I am, and have always been thankful for the life that I was given. Growing up, I was always the shortest but loudest in my class. I had many good friends and strong family values. I went to camp in the summer, and visited my grandparents throughout the year at their homes in Bahamas and Costa Rica. I have a big personality, and have always been a bubbly, happy, outgoing, extremely talkative individual.
The issues I came across in high school were no different than the average teenager. I went to an all girls’ school, where I experienced bullying, self-esteem issues, and was always severely self-critical about my physical appearance. When I was twelve years old, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease. Entering high school, I was on a variety of steroids that made me gain weight in my face. I didn’t look like myself, and eventually I didn’t feel like myself either. With a smile always on my face, I pretended like nothing was wrong. I never wanted to let my physical illness define me, but having surgery within the first three months of a new school, my classmates were well aware that I was sick.
It wasn’t until later on in my high school years that I started recognizing that I was suffering from more than just a physical illness. At night, I would have panic attacks, where I would cry until four in the morning. I drove to the hospital several times, but never went in. I drove around the neighbourhood until I was so tired of crying that I would eventually just fall asleep. At times I would cry over issues I was having with friends, but the majority of the time, I was simply anxious to wake up the next morning and go about my day. There was often no real cause of my anxiety, and the following morning I would apologize in embarrassment for keeping my family up all night. But the next morning, I would go to school exhausted, but still smiling, and would go about my day.
The year after I graduated high school, I was driving home with my dad, where I was told that my great uncle, my Bubby’s brother, was killed in a car accident, by a teenager who had attempted suicide, killing my uncle as a result. Watching my family experience such a loss was devastating. Within ten months, my family experienced five deaths, starting with the loss of my dad’s parents, who passed away eight weeks apart. I was working at camp that summer and from the moment I had arrived I was constantly being treated poorly. The panic attacks persisted. After staff meetings, I often pretended to be asleep, because I didn’t want anyone to see me in that state. Coming home at the end of the summer, I knew that I could not let this continue any further.
That year, I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety. I knew that this was something that I was suffering, but to hear it from a professional made it all the more real. I tried several different psychologists, but none seemed fitting. I found that the best remedy was distraction, so I kept busy with my friends, my family, and my schoolwork.
About a year later, I started my first undergraduate year at Queen’s University. I was ecstatic to be able to have a new beginning, where I could start fresh, make new friends, and study Psychology, which I was (and am) so passionate about. I instantly made new friends, and started going to the gym, where I was looking better, feeling better. These changes were without a doubt helping my anxiety.
That winter break, my Bubby was diagnosed with a severe, aggressive stage of Melanoma. We remained positive and encouraging, though we knew the reality. She fought with pride and dignity, but in May, I stood by her side as she was taken from my family.
My Bubby was the most important, influential individual in my life. There was never a day that passed without speaking to her. Suddenly, I wanted to be alone in my room, rather than going out with friends. Everything and everyone bothered me; I made excuses to not have to go out, lashed out at my family, my friends, and lost a significant amount of weight.
I am constantly being told, “This is your year.” With everything I’ve endured these past few years, I really want to believe that this is true. This year was difficult, but I remained focused in school, made many new friends, and still came home often to visit my family. I became significantly closer with my mom, and my brothers have truly become my best friends. I am maintaining a strong GPA, and got accepted into the exchange program in Israel, where I will be studying half the year next year.
I decided to tell my story not because I seek pity, and not because I sit and feel sorry for myself, but actually the opposite. Today, I am still the same Happy Hannah that I have always been, and I continue to be grateful for my family each and every day. This year, I discovered who was there for me and who was not. Though certain people in my life turned out not to be the truest of friends, those that remain are deeply special to me. I worked on myself, for no one other than myself. One reason that my Bubby was such a role model was her love for life, something that was taken away from her far too early. Life is short. I will never stop being my loud, obnoxious, hardworking, trustworthy, embarrassing, aggressively sarcastic, 5-foot self. I have anxiety, but that by no means defines who I am and what I am capable of; it never did and it never will.