Anxiety Chronicles is a series from The Lily that examines the journeys different women have with anxiety.
This week, we hear from Marielle Rua, a high school junior in Tucson. She reads and writes in her spare time and prefers filling out coloring books with her mom over going to the mall with friends.
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My history with anxiety
I’ve always been close to my mom, though that’s not to say I don’t love my dad. I’m a mama’s girl, and I’ve learned over the years that my anxiety stemmed from our close-knit relationship. Up until I was in middle school, I couldn’t go to the bathroom at a restaurant or grocery store without taking my mom with me. When I visited Washington, D.C., for two weeks with my grandfather, I cried almost every single night until we returned home. I had a breakdown in the San Francisco airport after seeing the musical duo Twenty One Pilots with my dad. Freshman year, when I was at band camp, I had to leave early because I was so uncomfortable without my mom at my side.
At first, being with my mom would ease my fears, but now I can’t control when an anxiety attack happens. One day I’m at the hardware store with her and I’ll start to freak out and the next I’m in my chemistry class and the same thing happens.
How does anxiety manifest itself physically?
The one good thing about my anxiety is that I know when it shows up. My hands and ears feel warm and dizziness strikes, soon followed by tightness in my chest. If I can catch my anxiety at this point, I’ll try to take deep breaths and play with the fidget toy I always keep in my pocket for times like this. If that doesn’t work, or if I try to ignore it, my hands turn numb and the numbness spreads up my arms, into my mouth and down my throat. My doctor says that I hyperventilate, and that I should take more deep breaths to balance things out, but if I’ve already begun hyperventilating, it’s hard for me to focus enough to make it go away. When I’m in that situation, I try to find somewhere to sit or lie down until the attack passes.
How does anxiety manifest itself mentally?
My anxiety gets worse at night. Coincidentally, I tend to think a lot about death at night. It’s something I’ve been afraid of for as long as I can remember. I just can’t wrap my head around the fact that one day, I’ll die. I think the reason it bothers me so much is because when I die, I won’t be with my mom anymore.
My anxiety constantly reminds me of that fact, and I usually have to run and wake my mom up to hear her voice again.
What does a day when your anxiety is at its worst look like?
Three days before my sophomore year of high school started, I felt myself hyperventilating for the first time. I had no idea what was going on, so I took some sleeping pills and napped. When I woke up, I didn’t want to eat, so I went to bed that night without food. When I woke up the next morning, I was hungry but nauseous. The next day, I felt worse. I felt more hungry than I’d ever been in my life, but I was so nauseated I couldn’t stand. This was a stress reaction to starting school again, prompted by my anxiety. I didn’t realize I was so afraid of going back to school until my body told me so. My lack of appetite lasted for the first month of school, and I slept on the couch with my mom (who at the time was recovering from knee surgery) for another month.
What is your go-to coping mechanism?
My go-to coping mechanism consists of two things: TV and the couch. Specifically, “Law & Order.” My mom and I have been watching that show (and its spinoffs) for years, so it comforts me in a way. Plus, there are always episodes playing on cable. I’ve never scrolled through the guide without seeing some “Law & Order” variant on at least one channel. As a coping mechanism, it’s probably not a healthy one. All watching TV really does is push my problems aside until I stop watching. But hey, if they’re going to air “Law & Order” and it helps quiet my thoughts, I’m going to watch it.
What do you wish people knew about anxiety?
I wish people knew that anxiety isn’t something that just goes away. I’ve had countless friends and family members, my mom included, ask me why I have anxiety attacks or why my hands shake. My hands have been shaking since middle school; that’s just another part of my anxiety. When I explain that, they always ask, “What are you anxious about?” The answer is, “I don’t know.” When I was younger, it used to be about being separated from my mom. Now, anxiety is just another part of everyday life.
I know when a panic attack is coming and sometimes I can stop it, but I still don’t know what sets off the attacks I get during the day. I want other people to know that my goal is to be able to manage my anxiety someday.