Anxiety Chronicles is a series from The Lily that examines the journeys different women have with anxiety.
This week, we hear from Ella Gross, a 15-year-old high school student in Raleigh, N.C.
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My anxiety has been around for as long as I can remember, but I was diagnosed in second grade after missing numerous days at school due to stomach aches. I had switched schools that year, which is when it seems almost everything started. I went to therapy for about a year before I stopped going, which was the end of any form of management for my anxiety up until the summer of seventh grade.
During those years I developed depression, the beginnings of an eating disorder and I began self-harming as a way to self-manage my anxiety. I ended up contacting the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline one night because I really didn’t know what to do. I told my mom that same night that I had contacted a hotline because I really thought I might do something I could never undo. After that, I began seeing another therapist and starting medication, which did help, but I ended up relapsing shortly thereafter. This January I was admitted to a psych ward for two weeks and I’ve been in an eating disorder treatment facility since then.
Anxiety manifests itself physically for me in the form of a heavy weight on my chest. I also get stomach aches, have a lot of nervous energy and my skin feels wrong. Often, I’ll rub my chest or tap my fingers. More recently I have been bouncing my legs or scratching excessively. My scratching has led to lots of tiny scars on my arm and I’m currently working on stopping. You can normally tell when I’m anxious because I won’t stop moving and I’ll either be speaking quickly or not talking at all.
Mentally, it’s racing and intrusive thoughts. I’ll be self-conscious in public scenarios, which makes it difficult to function and complete day-to-day tasks. I will nitpick things that I do, finding the flaws. For me, anxiety can be a fear of failure or disappointing others.
It can be crippling and often get to the point where I shut down, become unresponsive and stop talking for hours and occasionally days.
It will often begin with me being unable to get out of bed, and once I do manage to get out of bed, I will either stay in my pajamas or change into another pair of sweatpants. I will completely ignore personal hygiene and not really take care of myself. I won’t speak and will just drag myself through the day. My legs will be constantly moving and I will be tapping the nearest surface with my fingers. That evening I won’t be able to sleep and I’ll spend the entire night pacing my room.
I should probably mention that my go-to coping mechanism for a while — and still sometimes — was self-injurious behavior, which is not healthy and should never be a coping mechanism. I used to cut, and after my stay in the hospital all sharp objects were removed from my possession. Now I scratch but I’m working on alternatives. Some healthy coping mechanisms that I currently use are tapping my fingers, bouncing my leg, using stress balls and doodling. Before, you could often tell when I was stressed because my arm, up to my elbow, would be covered in doodles. Now I just doodle on my hand or in a little notebook I carry around.
I wish people knew that anxiety is so much more than just being scared of public speaking. When I mention I have anxiety, I also feel the need to mention that it was diagnosed by a doctor and confirmed by others because anxiety is one of the mental health disorders that you hear a lot of people say they have and you don’t quite know if they have been diagnosed or they are just saying they have it.
Anxiety can send you down the rabbit hole — it marked the beginning of my depression and eating disorder.
It doesn’t make you weak or less of a person to seek help. And if you think you have any mental health condition, don’t think that it is less of a disorder because it isn’t physical — it is just as important and can also be difficult. As I’ve heard before, self-care isn’t selfish.