University in eight months: my whole future ahead of me. How can someone who can’t even think about tomorrow without an anxious thought think about an entirely different life eight months from now?
Growing up my life was simple; I always achieved good grades, had a supportive family, a close group of friends and most importantly, I never felt alone. It was in December of grade nine, I was 14 years old, when times started to change. I was hit with a diagnosis of Crohn’s disease, and I had no idea how to react.
My anxiety started shortly after my diagnosis. Crohn’s disease is an inflammatory bowel disease, which in my personal situation causes inflammation in my small intestine. After the diagnosis the anxious thoughts began: What are people going to think about me? This is such an awkward disease, what if people hear my stomach growling? What if I need to go to the bathroom? The thoughts initially began around the fears of my disease and quickly flooded into my entire life. Will someone ever love me like this? Will I be able to become a doctor? Will I be able to go away to university or have to stay home? In the future, when I have kids, will I be able to take care of them when little can I take care of myself? Mental illness is not considered a medical disease. Although, I find my anxiety to be much more disabling than my physical condition ever has been.
The thing about anxiety is it’s the fear of the unknown, the destiny of a situation is completely out of your hands and you never know what can happen and when. Personally, I cannot plan things in advance as the anticipation makes my anxiety worse. I surprisingly need everything to be last minute and spontaneous so I do not allow myself time to get overly anxious about things.
If you ask anyone close to me I am the most loving person; I love loving other people. But how can someone love everyone around them but not themselves? I always looked at my anxiety as a flaw. I felt I needed to explain it to everyone before we got close so they knew “what they were getting themselves into.” I always dumbed it down, said I get anxious easily, and that’s about it. When in reality my stomach cringed at the thought of hanging out with friends, leaving my house, being in a social situation, or thinking about the future. Any thought that popped into my head made my stomach knot.
On June 17th 2015 I had my first panic attack. The feeling of being completely in a state of shock with my body trembling, heart racing, and stomach knotted, caused me to cry relentlessly for hours; the closest I have ever felt to dying. Panic attacks are one of the scariest feelings one can feel, you sense it creeping up on you, and the anticipation of waiting for it to hit is the worst part.
I got my second panic attack in July. I planned an entire camping trip with my best friend. I was anxious about going but never thought I would experience that near death experience again. I woke up at 5:30am the morning of the trip with the same feeling rushing through my body. I recognized the feeling and slipped into a further state of panic knowing I made a commitment to one of my closest friend. I was able to go just for the day. Wanting to throw up at every inch I turned my head for the hour and a half drive there. I sat in a state of uneasiness for the 12 hours ahead of me. I was not able to stay and camp overnight but pushed myself to make it through that day and explore the grounds. And, as I have found, sometimes it’s the smallest steps that count. Although my friends were always understanding of my anxiety I still felt it necessarily to continuously apologize for what a burden I was on their plans. The immensity of anxiety I feel is way out of proportion to the actual situation, and is often completely unrelated. You might think someone with anxiety is prone to canceling plans, but we don’t do it lightly. Having anxiety and cancelling plans, actually causes more stress than the initial plans because then you have to think of excuses and worry about disappointing your friends. Missing out on social events or simply hanging out with friends is one of the toughest reoccurring decisions I have to make.
Even though I am only 18, I always think about the future, I think its natural for any human to do that. I want to get married, I want to be a doctor, and I want to have kids. I want to have it all and I know it is possible.
My advice for anyone suffering from anxiety, is don’t let the condition define you, you have the power to define it.