Anxiety Chronicles is a series from The Lily that examines the journeys different women have with anxiety.
This week, we hear from Dionysianna Alailima, a 33-year-old living in Washington, D.C., and originally from Samoa. She is a single parent who cares for her 11-year-old son and her mother. Alailima works as an IT engineer; her ultimate goal is to become a forensic neuropsychiatrist.
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My anxiousness has been plaguing me since I was a child. I used to tell my mother that I felt like Jell-O on the inside. I have always wanted to fit in but never have. Animals and electronics have been my best friends. I have been to several doctors throughout my life. Their remedy was to put me on an antidepressants, such as Wellbutrin, Paxil and Zoloft. They don’t work. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. The problem is not that I am depressed — it’s that I am always in fear of an anxiety attack, or worse, a panic attack.
Physically, my anxiety manifests as ailments such as hyperhidrosis, headaches and a rapid heartbeat. My throat closes, I feel disoriented, my blood pressure rises and I have stomach pains, the runs and even flare-ups of hidradenitis suppurativa. My immune system fights itself because of the anxiety.
Mentally, the anxiety takes control of my brain and starts causing the physical issues. I ruminate on all of the things that I have said to people or that they have said or done to me — replaying over and over again what I could have done differently. I’m always asking myself, “Did I mess up? Am I a screw-up? Why do I do this to myself? Why can’t you just be normal? It’s all in your head — get out of your head.”
On a day when my anxiety is at its worst, I normally end up in the hospital. In the past, I have literally worried myself sick. I generally have chest pains and trouble breathing during these times.
If I’m at home, I will shut myself in the bedroom, coming out only to make sure my mom and son are fed and cared for. Then, I’ll retreat to my room and jump into my bed; I’ll cry myself to sleep and try to sleep the next few days away so that I don’t feel the pain of the twisted relationship I have with anxiety and panic.
Once the attacks have passed, I feel like a failure because there are many things I neglected during the paralysis of the anxiety.
My go-to coping mechanism is generally trying to get to the beach, which relaxes me. If that isn’t feasible, I write (poems, short stories or plays that explain my battle). Also — I know this is very controversial — I self-medicate. I use medical marijuana, and it actually keeps my anxiety away. But issues arise when I’m unable to medicate because I’m in a professional atmosphere or I’m traveling out of the country.
I wish people wouldn’t perceive me to be crazy or antisocial. I wish people could understand that people who suffer from anxiety don’t choose to. We might look like we are fine and have it all together, but you have no idea the strength it takes to try to control anxiety.
Sometimes people can help just by having empathy and compassion — a simple hug can lessen the severity of symptoms. And if you find us crying, sometimes we need to do that; it doesn’t make us weak. In fact, it makes us stronger. Letting some of the battle scars show helps us heal. Some days can feel like the last day we are going to be alive. Please be patient and kind with us — we are fragile but yet so very strong. The average person who doesn’t suffer from anxiety probably would not last a day in our shoes.
I am strong and will not let anxiety defeat me. Every day we have the courage to fight. Every day is another battle won. We are soldiers of life. This should be celebrated and not looked down upon.