"Just breathe." The infamous words from my mother ring loud and clear still, an echo in my mind I will never not hear. Even before "The BIG MELTDOWN" and diagnosis, my mother would say these words to me anytime I was overwhelmed, scared, tired, frustrated, and anything in between. As aggravating as it became, I couldn't be more grateful for learning to breathe.
Being born three months early, my lungs were caved in and I would literally, forget how to breathe. From the stories I've heard, I was proclaimed the Miracle. Each and every time the lights went on, buzzers went off, nurses rushed into the room and lightly shook me, I'd catch my breath as everyone held theirs, and once again, I was brought to life. I should have died, I should have never passed their tests, but with "flying colors," says dad, I did.
When I was little, I never noticed the anxiety, as it came in regular "child-like" forms. Separation anxiety, anxiety about making new friends, worried about homework and spelling bee quizzes, all considered "normal." But one day, in fourth grade science class, learning about how bad smoking is for you, suddenly, I felt it. The rush of adrenaline, the build up in my throat, and I could not breathe. I got up, requesting to go to the nurse, followed by my demand that I go home. Previously I had never been one to argue with the educational professionals, but that day, I was not taking 'no' for an answer.
That's where it all started. From that day forward, I missed weeks of class on end, cried, screamed, and was pulled away from my mom on the days I did go. I started seeing a therapist who thought telling me to, "just breathe and count to ten!" would definitely cure me.
Did she know I used to forget how to breathe? Unlikely.
Multiple visits determined my diagnosis of "extreme separation anxiety" from my parents, and for awhile, that worked. I counted down hours and minutes till I saw my parents everyday, hoping if I believed the therapist's diagnosis, it would go away. But it never did, and no one bothered to listen.
A few years later, my Mom labeled it as "divorce anxiety" when, after my 12th birthday, she took me and our stuff, and moved out of the only house I'd lived in since birth. Once again I wasn't going to school, I was calling in the middle of the day to get picked up, and nothing ever made me happy. After visiting another therapist, this was of course, confirmed, because my Mom did all the talking.
Still, this was not it, I knew it. But I pretended, because it made her feel better, and in some brief moments, it made me feel better too, because this was "normal."
Finally, I got to high school. I thought, "man, this is gonna be great!" As of course, every naive freshman thinks.
In case you were wondering, I was wrong. I had every obstacle thrown at me. Culture shock as I dove into tests and homework that no longer came naturally to me, nobody wanted to be my friend, I was invisible, I was failing for the first time in my life. My elementary school best friends didn't want to talk to me, and my anxiety was coming back full steam ahead. I was alone. Until I found the greatest adult I've ever met.
During my high school career, my homeroom advisor and choir director Mr. Lachance, was my saving grace. It was the start of me learning how to catch my own breath, instead of someone shaking me as a kickstart.
It all happened one day my sophomore year, sitting in theatre class, worrying about anything and everything, per usual, and suddenly I felt it. That same rush of adrenaline, same build in my throat, same stomach churning, and I could not breathe. I got up and excused myself to the guidance office, but upon finding Mrs. R with another student, I started to breakdown. Tears welled in my eyes as I bounced up and down on my tiptoes, waiting for my next move.
I looked down the corridor and saw the auditorium building through the window on the double doors and before I knew it I was already standing in in the doorway of Mr. L's office, crying and hyperventilating. He allowed me to sit in his office during "The BIG MELTDOWN" where I spilled my guts to my teacher and the other guy who happened to be in there at the time. I had completely lost it. I was done pretending I was fine, done pretending that it was "separation" or "divorce anxiety." It was not and I knew it. After crying it all out, and struggling to breathe for what felt like an eternity, really only 20 minutes, my teacher took a deep breathe and said, "You know you can't go home, but you can stay here and freak out."
I smirked and nodded, this being the first time someone else or myself had challenged my anxiety. I stayed for awhile, working on my breathing while Mr. L referred me to a therapist his own daughter had seen, and soon I was on my way. The first time ever I had stayed in school through an anxiety attack.
Following that, I visited my therapist, Wendy-on-Wednesdays, as we liked to call it, once a week for a year, doing different exercises to tackle the real anxiety. Getting to the bottom of it, my fear was of throwing up, and severe general anxiety. Yes, gross, and seemingly stupid. But to me, I was more proud than a parent of myself that day. I could not believe I had finally found someone who listened to me, instead of my parents.
Since then, and all the exercises and techniques Wendy brought to the table, I have learned to challenge my anxiety and stand in it's way when it tries to tear me down. I have learned to laugh at it and be open about it, knowing it is not as uncommon as previously believed. I was more confident, ready to take on the world and bring my anxiety with it.
You see, I'll never completely get rid of it. But honestly, I don't think I would if I could. My experiences, meltdowns and all, have shaped me to be able to become the person I've always wanted to be. Happy, compassionate, able to understand and empathize with just about anything, confident, a good listener, and just, me. At the end of the day, I am grateful for the things anxiety has taught me, and what it still has yet to. It becomes an inspiration for me to keep going, and teach others to do the same. Whatever it is in life you want to do, go after it, full force, head first, and stand up to the obstacles in your way. And if you happen to get lost along the way, take a second, and just breathe.