“I am not my panic disorder”

I heard the click… click of the handcuffs as she locked them around my wrists and the wooden dining chair I was pushed onto. The smell of her cigarette breath stuck under my nose, carrying her irate words—”useless,” “stupid,” “why did I have children”—down into my throat, choking me along with my sobs. I did not understand then why my mother always seemed to be naked and swearing; grotesque breasts swinging above me as she stood back up from bending over. Now I know that her lack of couth was a result of the very thing that caused me to be punished in this way: the purple, sun-and-moon-patterned box. I had knocked it over, and she was under the influence of whatever substance it was that had spilled all over the carpet.

This is an excerpt of an essay I wrote a few years ago. It details a very specific event during which I had said “no” to my mother and accidentally spilled a box of her drugs onto the floor. As a result, I had been handcuffed to a chair with my mouth taped shut for hours as a “time out”. This event, one which I very rarely share with others, is representative of many things which have formed who I am and the problems I face currently—problems including my panic disorder.

For a large part of my childhood, I was not allowed a voice. I wasn’t able to speak of a need or a want, and especially not any sort of opposition to my mother. Because of this, I was a selective mute for approximately eight years. I rarely spoke to anyone except inside the classroom setting, which was not great for my social skills, but let me prove myself as an exceptional student. Suddenly, I moved in with my father and then my grandmother. Middle school came, high school went, and now I am in my first year at Scripps College.

Scripps has been a blessing, but also a curse. I am so unbelievably thankful to be here, but because of my history of child abuse and my resulting issue with communication, I have crippling writing anxiety, which causes many of my panic attacks. Essays are horrible. I have good ideas and I want to write about my thoughts, but approaching the task is absolutely terrifying. People with panic disorders tend to avoid the things that have given them panic disorders in the past, since they associate those things with pure fear. For me, that’s writing of any and all kinds. My procrastination isn’t just procrastination; it’s avoiding the feeling that my life is literally in danger. For me, it’s survival. And until I can train myself to not view the writing process as a threat to my well-being, I will struggle as a student in traditional academia, and my intelligence will constantly be questioned.