nicole
It’s lovely, right?
So, to sum this all up, here’s what I wish I had known growing up.
What people think about you- it doens’t matter. Ultimately, your happiness depends on you. Yes, people say that all the time and it seems cheesy, but it’s so true. You are beautiful- no matter your size. Your qualities make you the unique individual that you are. What you’re feeling is called a panic attack/anxiety. It can happen for no reason and it can spiral out of control if you don’t take proper care to make it better- make yourself better. You are weird- but in the best way possible. Your weirdness is what’s going to be badass about you when you grow up. Hell, it’s what’s badass about you now.
It’s ok that you don’t have this all figured out now. Things and people will fall into your life at the exact right moments and one day you’ll be sitting on your couch writing a blog where you get to talk about how happy you are with your little family.
I wish I had known all of that and really believed myself. I’m a much happier person now knowing all of this and having people who support me and help me to understand that anxiety is something that we all face and isn’t something shameful. It takes work and self care to get yourself to a place where you can take a step back, breathe, and know how to handle your anxiety.
I truly think we need to look out for the signs of anxiety, depression, and panic attacks in people- especially children. My main reason for writing this blog post is to make people aware of how debilitating and isolating anxiety can be when it gets out of control. Some people may just not know what it is or how to handle it.
Be a friend to someone in need. Be understanding of what they are going through and help them figure out what they need to make themselves feel better and in control. Because everyone deserves to feel good about and in their bodies.
I hope this blog wasn’t too much of a bummer. I think it’s a really important subject, and it’s something I’ve wanted to get off of my chest for a long time.
Please let me know in the comments if you suffer with anxiety and how you cope. Maybe we can inspire some people to get help or try something new to make themselves feel better.
We all deserve someone to walk with us through the hard times.