I have been debating writing this because when talking about my inner healing, it is bound to spur up some drama. Mainly with my family as some it concerns them, but hey... They raised a writer. Throughout my life, I have suffered from anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts. I had conquered my depression, and I wrote about that healing journey extensively in my older blog. However, now it's time to dive into my anxiety. As some of you may already know, my chronic anxiety is a result of not just one, but several incidences in my life that piled on top of each other starting from a very young age. I grew up being told to "suck it up." A lot of us did, and that's not my parents' fault because they too were told similar things. Our society never paid much attention to mental illness, and it wasn't until recent years that I realized I had PTSD and agoraphobia. Mental illness isn't something that you can "suck up." Or rather I should say you SHOULDN'T because when you don't heal your traumas, they'll spill out in unsuspecting ways. Maybe you are more prone to anger, maybe you'll snap at someone some days, maybe there is someone you don't like and you can't put your finger on why, or maybe some things drive you to feel utterly hopeless. I find that in most cases these are symptoms of deep-rooted issues yet to be realized. As a result of realizing this, whenever someone insults me, all I see is their pain now. It's spilling out in their words and actions, so I ignore them. I don't respond. When you don't deal with yourself, you force others to, and I refuse to be the brunt of your inner pain. But enough of that, we're here for me. Or at least you, the reader, is. For a couple of years, I have been asking for help with my anxiety. I never went to a therapist for my depression because I dealt with it on my own with "self-therapy" as I called it. I figured dealing with my anxiety would be the same. However, after battling for 2 years trying to overcome this lifelong disease, I soon realized I couldn't do it on my own. What triggered outside help was when February of this year, I had an agoraphobic attack at work.
It started off as any other day as a substitute teacher. I went to cover for a teacher at a high school I had been to many times before. I was somewhat used to the surroundings there, but something was different. I was different. I had recently turned twenty-six, and it was my first job since my birthday. I had been struggling with my anxiety of becoming a full-fledge adult without any lasting dependance on my parents. The last thing they helped me with was health insurance, and now it was my responsibility to pay those bills. It was a harsh reality to realize that your monthly bill didn't even cover everything. You still had copays and other out-of-pocket expenses. It made me frightened to become ill or to even leave the house in case I got injured. How would I pay the bill on top of the already health insurance payment? it was like an never-ending money hole.
I also recently got a car, which I desperately needed. I paid for it in full because I refused to have another car loan. However, as many of you know, having a car is so much more than just owning a car. You have to worry about money for gas, maintenance, registration fees every year, car insurance, etc. I had student loan debt on top of credit card debit (to pay my bills) on top of more bills. I was at a point where I felt hopeless. What was the point of life if all you ever did was struggle to survive? Most people work a job they hate just to make ends-meet and then they die. You're a slave until your last dying breath to money. What was the point of that life? I worked 4 jobs and still lived paycheck-to-paycheck. What kind of cruel world is this place? I don't want to play that game. So there I was at a job I hated, and the angry grumblings in my stomach started. Everyone responds to panic attacks differently. Some feel like they're having a heart attack while others feel like they can't breathe. I get irritable bowels (Gross, I know). I was in and out of the bathroom all morning. I wanted to suck it up as my mother always told me, but I caved in left before the first bell even rang. I went home defeated. I told myself it was an isolated incident. I even convinced myself it was the stomach flu, but the second I walked into my house and my stomach pain began to subside, I knew what it was. I felt like a weak-minded fool who couldn't even fight past some stomach pains for work. Clearly, I needed the paycheck. Poor people didn't have the luxury to miss a day of work. I ran to my boyfriend in tears beating myself up for being so weak. He is the most kind and compassionate man I had ever met, and despite him not fully understanding what I was going through, he was there to comfort me. He had never witnessed this side of my anxiety before because the last time I had an agoraphobic attack, we didn't know one another. I took that day off as a mental health day and returned to work the following Monday. It was only a 2-3 hour shift at a elementary school, so I figured I could handle it. Once there, the stomach cramps crept in like a menacing monster wrecking havoc on my intestines. I lied and told the staff I was pregnant, and as a result, needed to use the restroom a lot. I figured they'd be more understanding of a pregnant woman needing constant bathroom breaks than some girl who gets the shits when she's nervous. Every so often someone would come in to check on me in the classroom and see if I needed to use the bathroom, which that made my anxiety subside exponentially.
So I found a solution: unlimited bathroom access was a must. However, that's difficult to do as a teacher when, by law, a teacher has to be in the classroom at all times during hour long or more sessions. No other school was going to do what that elementary school did for me. That school must've been having a good day, and they had the extra hands to spare to cover for me whenever I needed it. Usually, I got the bare minimum of help with students at most schools. Students do not and will not respect subs. It's just a fact, so we need extra back-up. We hardly get it, though. I was brave enough to try another half day, but this time, no help was there. Not one. I called and called for help so I could go to the bathroom, but nobody came. That is very typical. During recess, I ran to the bathroom to stuff my underwear full of toilet paper just in case there was an accident. My intestines were in ruins. I was in excruciating pain, and it got so bad the nausea kicked in. I could barely teach let alone speak, so I did the bare minimum. The kids got lots of free time that day.
After that day, I bought adult diapers to wear. Pretty fucking sad, right? I know, but I needed an out just in case I couldn't get to a bathroom in time. A couple of weeks went by, and I took up doing yoga hoping it'd help me. I did meditations every morning to see if that'd help. I practiced breathing exercises for when the anxiety would inevitably set in. I stopped drinking coffee and other caffeine-filled products.
Then the morning came to cover for my sister's classroom. I got up early to do yoga and some light exercising after having been told that helps with anxiety. I did some meditating, and I put on my diapers like a damn adult. But when it came time to leave out that door, the same bubbling made my intestines ache. It always started out slow, but then it'd get progressively worse. I began my breathing exercises, but it only made me hyper aware of how fast my heart was beating. That was when the feeling of hot lava filling up my abdomen made me double over in pain. I knew what was coming, and all I did was stare at the front door prepared to leave. I ran to the bathroom.
I figured I'd be okay. Maybe I just needed to use the restroom this once, but every time I tried to leave out that door, my stomach twisted and churned. The dire need to relieve myself was too strong for me to handle. "Suck it up," I told myself. "Suck it up." I couldn't fail my sister. She needed me there to cover for her. A random teacher I didn't know was fine, but this was my family.
Sitting in my car, my whole body was shaking uncontrollably. My teeth chattered, and the cold sweats kicked in. I couldn't move. I couldn't breathe. My skin felt heavy, and my body sunk into the driver's seat. There was no sound but the rapid pulsing in my ears. There was no way I could teach today. I couldn't even drive. For several minutes, I sat in my car trying to will myself back into the house. I nearly called my boyfriend to help me in, but I refused to be that lame. Come on, Heather. You can get yourself inside. Stop being a lame ass bitch because that's what you are. That's when the self-hatred tumbled into my thoughts. It came crashing through my head like angry waves during a storm.
You're a loser.
You're just lazy.
My legs were jello as I wobbled back into the house and into the bathroom. The first person I called was my mother hoping she'd have some type of last minute solution so I could get to work. The tears rolled in, but I fought them back. The sound of my mother's voice made the sobs break out any way. "I can't do this, mom," I cried. "I can't leave the bathroom. I can't even leave my house."
Instead of a quick solution like I was hoping, my mother said, "You need to get help." I knew she was right, but I wanted to try so damn hard without it because I knew all they'd want to do was shove pills down my throat. That would just be a band-aid over the real issue. What that was, I had no idea. Calling my sister was the most gut-wrenching of all. I failed her. I was a disappointment, and despite her kind words and understanding, I still kicked myself for being such a lame piece of shit who couldn't even leave the damn house.
The incident pushed me to seek out a therapist. I expressed my want to not be put on medication, and they listened. Instead of a psychiatrist, they referred me to a behavioral therapist. I'll fast forward to my visit with her. She was kind and sweet. Her energy felt gentle and non-evasive, which soothed me. She wanted to know how I'd been feeling, and I walked her through the chain of events. She found it interesting that I'd had this issue twice before, and asked me what triggered it this time. I told her, "I don't know. It was a slow build up that's for sure. I'd say it was becoming an adult, but that isn't the complete answer. I've always had anxiety, and things just kept piling up. The final trigger was turning twenty-six and the reality of living in this kind of world settling in. A world where there is no guaranteed stability. You have no control. You are stuck in survival mode until the day you die. That set me over the edge."
She gave a soft smile and sat back in her chair. "I face a lot of twenty-something-year-olds. Especially around twenty-five who face the same challenges you are. You are not alone."
Is that supposed to make me feel better?
She continued. "Have you ever heard of a quarter-life crisis?"
I shook my head. "No."
"It's something new we are seeing in people around your age. It's all the same logic of thinking and goings-on of a mid-life crisis, but you are having it in your twenties instead."
I smirked. "So I'm getting the mid-life crisis part of my life over with sooner?" I added dryly, "Does this mean I'll die young?"
She cocked her head to the side. "Do you want to die young?"
What's the point in lying? "Yes."
Her eyebrows creased ever so slightly. "Why?"
"Living longer means more pain. Your body slowly breaks down, so more medical costs. You have to worry about saving up for retirement if you even can. If you can't, you have to work until you die. What's the point of being old? It's just harder."
Her pleasant smile faltered a bit. Her eyes strained ever so slightly in concern, but she quickly composed herself. A little too late, I might add. "I see. Do you want to hurt yourself right now?"
I nearly rolled my eyes. "No." At least not right now.
This seemed to help her relax, and the strain around her eyes ceased. "We'll dive into that next time."
I left that therapy session somewhat disappointed. I knew I wouldn't be magically cured in one appointment, but I wasn't feeling any better in the slightest. She threw some theory at me called a "quarter-life crisis." And so what? That didn't answer for why I had these agoraphobic attacks before in my life or why I suffer from chronic anxiety. I wanted to get to the root of my cause. The root of why I was the way I was. We were barely scraping the surface, and I knew deep in my heart this was so much more than some premature mid-life crisis.