A memory popped up on my facebook today from 2016. I took a selfie in a bathroom mirror at a university after presenting at a conference. I drove from Pittsburgh to southern Illinois to present on my thesis by myself. It’s been interesting reflecting on just how close I was to dropping out of undergrad and then here I was giving a presentation about my master’s thesis.
My life with anxiety for much of my late teens and early twenties was completely unmanageable. My anxiety ruled my life, ruled my schedule, claimed precious hours of my day because I would need to sleep after having a panic attack after classes. It was horrific. I would go to the cafeteria right as it opened or right before it closed to avoid people. When I used to go to the gym, I would do the same thing. Much of my connections with people and connections with life just slowly sort of faded.
I wish I could say that just one specific thing in therapy helped me. There wasn’t any panacea. I just kept showing up. Forcing myself to take public transit or spend an hour walking on the days I couldn’t get on the bus. I’m relieved when I help folks in my counseling sessions now with anxiety management techniques. A lot of them didn’t work for me. I had to walk, I had to move my body, I had to feel safe in my body before anything else would have worked and that, for me, took years. Sometimes I still struggle with it, but not nearly to the same extent. I think trauma based anxiety is quite different. Once I reached the point of no return, no amount of deep breathing would get me to feel safe again until I was alone in my room and/or slept. Usually things don’t get to that level anymore, and I’m able to bring myself back before that point of no return or remove myself from a situation. I can’t remember the last time that has happened.
The one thing I can say, with the extreme anxiety that I had, is that I probably wouldn’t be here today at all if I hadn’t forced myself to endure things (class, people, public transit, etc) that caused my anxiety. If I avoided them, they’d become more powerful and it’d be that much harder to get myself up and out the next day. I’m not trying to compare strife. Anxiety is anxiety and it sucks regardless of if it’s trauma based or not. But I think it’s important to distinguish because pathways to health can look different for everyone, particularly if relational trauma is the source of some of the anxiety as it was for me. If connections are unsafe, how do you go about the world?
Not very easily.
I don’t know. Some part of me just refused to die, I guess. And I do pray that everyone has access to that part of themselves.