Dear Wilber,

A while ago you wrote a post talking about our anxiety. You have always had an impenetrable exterior, so for you to be vulnerable and to talk about your deepest shames is a huge step. I remember when you first shared with me that you have “flashbacks,” and I remember how it took me at least a year after that to realize how much you struggle with self loathing. You always seemed so confident to me and so sure of yourself. I admired your tenacity in academics, and I loved learning about your goldie oldie songs and movies and all of the bits and pieces of culture you loved. You were very passionate about what you loved, about your era of history and your favorite authors. You still are. In grad school you became especially passionate about feminism. But underneath that seemingly confident exterior was an awful, creeping self-hate. And when you were in grad school, I was worried about you as I saw your panic attacks and unhappiness get worse. It’s  been about a year since grad school. You’ve grown so much and have been learning to work through your flashbacks and anxiety. I am very proud of you. You know that you are wonderful and loved, but I know that anxiety and pressure still get to you.

My dear amazing friend. Let’s talk about it.

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You mentioned in your post that I have anxiety as well, though my anxiety is a different type and degree than yours. Mine is more infrequent and situational. I have not officially been diagnosed with anxiety, although I have been diagnosed with PTSD. But I don’t think this invalidates my experiences. Everyone experiences these things differently, and that’s part of why I want to share about my anxiety now.

The most important thing for me personally is that my anxiety is not something that I cling to as part of my identity. I am determined to not let it interrupt my life in unhelpful ways, because while I admit that I cannot stop it from happening completely, I don’t want my anxiety to negatively affect my loved ones. I don’t want to make a big deal about my anxiety, because it isn’t always bad, but I realize that ignoring it while I’m feeling fine is not a solution. I do struggle with anxiety from time to time, and when I do, it can be really hard.

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The first time I had anxiety that I can remember was because of being sexually assaulted. I was diagnosed with PTSD because of this, and primarily because the week after the assault I watched myself change before my eyes into something I did not recognize, something awful and insane. It’s very hard to describe what I was like during that week, so I won’t attempt to. Perhaps I will write about this more another time. What I do want to talk about now is the feeling of shame that accompanied this week where my emotions and thought process was flipped upside-down. I felt so ashamed later of how I acted. Sometimes, it’s nice to have attention from others and to be able to act out and say, “See, something is wrong with me.” It was very cathartic. But I later felt very embarrassed. And what I want to say now to anyone who experiences panic attacks or PTSD is that you shouldn’t be embarrassed. Sometimes, we cannot control what our bodies and minds do. I’m no counselor, though I have talked to a few, but I think this is safe advice to give.

Since then, I experienced anxiety is several other forms. During my student teaching, I would wake up each morning with a severe knot inside my stomach and throat. I dreaded each morning and stayed in bed as long as possible. I dreamed about getting into car accidents and about having life-threatening illnesses. Anything to remove me from my situation. Eventually, I couldn’t handle it anymore and gave myself a concussion, while driving, I might add. I mentioned this already in my letter response about careers.

Part of me feels ashamed of my weakness. I tell myself that I should have endured through the process. I look at my fellow teachers and see from Facebook that they seem to be doing fine. Again, it’s easy to be ashamed of anxiety and what we do in stressful situations, but shame is not the answer. Instead, I want to learn how to be more emotionally healthy and to thank God for getting me through that time.

Since student teaching, my anxiety has spilled into other areas of my life. For instance, about a year and a half ago I had a panic attack after sitting next to a man on the bus that reminded me of the man who sexually assaulted me. A year ago, I had an anxiety attack in front of my family because I was on the drug flexirol, and my dizziness reminded me of the time I went to the ER. Recently, I’ve had several more panic attacks because of feeling overwhelmed by life situations. Certainly two weeks ago when Leg and I had our mental breakdowns, that was the worst in a while.

Honestly, I don’t feel embarrassed anymore. I think that my body and mind just need a way to release if I start to be overwhelmed. Typically, this involves a giant knot in my heart, difficulty breathing, and finally a release of crying/freaking out. Often, it can help if I find the root of the anxiety. For example, I often feel anxious about what my parents think of me. This means I need to stop worrying so much about it. Sometimes, I feel anxious because I don’t want Leg to leave (we have a semi-long distance relationship), or because something that happens reminds me of a traumatic event from the past. I have yet to completely figure out how to control this anxiety, and this is why I hope to find a good counselor soon.

However, I am hopeful. I am hopeful because I know that I am not alone in this issue. Many other people experience ocassions and degrees  of anxiety as well. I am hopeful because I have good friends and family who love me. I am hopeful because I know I can pray and sing and write and learn. I’m not going to obsess over my anxiety. I am not going to ignore it either. Let’s talk about it.

Your friend,

Dawn

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