Anxiety Chronicles is a series from The Lily that examines the journeys different women have with anxiety.
This week, we hear from Olivia Patrick, an artist, scientist, writer and an admirer of life and people, who lives in Portland, Ore.
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I have had anxiety for as long as I can remember. My first memories of feeling this nauseating worry came from thinking my parents were going to leave me behind somewhere, lose me in public or never come home. I would grip my mom’s hand tightly any time we left the house. As I grew older and went through adolescence, my anxiety found different forms to manifest itself, mostly through desiring acceptance from my peers. I constantly needed to be reaffirmed, liked, complimented and looked at, or else I would convince myself something was extremely wrong with me.
My first panic attack happened when I was in eighth grade. I was sitting in class, watching the clock. Ten minutes before the class ended, I started sweating and feeling dizzy, hot and nauseous. Right before the bell rang, I felt as if I were going to faint. This happened every day, during the same class, at the same time, like clockwork. In high school and college, I began to (unknowingly) use alcohol and drugs to mute all of the unease I was experiencing.
Some days, I wake up to find I am clenching my hands in tight fists. That’s usually the sign that my anxiety is heightening and I need to address it. Other times, I’ll notice my shoulders are hunched up to my ears and my back is aching. When I am in a specific moment of feeling paranoid or anxious, I will start sweating. It feels like a wave of heat rushes out of my heart and travels up my head and down to my toes. It becomes hard to breathe and my body feels like it is in fight-or-flight mode (even though there is no threat).
During my typical anxious episodes, I will convince myself I am in immediate danger. I’ll be driving and tell myself my car is going to skid out of control, my tires will fly off, I will die of carbon dioxide leakage or that my car will break down and I am going to be either murdered by another person or killed by an animal. When I am walking in public and see another figure, I will tell myself they are there to murder or attack me. Every time I go into a movie theater, I convince myself someone is going to come in during the movie and shoot the place up.
On my worst days, I won’t even respond to people. No matter what I am doing, I am afraid I am going to die. Whether that be a natural disaster coming to rip me to shreds, a psychopathic murderer targeting me or my body abruptly failing me, I cannot escape the thoughts and images of something gruesome happening to me. The feelings of paranoia and being afraid completely drain me. My brain feels like it is a giant, heavy ball of mush and it’s trying so hard to perform its basic functions.
I alternate between giving myself a physical break by sleeping, reading and isolating myself, and getting outside to get some fresh air into my lungs. I’ve always found the act of walking to be extremely therapeutic for me. It’s a way for me to sort out my crazy thoughts and assess what’s going on and what I can do to help myself.
I also have two to three people I can call who help change my perceptions about the worries I am having. Soon, I’ll be laughing at how silly I sound.
Anxiety feels very shameful. You convince yourself that “everyone has anxiety” and that you need to just shut up and take what life gives you. You feel very weak, sometimes even mentally insane, questioning why your brain is doing this to you and scared of the thoughts you have.