The First Time I Recognized My Anxiety

While this blog will be utilized primarily as a lifestyle blog where I hope to post reviews, recipes, travel posts, and literally just about anything, I also want to make sure that this blog can be utilized as an outlet for myself. This is my place to share my heart with all of you. As you will see as my personal stories go on, things get a bit heavy. But I would like to really hammer down My Story in chronological order, beginning with anxiety. Anxiety decided to grace me with its presence the second semester of my junior year of high school, in the winter at the beginning of 2010.

A quick little fun fact about me: I was a cheerleader for 14 years of my life.

My junior year of high school was my second year on the Varsity Cheerleading team. I was always the flyer– the girl on top doing all the tricks– from the time I first started cheerleading. I always have had a generally small stature and was always one of the first people in the line when we had to stand shortest to tallest, but I was always still in the healthy percentiles. I hadn’t ever felt uncomfortable with my weight and size, but it was something I always had in the back of my mind, knowing that other people had to lift me in the air. However, that didn’t keep me from eating the occasional Big Mac from McDonalds or other fast food if that’s what my parents were getting that night or if my friends went out for a meal together (hey, ya girl loves to eat).

It wasn’t until my junior year that I started noticing that the incoming girls on the Varsity team were shorter and smaller than me and I began to fear for my spot as the center flyer.  Football season came and went and everything was going really well. When basketball season came around, things got switched up a bit. I got one new person in my stunt group, who was not quite as strong as the other people who were lifting girls up. One of the girls had been in my stunt group since my freshman year of high school and she was notoriously known as a “mean girl”. She was the stereotypical bleach blonde cheerleader that spent too much time in a tanning bed and played dumb to try and get all the guys. She liked to hike up her skirt to make it super short and choreographed our dances to look like they belonged in a nightclub. Don’t get me wrong, she’s a nice girl to her friends and she has since grown out of these tendencies, but in high school, she wasn’t quite at her best– let’s face it, many of us weren’t.

One night before a basketball game, the cheerleaders were sitting in the hallway near the cafeteria, eating our separate dinners that we ran out to get really quick. Me and some of the other girls from the team had picked up Culver’s and I was snacking on some of the fries I had gotten. All of a sudden, this girl from my stunt group walks over to me and says:

“I hope you aren’t going to eat all of that because I have to lift your fat ass into the air tonight.”

Let me paint you a quick picture: my junior year of high school, I weighed 105 pounds and was 5′ 3”. This is slightly below average for a 17 year old female.

From the second she said that, I put down my fries and ran off to the bathroom and burst into tears.  I had never been more aware of my body image than in that moment and for over a year to come after that. Every time I ate anything, I thought about how much weight I could gain from it and that I could lose my spot as a flyer on the cheerleading team. For a while, I would take my food, chew it until it lost all its flavor, and then spit it back out into a napkin. By the time the summer hit, I felt uncomfortable being at the kitchen table with my family for more than 10 minutes. Whenever I went to eat, it felt like my throat was swelling up and I had difficulty swallowing. I always ended up leaving the kitchen table early and going outside for a walk so I could get fresh air because I felt like I was suffocating.

One day my mom approached me because she thought I was bulimic. I then started crying and telling her about the suffocating feeling I had any time I ate anything. At that moment, that fear became even more realized and I began to start feeling the suffocating feeling in my throat once again. After awhile, it became more apparent to my mom that the suffocating feelings, difficulty swallowing, and shakiness I would experience were anxiety attacks.

The first anxiety attacks I can recall were ones I experienced after the girl from my team expressed her feelings about my eating habits. They then began to occur when I was in other situations completely unrelated to food. It seemed like all of a sudden these anxiety attacks were coming on more and more frequently – in the classroom, during basketball and football games when I was cheering, at home, times when I would be literally by myself in my bedroom. Soon I found myself in a constant state of worrying and was always on edge. I felt agitated often and was quick to become irritable. I felt like I was living in a constant state of fear of literally everything and everyone. Anxiety became a constant in my life near the end of high school.

Throughout college, anxiety was always present, but I also experienced many anxiety attacks where I would go into full panic mode, especially if I was at a party and saw someone throwing up or if I felt like I was about to throw up myself. None of my friends knew what to do when I started having an attack. I would start shaking from head to toe, my mouth would get dry, I felt like my throat was closing, I had difficulty swallowing, I would start crying or be on the verge of tears, and I would start to feel nauseous among other things.  College was the time I realized some of my best coping strategies when I started to have an attack suddenly. I found that chewing a minty flavored gum would help give me something to concentrate on other than the attack so I never leave home without any gum. I also found that if I go into an attack in a more private setting and someone close is with me, I ask them to tell me a story– it could be anything. They could tell me that a hippo was walking on a rainbow to the moon and I would be happy with it – I just need something to distract me from the attack when it occurs and need something to calm me down. I don’t like it if people ask me if I’m okay when I’m having an attack or if they try to ask me any question. I don’t like it if someone tries to initiate contact with me when I have an attack, even if they’re just trying to rub my back – I want to initiate the contact during an attack when I feel comfortable enough to. I typically feel exhausted after having an attack and need to lay down and rest for the remainder of the day/night and like to have someone be there for me during that time..

Like I said before, everyone experiences anxiety attacks differently and for different reasons. The methods I use for coping may or may not work for others with anxiety attacks and my preferences are going to be different from others. These are all important things to keep in mind if you know someone with anxiety or if you yourself experience anxiety. If you know someone close to you with anxiety and they are willing to open up about it, ask them what you can do for them if they ever experience an attack when you’re present. Sometimes the worst thing is trying to find out what a person needs once their attack has already started and sometimes it can only make matters worse for that person. Yes, anxiety attacks can appear to be very irrational to someone who does not experience them, and yes attacks can make it seem like they are ignoring you if they’re trying to mentally calm themselves before an attack or during, but we appreciate having loved ones stick by us when we have an attack, whether its by helping us through an attack or being supportive afterwards. Anxiety is tough for the people experiencing it and also for those who have someone in their life suffering from anxiety, but we are all more than just our anxiety and it does not define us as people and we appreciate everyone who helps us through it and sticks by us.