When I was 15 I had my first panic attack. I was at work, as a cashier for a drug store, and all of a sudden I could not breathe. It felt like there was someone sitting on my chest, I felt like I was trapped in the box that surrounded the cash register, I was sweating and I was trembling. Thankfully the store I worked at was always relatively empty so there was no one to witness it. I immediately picked up the phone and called home. Almost on the verge of tears when I heard my Mom’s voice on the other end of the phone I asked her what was happening to me. Her response was, “Lex, I think you’re having a panic attack. Breathe, just breathe.”
From then on my life was a constant “what if…” I had always been a high-stung, type A person but now I was in a whole new ballgame. Quizzes became small panic attacks, tests big ones, and exams were a never ending worry. I was trapped within my own head, I had blinders on and all I could see was the things that could happen, would happen. “Breathe Lex, just breathe,” was all I could tell myself. I found a place in my high school that I could sit at and be alone while combatting another panic attack, my teachers were so gracious to let me out of class when need be, my parents worried, but never pried, and slowly but surly they got worse, and then they got better.
Breathe. It sounded so simple. It became my mantra, when I was 17 I got it tattooed on my wrist so that I always had access to such a simple word and concept. We breathe without even consciously thinking about it, the word breathe and the action of breathing, to me, were so simple, it made life simple.
My final year in high school was a complete mess of emotions. I had friends with mental health issues, I was dependent on praise from others, and all I wanted to do was fix others because I was sure I wouldn’t be able to fix myself. Then I went to university and BAM, the stress got worse, but by some miracle, I got better. There were less panic attacks, less of the word breathe, it was a wondrous time.
Then I met a boy. He made me feel amazing, and beautiful, and wanted, and then he made me feel worthless, and ugly, and useless. The panic attacks came back, the constant worry was always there, and one day I woke up and said to myself, “Nope, no more. I’m out, this is done,” and it was. He was gone, the panic attacks went away, but the anxiety did not.
To this day I’m anxious about almost everything, I just handle myself better. Things like getting out of my car, walking into public places, standing in lines, they make me anxious. Some days that boys voice gets back in my head and tells me I’m worthless and nothing good will ever happen in my life, and it’s hard to fight him out of there but I just remind myself to breathe and that I’m doing every well for myself. Some days, even just some hours, I get inside my head again and my blinders go on and I think, “Nope, I can’t do this, any of this, life is just too hard,” and then I remind myself that there are so many good things in my life and so many good things to come and the blinders come off.
In moments of panic I have a ritual. I envision myself doing the task that I’m nervous about, I envision myself tripping on the walk into the library, I envision myself pulling a push door, I think about all the things that scare me about the task I’m going to do. Then I envision myself doing it perfectly, I rub the word tattooed on my wrist, “breathe,” then I breathe and I complete the task and if the worst does happen, I remember to breathe and that everything will be ok.
This world is scary, this world is a lot of pressure, and this world can make you feel like there is nothing that you will ever accomplish because there are so many things that can go wrong. In times where I’m in that mindset I remind myself that I have gotten through a lot worse and I am stronger for it. I remind myself that there are so many people that feel the same way I do, and I remind myself of all the people that have come before me and accomplished their goals.
Most of all I remind myself to breathe, take a great big breath, let it out, and with it let go of the worry. The unknown holds possibilities you cannot even imagine, don’t let your anxiety hold you back. I know that I won’t.