“I am not my panic disorder”

I always did everything, until I couldn’t. At a young age, I was enrolled in advanced classes in school, took part of almost every sports team my town’s park district had to offer and participated in dance lessons, religious education classes and the school band and choir. I was always keeping busy with something. I’m an only child, so I didn’t have any siblings to keep me company, and it was only until 2003 that my parents had finally gotten me a dog after countless Christmases of asking.

In high school, I took all honors courses, was the editor-in-chief of the yearbook, played trumpet as first chair in the symphonic band (along with the jazz band), balanced three sports and managed to get good grades. I was constantly being praised by my fellow peers with words like “you’re perfect!” or “how are you so good at everything?” The more I kept trying to make myself live up to the standards of others, the more I overstepped my bounds.

I went to school before classes started for this club, and stayed after school for that sport. I didn’t get much sleep because I stayed up late doing homework and woke up early for some rehearsal. To add to that, I never ate well because I was rushing from one activity to another without a break in between. But I didn’t care, I was doing everything. I got respect from my teachers, props from my friends and made my parents proud.

When I began to struggle with my exhaustion or hunger pangs, I just brushed it off until one day it caught up to me. I was constantly having panic attacks, almost on the daily, to the point where I didn’t even want to go out. I didn’t want to do anything, see anyone, I didn’t care anymore. I was angry with myself—frustrated with my failure, embarrassed at my weakness. What would my peers say if I had a panic attack at school, or if I dropped a few activities out of the blue? Hell, I didn’t even want to talk to anyone because it made me anxious. I just stayed home, dreading my next panic attack.

After my anxiety began affecting my schooling, my mom told me I needed to see someone. I reassured her that it would pass and that I’d be fine. I missed school because my anxiety made me feel sick, and the days that I did go to school I had to step out of class because I thought I was going to have a panic attack, but I brushed it off as having to go to the bathroom. It didn’t go away, it wasn’t going away, and I was scared that it would never go away and I’d end up going crazy. I was the one that decided that I needed help because I couldn’t do this on my own.

I did everything, but I couldn’t do this, at least not alone. I went to a psychologist and she helped me by being there to listen. I went to a psychiatrist and he gave me some medication to ease my symptoms. The first few weeks were rough—I felt like everything was getting worse, like the sad people with the rain cloud over their head in the depression commercials on TV. But with me, the cloud felt like it was getting bigger and bigger. Lucky for me, I had a support system of my parents, family and close friends to talk to when I was feeling unwell.

Eventually things got better, though every once and I while I still struggle with the symptoms of anxiety and depression every now and again, but I know I have the resources I need to feel better. I know that I can take a step back from everything and don’t need to take six classes, hold several executive positions for clubs on top of an internship to feel important or worthy. Even if I tried, I know I couldn’t do it—I can’t do everything, I’m not perfect, but I’m happy and healthy and that’s all that matters.