I'm Not Dying...
10 Things I Wish I Knew As A Kid With Anxiety
Just An Anxious Kid
When I was in 5th grade, I had my first major panic attack. It was around the time I'd be going to bed, and I was just sitting in my room. The heart palpitations came first. Next was the shortness of breath, followed by lightheadedness. Shortly after came the internal shutdown. My stomach dropped. My entire body went numb. I couldn't feel a single thing. Finally, there was a massive burst of adrenaline. The fight or flight kicked in. I sprung out of bed and did a few laps around the house. This continued until my mom finally found me and calmed me down. I remember wanting to get up and move so I could bring some feeling back to my body. Anything just to keep myself alive. I seriously thought I was going to have a heart attack and die. This was a fear I've never felt before. It was the first time I remember completely losing control of my body.
I know now that everything I felt was the result of a panic attack caused by a developing mental illness. But at the time, I was a scared kid who felt like it was the end of the world. I think everyone who developed a mental illness during childhood was in the same boat as me at one point or another. It's just really scary, and hard to know exactly what the problem is. I didn't know what a panic attack was until I was 14, or that anxiety disorders were even a thing. It was life changing to finally realize that was the root of a lot of my problems going all the way back to early childhood.
Here is a list of 10 things I wish I knew about my anxiety when I was younger:
1. There Is Nothing Physically Wrong With Me
Everything I experienced was 100 percent mental. If I went to a doctor and explained my symptoms and got all the tests, they would find no physical illness to blame it on. However, anxiety can have a physical impact on the body, such as heart palpitations, shortness of breath and nausea. These will become warning signs for future attacks.
2. If I Was Really Having A Heart Attack, I'd Be In More Pain
This was my "2007 panic attack mantra", if you will. I kept repeating this phrase over and over until I would eventually calm down. The numbness I felt in my left shoulder was not because of a heart attack. It was just pins and needles, and would eventually pass. A real heart attack comes with a lot more pain, which I did not feel in any way, shape, or form.
3. The Voices In My Head Are Annoying Intrusive Thoughts
I'd say that's probably one of the scariest symptoms of an anxiety disorder as a child. Maybe even scarier than the actual panic attacks. I know that's how it was for me. They'd come out of nowhere while I was minding my own business. Then all of a sudden, I'd see and hear really disturbing things in my head. That only led to more panic. If only I knew trying not to think about them would just make it worse. But they'll eventually pass and I can move on with my day.
4. There's Not Always An Obvious Trigger
Panic attacks, much like intrusive thoughts, can sometimes come out of nowhere. I may never be able to figure out what exactly caused them. To this day, I still can't pinpoint exactly what caused triggered that first attack. But that's okay. Sometimes going back and figuring out the trigger is exhausting, and just not worth it. It's normal to wonder what went wrong, but it shouldn't be thought about too much.
5. It's Okay to Not Be Okay
A common, cliche mantra I didn't learn until many years later. Everything I feel is valid, and I am not alone. There are plenty of other kids out there going through the same thing as me. It's really scary right now, but this too shall pass.
6. Being Tired Is Normal
It takes a lot of strength and energy to make it through something like a major panic attack. Anxiety is tiring. Anxiety is draining. I am fighting a war inside my head every second of everyday. It's okay to feel totally exhausted after. It's also okay to cry. The emotions are finally being released. That's how I know it's over.
7. I Am In Control
No matter what, no matter how bad it gets, I am bigger than my thoughts. It may not feel like it sometimes, but I can take control back. Slip ups are also totally normal and mental illness is not a linear recovery.
8. It's A Stressful Time
When I had that first attack, my environment was rather stressful. I was finishing up elementary school and going to start middle school in a new district with all new people. There was a lot going on, and I had every right to be stressed. I was pushed beyond my breaking point, and lost control. But it all ended up being alright.
9. Fake It 'Til You Make It
This common mantra pretty much got me through the second half of 5th grade. I found myself feeling one way when I thought I was supposed to be feeling another. I was happy when I should have felt sad, which led to a lot of fake crying (I still don't know how I did it). I was excited when I should have been nervous or scared. I was beyond ecstatic about my first day of middle school, but acted like I was terrified. All that pretending and faking got really overwhelming after a while. I feel emotions differently, and often more deeply than others. But they weren't always appropriate for the given situation.
10. I'm Not Dying
The most important thing I wish I learned. I am not dying. I am alive. My body is trying to keep it that way. Everything is going to be fine. I am more than my illness. I am strong. I am a warrior. I am a survivor. Anxiety is tough, but I'm tougher.
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