Anxiety Chronicles is a series from The Lily that examines the journeys different women have with anxiety.
This week, we hear from Mia DiLorenzo, a 15-year-old activist from Minnesota. She is currently the Minnesota Climate Strike co-chair.
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I’ve had anxiety for as long as I can remember. I had an official anxiety diagnosis early on — when I was 8 — after I was hospitalized for severe stomach issues that were a direct product of my mental state. Early on in my childhood I knew something was strange; it took me hours to fall asleep and I remember feeling trapped, barely reaching four feet tall while holding in the nervous energy of an over-caffeinated college student. I saw a therapist on and off for a few years after the hospitalization. Nothing seemed to make a quantifiable difference in my life. Breathing techniques and worry lists didn’t serve their purpose. I was even more jittery after listing all the things that were making me anxious. Since then, I haven’t found a cure. I’ve bounced around a number of therapists and tried a plethora of medications, with nothing quite clicking. I’m still trying to figure out how to best play the cards I’ve been dealt — that’s really all I can do.
My physical symptoms cover a broad spectrum of small reactions. There are the stereotypical tics, like leg bouncing and hand tapping. Those were the sole physical reactions for most of my life. Sometimes I had more severe episodes, but they were few and far between. Last year, the minor symptoms morphed into uncontrollable anxiety episodes. I was having full panic attacks weekly and I regularly had to leave school early because I physically couldn’t cope with my anxiety. I’ve developed intense jaw issues due to anxiety; some mornings it takes me 10 minutes to open my mouth because I’ve been holding in so much tension.
I wish there was a way for me to shut my brain off and breathe — but there isn’t. I can’t stop thinking and my mind won’t stop racing; it feels like I’m sprinting towards a nonexistent finish line. Usually, there’s so much of a complete mental overload that I start to feel physically exhausted. Self-destructive paranoia and the constant fear of being disliked takes over my brain and becomes the only thing I can think about. I begin to lose focus and I can no longer achieve the “perfect” standard that I require myself to reach.
I feel impossibly overwhelmed and it takes everything inside of me to simply leave my bed in the morning. I might eat less and sleep more. I won’t be able to function normally and complete the things I need to get done. After high anxiety, major depressive episodes always follow. This can look like a lot of things, but they all include absolute exhaustion and low motivation.
I’ve found that journaling and certain breath techniques are things that have made a small (but measurable) difference in my physical symptoms of anxiety. When I begin to hyperventilate, I can usually control my breathing by holding my breath for about 10 seconds. After that, I’m able to recenter myself and begin distracting myself with other tasks. Journaling has really helped me work on dictating my thoughts and removing them from my mind. When I can’t bring myself to commit to writing, I’ve found that listening to music is an uncomplicated way to take my mind off of anxiety. Taking a break for a few minutes and prioritizing my own health is something that I’m still learning how to do, but I’m trying to bring it into my daily routine.