Living with an Anxiety Disorder

Living with an anxiety disorder has been absolutely debilitating at times and it never went away. I just learned to cope with it. When I was eighteen years old, I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I had no idea what it meant at the time but what I did know was that the symptoms were extremely uncomfortable and scary. 

It was my first semester away at college, and I was living in the big city: Manhattan. With a city as big as New York comes a lot of crazy, unbalanced energy. This was a hard adjustment for me to handle as a highly sensitive person because I picked up on everything around me from the sounds to the culture known as the “fast life” and the overall social scene being so different than the one I knew growing up in a sheltered Long Island town. 

I started to have severe panic attacks every single night as I got into bed. My heart would race as if a tiger was chasing me. Butterflies the size of my head fluttered through my stomach and not to mention the sensation of pins and needles in my hands and feet. I had no idea what was going on, but I ignored it for a few months because I thought it was from stress and adjusting to a new lifestyle away from home. I also didn’t want to tell my parents because it would hurt my ego knowing that I wasn’t able to handle being away at college and taking care of myself. I knew that my parents would be very supportive if I did tell them, but this was more about my fear of being seen as a failure. The ego loves to be right. I knew that I wanted to prove to myself and my family that I would be ok living on my own being independent and if I told them about my panic attacks, they would be very worried and have me move back home.

Well, what I then learned is that “what we resist, persists.” These words hold so much truth and they have manifested in my life ten times over whether I wanted them to or not. From having to face certain lessons in my career, learning to be emotionally independent to dealing with my shortcomings in relationships. I then moved home to my parents’ house after my first semester and the panic attacks continued. They got so severe that I would literally feel my body numbing and had to put ice on myself to essentially shock my body back to the present. 

After months of suffering, I knew I needed help and had to address this demon. I sought talk-therapy with a mental health counselor who specialized in treating Anxiety Disorder. She was incredible and gave me the tools I needed to help my body to relax during a panic attack which kept the symptoms from getting worse. From various breathing methods, to self-talk and guided meditation videos, I was able to put a halt to those awful attacks within two months. 

Talk therapy allowed me an outlet to speak to someone that didn’t have an attachment to the emotions and situations in my life such as a family member or friend would. Therefore, I was able to share everything openly without being afraid of what would be perceived on the other end since I wasn’t being judged or criticized. My therapist allowed me to realize that panic attacks were not dangerous and that I wouldn’t pass out from them or end up in the hospital. This was my biggest fear. When my mind thought of these ideas when having the attack it made all the symptoms worse and out of control where I didn’t feel like I was in my body. 

Using the tool of self-talk that I learned in therapy known as “disputing the negative messages” allowed me to write down the scary thought I was having and then dispute that with something more practical and positive. For example, if I was telling myself “Oh my god, what if I have a panic attack while I’m in class and I become so nauseous I pass out?” Yes that’s very scary and it would likely bring on the symptoms. To dispute that message to make it more positive, I would say, “so what if I have a panic attack, I know what it is now and it’s not dangerous. All I will do is breathe through it and know that it will pass. Nothing bad can happen to me.” Doing this over and over eventually rewires our nervous system giving our brain the ability to change its thought patterns and in turn keeping the anxiety at bay.

The thing with tools is that they take practice. We have to be open to using them. When we don’t use our tools, there likely won’t be a big change in the way we feel because we aren’t training our nervous system to learn a new way of functioning. Living with anxiety can be hard but also beautiful because as highly sensitive people, we experience joy ten times more just as we experience our pain at a heightened state.

Overachiever Magazine was started by Rehana Paul in October of 2018 to give a platform to all Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities.

Our name is poking fun at the stereotype that all Asians are overachievers, especially Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities. It’s also in recognition of all of us who have had no choice but to be overachievers: managing societal expectations, family obligations, and educational opportunities, all while fighting the patriarchy.

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