My experience with anxiety has been one of extreme emotional ups and downs, but sometimes the most painful experiences in life are the ones that force you to grow and learn about yourself. It began my sophomore year in college. I would experience panic attacks during the oddest times: being called on in class, in line at the checkout counter. My heart would begin to furiously thump in my chest and my face would flush tomato red. I had no idea why this was happening to me, and I felt like there was no way I could control it, rendering me utterly powerless — or so I thought.
The fear was paralyzing. Now I was afraid to go to the supermarket and afraid of being called on. I would purposely avoid situations I thought would trigger my anxiety. This made my world very small, and I felt like everything was closing in on me. It continued to escalate, reaching its apex after I moved to Manhattan in 2008.
Now my fear of what others thought would show itself in the conference room instead of the classroom. My financial well-being and livelihood depended on what my colleagues and bosses thought of me, and the result was sheer terror of being judged by them. What if they disapproved of me? What if I said something stupid? But we can't avoid; we must confront in order to progress.
I suppose what made my anxiety worse was the lack of understanding from others. Because many people never experience this — or at least don't have anxiety manifest in the way mine did — they would look at me so curiously when I would experience a panic attack. Knowing what I know now (that my anxiety was rooted in the concern of what others thought of me) I can see how this would only make matters worse.
I tried going the pill route when I gave Xanax a go. It felt odd, like I was putting a temporary band-aid over the problem but not solving the underlying cause. I only tried it a couple times, before convincing myself I’d rather have panic attacks than be in a zombie-like trance. At least I was feeling something real.
Next, I went to a therapist. She was a lovely woman; very patient and understanding. I went to a few sessions, and to this day I appreciate her honesty. She said I was free to come back, but she thought I was beginning to solve things on my own.
And I was.
I’ve never been one to do things conventionally, and this was no exception. It is one of the best “roads less traveled” I've ever taken. This road was filled with steep inclines to climb, huffing and puffing, but once I reached the top, there was no looking back.
Conquering my anxiety disorder was a slow process that took a few years. It's something I continue to work on, but my quality of life has improved dramatically. It’s sort of like walking across a trampoline: you can walk across and get to the other side without experiencing any significant ups or downs. However, the only way to soar is by jumping in and sinking. It's the moment right after you feel near the bottom that you'll rise higher than you could ever imagine.
Being able to appreciate my experience with anxiety was an unexpected event, but my struggles were a call to action. Anxiety has allowed me to view life with more clarity. It forced me to address issues with how I saw myself and the world around me. If I hadn’t experienced this, I would have been able to ignore it, and I would have let what others thought about me control me for the rest of my life.
This has been a journey to awareness and freedom. So for those of you who are suffering from something similar, suffer no more. You have been given the gift of a big sign that something needs to change — whether it is a career, a relationship, or your outlook on life in general. Once you learn how to conquer this, you'll live like you never have before.
Instead of treating anxiety as a disorder, let’s look at it as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that happens to people who have the advantage of being extra perceptive. It's in this period of healing that we'll free ourselves so one day we can soar.