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The First and Last Time I Had an Anxiety Attack

by systemblower1

Warning: This work has been rated 16+.

It was the last day of school at my private middle school, and while I was excited to get home and begin my summer, instead, I was sitting on stage for an end-of-year middle school recital. Because our class was so small, we were all easily able to fit on the tiny auditorium stage, in perfect view of the proud parents. Prior to this moment, I had realized that I get very nervous when tasked to perform on stage. During this recital, however, I was pretty relaxed because I was not showcasing any kind of specific talent while my classmates were.

I was checked out daydreaming about video games as most middle schoolers do, when my consciousness awakened to the sound of two of my classmates singing a duet. They were both girls who, in my hormonal lens during this stage of my life, I was relatively attracted to. They sang a song while playing the ukelele that I remember being quite beautiful, and immediately, I was struck with feelings of admiration for their bravery and attractiveness. I thought nothing of this and was about to resume my daydreaming until I started realizing that I was beginning to blush. I tried even harder to force myself back into my daydream to curb my blushing, but this was as effective as attempting to run on ice. I slipped farther and farther until my entire face was dark red, throbbing with blood. It felt like all the blood in my body was racing up to my head and that if it didn’t stop, I might just end up falling to the ground because my body had no more blood to support my inflated bobblehead-esque head.

The bright hot lights cast directly into my face for all the families to see, as well as the ones of the two girls performing, and I knew that everyone would be able to infer that this reaction was likely due to the ongoing duet. This knowledge only made my blushing intensify. I felt like I wanted to get up and run to the bathroom, but this would have been weird and disrespectful to the girls who were performing. I was stuck and had to sit and endure this hoping nobody would notice. I then noticed my friend beginning to look my way as if he could sense the heat radiating from the blood in my head.

“Hey Alec, are you ok?” My friend said after giving me a quick glimpse.

“Yeah, just a little hot, that’s all,” I said while slightly smiling and holding back a laugh to ease my discomfort. The feeling of everyone's eyes sliced through me like daggers, and I felt trapped. After what seemed like an eternity, I was back to baseline and was not panicked as much anymore. In time, I labeled the event as an awkward pubescent shift in my hormones, but a part of me knew that something about this was abnormal; I wouldn’t find this out until many years later.

I didn’t experience one of these anxiety attacks again until I left the comfort of my sheltered private middle school for a public school with eight times the number of people attending it. My friends at my private middle school were very non-judgemental due to the enclosed environment, so attending public school was a dramatic change. I attempted to navigate my social life within this different environment, but every time I tried, I was tormented by what felt like a momentary descent into hell. Furthermore, I knew that if I had an anxiety attack in front of these new people, I would not have been able to explain it. Instead, they would likely have thought I was just weird, which, at this point, I accepted to be true.

Because of this, I tried to hide my fears and pretend I was normal to the few people I was comfortable talking with, partly because of a mutual enjoyment of video games, which allowed me to talk while shielded behind my screen. Other than this select group of friends, I remained closed off from everyone else and never attempted to explore new social circles, even if I wanted so desperately to. I soon gave up attempting to pursue romantic relationships after, time and time again, I was reminded that it was not possible for me. This allowed me to dissociate from almost everything as I fell into the habit of comfortable avoidance. This sent me into a hole of nothingness, which I tried to curb with drugs that only caused me to stray further from reality until I was completely lost and couldn’t remember who I was. I remember laying in my bed some days, in the room I had grown up in, no longer feeling that childlike sense of hope I had relied so heavily on in my youth. Instead, I accepted that I could never do the things I wanted because my brain wouldn’t allow me. This was the most hopeless I have ever been and looking back, I am so glad that I persevered through this because it truly was unbearable.

I experienced this every day for the next five years, and it only got harder to deal with. I would wake up and have a temporary moment of peace before my brain resumed its normal habitual state of incessantly worrying. I lived for the brief moments of clarity I was rarely offered and had faith that one day, things would change. That my suffering would have some type of meaning or lesson attached to it and that the sheer magnitude of my suffering would be replaced with a magnitude of peace and abundance. This moment never came naturally, no matter what I tried. I attempted to drown my brain out with spiritual mantras, breathing exercises, bible verses, and a defensive sense of humor, but none worked. They only made it worse. As the years went by, I became more and more resentful of my existence. I wasn’t angry, just frustrated that I couldn’t live and grow during a time when it mattered most. After four years of this, I had entirely given up on battling my anxiety and instead chose to let it consume me.

When faced with an anxiety attack, instead of being terrified that everyone could see my fear, I would just wait it out and assume the same role as all the people witnessing my anxiety attack because I, my conscious self who witnessed my irrational and uncontrollable fear response, was no different from the people around me watching. I didn’t do anything to induce these anxiety attacks; they would just happen out of nowhere. All I could do was watch myself go through them and wait until it was over. This made me grow very detached from myself and my feelings, but I didn’t see how I could exist any other way. This separation from my conscious self and my unconscious and irrational self grew farther and farther apart until I had disassociated from everything. I felt as if my conscious self was slowly freefalling down a hole of oblivion, staring up at the increasingly dimming light that was my life. I learned to find peace within this hole and gave up on trying to coherently piece together my life. This state was simultaneously terrifying yet calm since I knew that I was giving up on my life, but it also felt nice to admit defeat and give up this uphill battle that seemed to only get steeper as time went on. I was able to reside peacefully in this hole, glimpsing up at my life as if it were an amusing dark comedy, until one day when I was catapulted back into the bright light of reality.

During the summer after everyone's first year of college, a party was organized for my grade from the private middle school I went to. I had been hoping to get together and catch up with this group of friends for a while since after I left their school, I avoided contact with most of them since I had become very different from the anxiety-free person they once knew. I decided with a false sense of hope that I would go anyway, but as the days counted down, I found my anxiety about the event increasing more and more. It had been so long since they last saw me, and I was not proud of the person I had become due to how my anxiety had affected me.

In this way, my fear was about much more than just seeing my friends, it meant accepting my anxiety and how it had changed me throughout the years, which I was apprehensive of confronting since the false narrative I told myself about my anxiety was that I should get over myself and stop being a coward. I knew that I would not be able to put on a mask at this party since my anxiety could not be controlled, so I eventually accepted that this event would go the same way every other social event I had such apprehensions about in the past went. No matter how strongly I believed all my anxieties would disappear once I got there, it never happened. Instead, they heightened, and my sense of hope for such events was slowly and progressively whittled away as each time, it was proven to be based on a false and comforting delusion that maybe this time would be different. It was never different.

After delaying my mental confrontation of this event by telling my friends that I was going, I decided I wasn’t going to go. Instead I went to my other friend’s place which I enjoyed because of the mass quantities of weed and interesting clothes I could use to busy my mind into not feeling guilty for avoiding the event.

I had just taken a rip from my friend's futuristic dab rig when I looked at my phone to see phone calls from one of my friends at the party. I exhaled, coughed, and then cleared my throat and mind in order to brace for the coming conversation.

“Yo, what’s up man,” I said in order to act like I was oblivious to why he might be calling.

“Hey! Where are you?”

“I’m just in my room, I just got over COVID so I don’t want to risk infecting any of y’all,” I said this just how I had rehearsed it in my head hours earlier.

“You know COVID is only symptomatic when you have it. None of us would mind if you came with a mask on.”

This sentence of reason stumped my brain and caused my heart to sink. I had not intended for my friend to care about seeing me.

“I know, I just wanted to be safe, I’ll see you sometime soon bro, I promise,” after I said this, my heart sank as I knew how deceiving and disgusting I was being.

“Oh c’mon! Every time we try and schedule something with you, you always back out of it! How are we supposed to see you!?”

After my friend said this, something flipped in my brain, and I no longer felt like maintaining my excuse to hide my anxiety. I couldn’t just explain to my friend my situation regarding my anxiety, however, as I had not yet been diagnosed and didn’t even fully understand I had an illness. While wide-eyed, I reluctantly and shakily said,

“Don’t worry, I’m available next week! We can do something then!” I said this while unaware I would be emotionally incapacitated for the next couple of weeks due to how traumatic and life-changing this moment was for me.

I walked back to my friend's desk to sit next to him, and while I could maintain somewhat of a conversation with him, my mind was elsewhere. Normally, I had been able to disassociate from occurrences such as this and talk myself down from getting so worked up about it, but something about this time was different. I felt like the floor beneath me had dropped, and I was falling down a spiral metal staircase winding to hell, where I felt I belonged. I chilled out and got lost in another mindless conversation until I got a Facetime from the only friend I had kept in touch with since leaving that school. When I saw the screen, a big part of me wanted to answer as I would never think to hang up on such a close friend, but I couldn’t because she would see that I was not sick in my room, and instead, I was baked playing video games with another friend. This resulted in the levee of my mental dam which held back five years of frustration and pain, to burst releasing a tsunami of emotions that carried me for miles.

This interaction made my anxiety and how it had begun to affect me so real and undeniable that it was no longer able to be distracted from. It became so apparent to me that my anxiety and how I had handled it needed to be addressed. It had taken so much from me, and I didn’t want to lose anything else. This realization manifested itself in a complete emotional breakdown I kept to myself till the next day. I decided to go to the one person I was comfortable exposing my vulnerability with: my mom.

“Hey mom, can we talk in your room for a second?” I said while maintaining the last bit of composure I could muster. We walked into her room and I naturally assumed the position of sitting on the floor and hanging my head between my knees as I sobbed. She sat down with me assuming the same position and looking directly into my damaged soul. I told her all about what I had done and how bad it made me feel. I told her that I didn’t know what to do next and that this anxiety had affected me very deeply for many years, and I didn’t see how I could continue living my life the same way I had lived before. I don’t remember much of what I said exactly, but I remember expressing my frustration for never being able to get peace from my anxiety no matter what I did. I remember her crying with me as I told her this.

She told me that everything would be okay and that she would schedule an urgent appointment with my therapist. This comforted me slightly but not entirely. Years worth of built up frustration was now released, and the emotional pain I felt was unrelenting and suffocated any attempt to distract from it. Goosebumps physically gripped my body with such an intensity that I found it hard to breathe, and a lump in my throat made it impossible to talk without choking. I cried endlessly for an entire day, which caused the blood vessels in my eyelids to burst and swell for the next week.

I went about the next couple of days dazed by my rude awakening. I was hopeful that my meeting with my therapist would help, but a big part of me believed that it wasn’t going to. I had gotten my hopes up in the past, believing that a certain practice or action would relieve my anxiety, and it never did, so I chose not to get my hopes up, only to be thrown back into the abyss. I still was under the impression that I didn’t have any mental illness, and I believed that my therapist would tell me that I was crazy and should stop making excuses. It was now time to talk with him, and I braced myself for the worst while entering his office. I could barely greet my therapist without choking up and beginning to break down in front of him. I explained to him through my struggles to breathe that I had avoided my friends and felt terrible about it. He immediately pulled out his Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders and began reading the section pertaining to the diagnostic requirements for social anxiety disorder.

“Marked fear or anxiety about one or more social situations in which the individual is exposed to possible scrutiny by others. The social situations are avoided or endured with intense fear or anxiety. The fear or anxiety is out of proportion to the actual threat posed by the social situation and to the sociocultural context. The fear, anxiety, or avoidance is persistent, typically lasting for 6 months or more. The fear, anxiety, or avoidance causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning. Blushing is a hallmark physical response of social anxiety disorder.”

As he said each of these sentences I nodded my head as I felt a weight lifted off my shoulders. After he told me this, I felt the need to bring my mom into the office to experience this relief with me.

“So, Alec has one of the most severe social anxiety disorders I’ve seen, and we’ll have to schedule him to meet with a consultant immediately as it is known to be absolutely torturous,” my therapist said as my mom listened with a vital intensity.

I walked out of his office feeling like I was on a completely different planet from the one I had walked into the office on. I felt like I was finally validated for my suffering and that I wasn’t terrible for avoiding my friends and had a valid reason for my actions. My therapist explained that I likely have many false narratives about myself, which are a symptom of social anxiety. After he said this fact, something flipped in my brain. It felt like I had parted from a demonic presence that had cursed me for so long, and self-love began to prevail in its absence. I found great pride in my conscious self for persevering through my anxiety to reach this moment, and for the first time in a long time, I felt like I was enough. I felt like I had done all I could have, instead of believing that I wasn’t doing enough and should be able to handle my anxiety alone. This was the first time in a long time that I began to love myself.

My mom and I got into the car and began driving to get something to eat.

“I’m so proud of you! This is a huge step,” she said while navigating the busy highway.

“Yes, I know. I feel like I can finally live for myself,” I said, knowing that only I would completely understand exactly what I meant by this.

This sense of integrity and pride for my inner conscious self, which was now freed from the enslavement of my illness, only grew in the coming weeks. I no longer cared about what anybody thought because I now understood that the experiences I had been through to shape me into who I am today could not be denied. If I felt like people were judging me for whatever reason, I would remind myself that it’s not my problem if someone doesn’t understand me and that only I could choose to make it one, so why would I? I found integrity in who I had become and decided that no one would be able to waver this because, to do that, they would subsequently have to devalue the experiences I had gone through. This could not be done because these experiences were too painful to be ignored and had left an imprint on me that would never be taken away from me.

This realization was bittersweet, however, because I now understood everything that had happened in the past with a new, slightly regretful tone. I looked back on every failed relationship, romantic and platonic, every desperate attempt to curb my anxiety that seemed never to work, every time I told myself that my anxiety was selfish, every time I gave up on trying to live the life I wanted, and now understood all of it was due to my illness. The battle I was fighting was an uphill battle, and I was oblivious that I would never have been able to win, no matter how hard I tried. This was until I accepted that this battle was impossible to win, and I could not do it without reaching out for help and acknowledging my struggles.

This is the message I would like to stress and urge everyone reading to understand: Never suffer in silence. Never curb yourself from seeking help when you feel hopeless because it may make you seem weak. It is weak to deny your feelings and pretend like you aren’t human and rather some emotionless robot that doesn’t feel pain, but it takes strength to acknowledge your insecurity as a human and realize that you cannot be this emotionless robot. You should accept the awareness of your circumstances, even if they are unfair, as a blessing because without being aware of them, you would not be able to address and orient yourself around them. Consider a tree that is obstructed from reaching the sunlight. It doesn’t sit there and accept that it will never be able to reach the sunlight because of this obstacle; rather, it naturally grows around it to reach the sun. You must accept that your life, as you will experience it, will be filled with pain and suffering. That is just the nature of living. But it doesn’t have to be a bad thing. It is merely just a reality. You can either decide to face this reality with acceptance, or you can attempt to live in denial of it, which is impossible since reality is all there is. You will never be able to control anything in this world other than yourself. And thank god for that.

After admitting this, I began medication that substantially improved my life. The clarity and peace I had hoped so dearly to return to me while in my anxious state finally returned, and I am so glad I had the faith to make it here. I hope I can inspire others who go through the same to reach out and acknowledge their suffering because if you don’t, you may never reach the other side. There is always faith and hope present within any given circumstance, and I encourage everyone to implement this faith into their lives, no matter how hard things might be. 

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7 Reviews

Points: 31
Reviews: 7

Stickied -- Sat Nov 11, 2023 8:02 pm
RoseBalor wrote a review...

I would first like to say that I’m so grateful to have found this today. I’m what you said, a silent sufferer. It’s kind of hard to express to others what the feelings and emotions anxiety can bring and I think you said it extremely well. It is very easy to deny what is happening rather than getting help. Asking for help can be difficult and scary but in the end it will only make you stronger. Like you said, just keep faith.

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13 Reviews

Points: 146
Reviews: 13

Sat Nov 18, 2023 5:30 pm
WordWeaver1357 wrote a review...

Wow. Just...wow.
First of all, I'm so sorry you had to go through all of that. You are very brave for having the courage to battle it- and silently, no less.
It's described so perfectly that the constant anxiousness was almost palpable for me. I can only imagine what it would be like to impulsively avoid social interactions and grapple with the constant suffering.

I also loved how supportive your mom was in this- I'm glad you had her by your side during this time.

This was so raw and full of emotion, and it must have been SO hard going through this.
My heart goes out to all those who are dealing with any form of suffering in their lives.

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Points: 238
Reviews: 4

Sat Nov 11, 2023 3:13 pm
ImrannChowdhury wrote a review...

Wow, I really felt for the person who wrote this story. You can tell they went through some really tough times battling anxiety. I give them props for being so open about it all, even the parts where they avoided friends or lied about being sick. That couldn't have been easy to share.

I think we've all been there at some point, feeling too awkward or anxious to show up to something. So I didn't judge them too harshly for it. It sounds like the anxiety was crippling at times. I liked how they used metaphors to describe what it felt like, with the blushing and feeling trapped on stage. It really made me empathize.

The ending gave me hope when they finally got help and meds and realized they had to be kinder to themselves. Their message about having faith things can improve felt inspiring. I do wish we got to hear more about what happened after, how they rebuilt broken relationships and stuff. But overall, mad respect for putting it all out there!

I know it's not easy battling something like anxiety. This story made me appreciate how hard it can be. I think anyone who struggles with feeling awkward or isolated at times can learn something from reading their journey. We all deserve to give ourselves a break. So thanks to the writer for the reminder and for sharing their personal experience so honestly!

We wandered the halls of an infinite magic nursing home, led by a hippo nurse with a torch. Really, just an ordinary night for the Kanes.
— Rick Riordan, The Throne of Fire