The summer of 1996 is when my anxiety first started to take its grip. My sudden erratic emotional state was the first sign that something was changing inside of me. Before anxiety started to rule my life I was a relatively steady person, and I enjoyed the unpredictability of life. This all changed drastically in what seemed like a very short time. I began to fear anything that was unknown or out of my control. When my first panic attack struck, I tried to make sense of it. Then it became obvious that it wasn’t the bong hits or the cheap beer I was drinking; it was, in fact, my body turning against me.
The next few months were some of the hardest in my life. Almost every other day I was having a panic attack and I couldn’t figure out why they were happening. I remember talking myself out of a panic attack when I was sitting at the dinner table with my family one evening. My mom, dad, sisters, and the family dog underfoot was nothing out of the ordinary. In my head I screamed at myself: I questioned what was the matter with me. I forced myself to breathe normally and tried to focus. My family and I were always close – how could they suddenly feel alien to me?
I chose to suffer in silence for 15 years. The past 5 years I have been battling my anxiety off and on, but nothing compares to my current commitment level. Today I am with a therapist, receive regular acupuncture, and have found healthier ways to release tension. There is still a long way to go, but I’m climbing out of this hole. I think my reasons for avoiding a therapist for so long were:
- There wasn’t really anything wrong with me. I know how this sounds. Normal people don’t have panic attacks almost every day. But I had closed myself off from talking about my situation with anyone, which left me with no one to relate to or to guide me. I convinced myself it wasn’t that bad.
- Excuses, excuses. This was a coming-of-age situation: everyone has probably gone through it. “If I took better care of myself I wouldn’t feel this way.” Or maybe, “It will go away in time.” I continued to play a hundred reasons over in my head to defend my anxiety.
- I was unsure where to go. My anxiety began in the 90’s, so the internet wasn’t what we have today and researching my options was difficult. In recent years, I have struggled to find the right type of therapist. I ended up finding my current therapist through a post-partum online hotline.
- I felt safe in my world. I frequented the same places and sought out the same faces. By doing so I was able to avoid panic attack triggers. As a result, I convinced myself that I had overcome my anxiety.
- I was deeply ashamed of the anxiety and panic attacks that were a part of my life. If I’m being honest, I still feel this way today. I’m not sure how to get through this feeling. Though I was able to overcome my resistance to therapy, shame still prevents me from making progress and opening up to my therapist.
- Modern medicine had not been my friend. I had a several bad experiences with doctors, leaving me to fear any medical practice, including counselors and therapists. The more natural route was intriguing and with time I did find comfort in acupuncture and yoga.
- It was hard to find someone in-network who accepted my insurance. Then, when I didn’t have insurance, the expense was insurmountable.
- I placed the blame on others. I attached blame to anyone who had done me wrong in the past. I faulted teachers, friends, boyfriends, parents, doctors… even the news: my list was endless. Some may have been relevant, but I have come to realize that this is how I’ve trained my brain to react. There is no blame on anyone and I have come to realize I can’t blame myself either.
While this list is not all-encompassing, it does flesh out the main reasons I did not seek therapy for so many years. It took me several therapists before I found the one I felt a connection with. Therapy is only one of the many tools I am using to overcome my social anxiety, but it is the one that has helped the most in the shortest amount of time. In hindsight, I wish I had sought out help in my 20s when anxiety first took hold. Though if we stay caught up on the “what if” and “why” in life, we simply torture ourselves. I don’t have any desire to run in circles any longer.