I’m Good At Being Afraid

There are butterflies in my stomach, but not the nice kind; they seem to be trying desperately to escape at the expense of my internal organs. I can’t keep food down, can barely swallow. My heart runs a marathon through my chest, the echo of its thick, rapid beats reverberating through my veins. The constriction of my chest muscles freezes my body in its tracks; I hyperventilate. My brain jolts, sizzles, runs haywire like a fuse that is about to explode; my vision blurs and my entire frame trembles. I have already lost control. I cannot hear you talking to me; you cannot help. The only thing you can do is sit with me until this stops, until I can focus again.

Fear. It’s a word I’ve been hearing for a long time, from the first day I went to the doctor and told them I couldn’t breathe. The doctor looked at my mother and said, “Your daughter may have an anxiety disorder.”

What does that mean to an eleven-year-old? It meant that sometimes I couldn’t sleep because I was too afraid that my heart would stop beating in the middle of the night, and that when I saw a piece of glass on the road I was terrified that I would swallow it. Irrational, unexplainable fears. It was as the doctor described: I had a keen awareness and anticipation of danger that caused me frequent panic attacks as a result of seemingly insignificant triggers. Some spells were worse than others, but I was always able to handle it on my own. As early as the fifth grade, I knew how to get through an anxiety attack in school without the teacher ever noticing. By seventh grade, although I was not able to eat more than a few bites of any meal for over three months, I seemed like an expertly adjusted individual. And at the end of sophomore year of high school, I taught myself how to do things as complicated as math problems in the midst of a full-blown panic.

I’m used to fear. Even when I go months without the irrationality and terror of the true disorder, I still get scared. I’m afraid of being in front of people and saying the wrong thing and dealing with my emotions. I’m terrified of how people perceive me and how I perceive myself. And every day, I turn down the things that I really want because I’m too frightened to face the unknown. Sometimes those facts discourage me, but mostly I just know I have some more growing to do. Maybe it’s true that I have a pretty long-term anxiety disorder, and right now I might let fear rule a lot of things. But I have already conquered so much of it on my own. I am capable of so much more.

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13 comments

  1. You’re amazing. You’re one of the strongest people I know, and I’m so happy to be able to read your writing. You make me feel less alone. 🙂

  2. I’m really glad that there is a “happy” ending to this, that shows us and showed you that within you, you have such great power, to overcome so much. To be able to share your stories with others, to tell others that it is okay, that through effort and persistence you can overcome anxiety. 🙂

  3. Sounds really serious. It could be that you got a panic attack during your mid-term math exam. Did you go see a doctor for a prescription just in case? If you fail the final, it’s not funny.

  4. My very first anxiety attack during my freshman year of college was because I was afraid that my heart would stop beating in the middle of the night. I thought I was the only one. PS I really enjoy your blog!

  5. you’re such an amazing and talented writer!!! I loved this I could really connect in some situations, you inspired me since I started to follow you!

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