Anxiety Chronicles is a series from The Lily that examines the journeys different women have with anxiety.
This week, we hear from Deirdre M. Sennott, a French teacher who lives in Portland, Ore.
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When I was in elementary school, I got stomach aches. At least, that’s how I described it. When my stomach hurt, I would tell my teacher, and she would send me to the nurse. I went to the nurse so often that teachers did not always believe me, but luckily, my mother sometimes volunteered as the school nurse, and she believed me. I later learned that the stomach aches were a manifestation of my anxiety.
It wasn’t until I was in my late 20s that I began telling people that I suffered from panic attacks and general anxiety. At that point, I finally had enough therapy to become more comfortable with talking about myself.
The worst part of anxiety for me physically is the feeling I get when I’m in a relatively silent and crowded space — places such as cinemas, theaters, classroom lectures and quiet parties. Think of how you feel when you are riding some sort of roller coaster, but imagine feeling like that while you’re sitting in a chair in a quiet room trying to take a test and remember literature or math. Basically a lot of high school and college classes were pure hell for me in the traditional format of lectures. I had to study a lot more than anyone else to even have a shot at not failing exams because I never knew when my body and mind would shut down from panic.
It’s made everything in my life harder. It’s determined my choices. It’s made me exhausted. At times, I lost all hope of living a normal life. I concealed this secret part of my life as much as possible, lying to the people around me, in the hopes of maybe making it through. When I felt the most hopeless, I even considered running away or killing myself, though I never made any real attempt.
Anxiety has also had a large effect on all of my relationships. It’s made intimacy difficult because I often felt most anxious with someone I had feelings for.
My stomach will cramp and I’ll have a panic attack. I won’t be able to do anything but try to calm myself. Afterward, I will be exhausted and depressed, sad that my body has failed me again.
It was through therapy that I was able to also try out medications that might help prevent my panic attacks, but many of the medications left me very sleepy. However, that is a small price to pay for being able to sit in a classroom and take a test. The first time I took medication for anxiety, I scored much higher than ever before, and everything felt so easy. It wasn’t until very recently that I was prescribed beta blockers, which have been a total game changer. I try very hard not to think about how different my life would have been been had I been able to treat my anxiety with medication much earlier, but since time travel is not yet an option, I am very content.
I wish that the lucky people who do not have anxiety realized one thing — people who are anxious are not anxious all the time. We actually have quite full lives. And our anxiety is not our identity. We experience a complex set of reactions to different spaces and situations, but I don’t think we have scratched the surface of why this happens. Maybe if people held less judgment, there would be less anxiety.