My name is Tova. If you met me, you would never guess that there’s anything wrong
It’s been a few years now since I was diagnosed with anxiety. It’s not too often you read about kids battling anxiety and that’s unfortunate, because I know it’s more common than it seems. It’s time to pull it out from under the rug, accept that it happens, that it’s common, and there’s really no need to feel alone or ashamed.
My name is Tova. If you met me, you would never guess that there’s anything wrong. In fact, for most of my life, there wasn’t anything wrong. I was bullied a little when I was a kid, but nothing major; I don’t think that’s the cause of my struggle. I’m a bit of an anomaly when it comes to anxiety cases because my childhood was normal, my family was normal, but when I was 17, I suddenly had a full-blown panic attack. Completely out of nowhere.
There I was, in the lunchroom with hundreds of other students, about to eat my lunch, when suddenly I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I felt hot, dizzy, and sweaty. I felt like everyone was looking at me. I was sure I was going to pass out, going to die. It kept getting worse and worse, the feelings kept getting stronger.
After that, I stopped going to the lunchroom. I was too scared it would happen again.
No big deal. I ate my lunch by myself on the front steps of the school building.
But then I had a panic attack in class. I felt the same feelings, and they came fast and furious. It was terrifying. And it was worse, because of course in class I wasn’t just imagining that everyone was looking at me. Everyone was looking at me, which made me prickle with humiliation and shame.
I stopped going to class.
Then I had a panic attack in the shower. After that, I took only quick two-second showers.
I felt completely alone. Like no one could understand what I was going through. My friends tried to be understanding, but even they said, “You should see a psychiatrist,” recognizing that whatever I was experiencing was serious.
Acquaintances and friends outside my immediate circle would stop me and comment in ways they might have felt were thoughtful, but which actually made me cringe with terrible hurt. “Why weren’t you in class? You really shouldn’t skip so much for no good reason. I mean, your parents pay tuition for a reason and you’re just wasting their money….”
People should never comment! It’s impossible to know what is going on behind closed doors or in someone’s heart and mind.
I told my parents about what was happening, but they never saw me during a panic attack and I tried downplaying it a bit because I didn’t want to worry them. What if they’d blame themselves? It was nothing they did; they’re great parents.
My parents encouraged me to exercise more, to eat healthy, to get more sleep, to learn how to relax more with traditional visualization methods, breathing exercises, or yoga. These things are all known to impact a person, because eating the wrong foods or missing too much sleep, as we all know, can really send our bodies out of whack.
But I needed more help. After a push from one of my teachers — she urged my parents to send me for help — I finally went to a psychiatrist, who diagnosed me with severe anxiety.
(Excerpted from Teen Pages, Issue 775)