I grew up in a religious family. I went to church every single Sunday. I was told not to have sex before marriage, not to drink or party and because of this I hid a lot of what was going on with me from my family as a teenager. They knew about my panic attacks, how could they not? I had been dealing with it since I was ten years old. It’s the things they wouldn’t approve of that I kept secret. They didn’t know about my drinking, they didn’t know I had sex, they didn’t know I stopped using condoms because I hated how they felt or that I was terrified of pregnancy for 2 months, they didn’t know I got Chlamydia and started taking birth control after my first ever gyno appointment, they didn’t know how much I partied and danced during my freshman year. They knew none of it. I was very very good at hiding it when I was around them. I hid how miserable I was. I hid everything in my scribbled notebooks or in my tears in my bedroom.
It wasn’t until a few years later that I finally came clean to my mom. I sat her down and I told her a lot of what happened that year and about how stressed out I was. She was shocked but she felt for me as well.
My mom is a quiet person. She suffers from anxiety just like me. She always thought she was crazy. She didn’t know what was wrong with us, just that something was off and she had felt this way since she was a child. It was much much later in life that she learned that her father also suffers from panic attacks. It’s not her fault, but I think I grew up thinking it was a huge secret because she didn’t talk about it all that much with me. The reason was because every time she talked about it, it triggered her own anxiety.
So I was in hiding. Normally I’m not a someone who hides things, I’m a pretty open book, but with this…it was a big secret, it was something I knew people wouldn’t understand. And even though I lived at home, my parents had no idea what I was going through during my freshman year of college. They didn’t know where I was late at night, they didn’t know I was spending the night at my boyfriend’s apartment, they didn’t know I got trashed or high just so I could hang out with my friends and because..shit I was having a good time. I didn’t want it to stop because it made me feel…normal and wild.
So they didn’t know I needed help. They didn’t know I contemplated suicide. They didn’t know there was help to be had. This was year 2000 and into 2001 and I never learned about panic attacks in high school when they taught us about mental health. Sure, we learned about all the other typical mental health diagnoses, but not that. Even I didn’t know there was help or that what I was going through was something that others experienced too.
The internet was pretty new back then and that’s how I finally figured out what was wrong with me. I googled it and I think it was probably on dial up. I read stories online about people like me. There wasn’t much but it was enough for me to put a name with how I was suffering. It was enough to feel like I wasn’t completely alone. But it wasn’t enough to make me want to spread the news to my friends.
Even now I don’t broadcast it. Hiding it became a way of life. Keeping it inside or only letting it out to a select few is how I operate. But I wrote a book about it, one word, one sentence, one anxiety ridden scene at a time. I opened myself up because I did everything wrong that year. I placed myself in a life or death situation because of my choices.
If I’m honest, would I change it if I went back in time and lived it again? Would I have stopped drinking if I knew what I know now? Would I have decided that rebellion against the religion I was brought up with was setting me on a path for destruction or that partying, sex, and drugs were going to drag me down into thoughts of suicide? I’m not so sure. I’m a stubborn person. I learn from my mistakes…eventually but dammit, I thought I was having a good time…and I was…until reality slapped me in the face.
And now today… life is still a struggle, every day. Every single day. I vacillate between happy, depressed, panicked and sometimes the thought that death is my get out of jail free card. Nothing new under the sun. And my book, people love it or they hate it. It’s almost controversial. Either you get it or you don’t. Either you’ve experienced something like it or you have the ability to internalize what it feels like or you don’t. I can’t change that. But I can say that I was honest. And that’s all I can be. Honestly me.