Growing up I was normal. I had fun, I was living life, and I really enjoyed life in general. Then about 3 years ago, everything changed. I’ll never forget that day my life changed forever. It was Memorial Day 2010 and my brother and I wanted to go the pool after dinner.
We asked our parents if we could go and they said no. We didn’t think much of it and went back upstairs. A few minutes later my dad called up to us, “Joe and John we have to talk.” My brother and I quickly exchanged glances, looking at each other wondering if we had done something we would be in trouble for. We got downstairs and I’ll never forget what came out of my dad’s mouth. “Joe and John your mother and I have to tell you something. We are getting a divorce.” I cried. I cried for hours. I cried for weeks. It was hard to adjust.
Sure enough 6 months later my dad told us he was dating. A year later he was engaged, and then in March 2013 he got remarried. Things were moving fast, too fast for my liking. Secretly, I was having a very difficult time adjusting, and I did not like any of the changes that were coming my way. Regardless, I put on my mask for 3 years and never told anyone my feelings and that came back to bite me in the butt.
I am a proud Catholic. It wasn’t always this way. For the longest time I had just been going through the motions. I was going to church, not really paying attention, going to youth group but not really paying attention or participating. Then I started Confirmation classes in fall 2012. Confirmation is when you confirm your faith and make your own decision to be a Catholic as an adult member of the church. Confirmation classes came smack dab in the middle of Falcons games. So I was reluctant to go. Then we had to go on a retreat. The retreat was the same weekend as my school’s homecoming. Anyways, I went with an open heart and an open mind and that was the best weekend of my life. I realized the importance of my relationship with my savior, Jesus Christ. My faith suddenly became strong and it became a bright spot of stability in my otherwise unstable life.
And then came February 16th 2013. Another day I will never forget. That was the day of my first panic attack. We were watching the movie, The Green Mile. The Green Mile deals with scenes from the electric chair. I have always been ok with watching violent things, I played Call of Duty, I watched Navy SEAL movies, superhero movies, and all sorts of action movies with all sorts of violence. Regardless this movie was my trigger.
I got in my bed that night, and I began to shake and I was struggling to get a good breath of air. I ran to my moms room and I exclaimed in terror, “MOM I THINK I’M HAVING A PANIC ANXIETY ATTACK OR SOMETHING!!” I sat in my mom’s room for about 2 hours. I thought I was going to die, which soon became a very characteristic thought of my panic attacks. The strangest thing is, I had no idea what anxiety was or what panic attacks were, but somehow I knew I was having a panic attack.
About a week later, I had two more attacks. They both occurred on the bus on a Monday and a Tuesday. They occurred at the exact same time in the exact same place. I got this strange sinking feeling in my stomach, almost like the feeling you get when you take off on an airplane but much more magnified. Then that Tuesday night I was at my dad’s house, and I had a pretty intense attack. I got the sinking feeling, and I began to pace around. My dad realized something was wrong and he said, “Joe are you having a panic attack?”. He took me into the other room and we talked and I was having trouble breathing, I vomited, and I couldn’t fall asleep for a few hours. My parents scheduled a doctors appointment for the very next day and I got checked out of school. Once again, another day I will never forget.
We were on our way to the doctors office and I launched into the worst panic attack I have ever had. I had severe dry mouth, hyperventilation, sweating, hot flashes, cold flushes, I couldn’t sit still, and I could hardly breathe. I seriously thought I was dying. My mom saw this and she decided we needed to go to the emergency room. I ran in the waiting room and I was sitting there and I was doing pushups on the counter and I was pacing. They were asking all these question you know, “What’s your name?” “Where do you live?’ “Social Security?” “Insurance number?” Finally they asked, “What’s going on today” “I’M HAVING A PANIC ATTACK!!!” I screamed across the whole waiting room. Everyone looked at me.
Finally we got to see the doctor and he said, “Listen I had anxiety when I was a kid. It’s hard but you gotta do Cognitive Behavorial Therapy, and always know anxiety will not kill you.” They prescribed some pill for me. Then 3 days later I wound up back in the emergency room. I was convinced I was having a heart problem. I’m 16, the chances of me having a heart attack are .0000001 %. Those are the irrational fears anxiety causes that you can’t shake.
Anyway we went back and we got the same doctor. “You guys should get a frequent flyer card here.” The doctor said this. They did more scans on my heart and found that everything was normal. Just another panic attack. We had a cardiologist appointment later that week and they found everything was normal, again.
I started therapy, and my doctors recommended yoga. I started yoga and yoga really helped. I started therapy and it helped. My therapist only wanted to talk about my past and that was not helping my anxiety. I continued to have panic attacks everywhere. I was going to school probably 3 out of the 5 days in a week. I was missing class and going to the clinic, or going to many of my appointments. Then about the last week of March, I hit my ultimate low point. I didn’t go to school the whole week. I couldn’t do it.We decided we needed to do something drastic. I started a partial hospitilzation program at Peachford Mental Hospital.
I soon realized that I didn’t belong. That place scared me. We saw all the crazy people and I had nightmares. Although here I learned a few things. Every kid with anxiety there had some sort of family problems whether it was divorce, or something else. I also learned that I had depression. My depression stems from being sick and tired of anxiety. I cry a lot and it feels good to let it out. I also learned that I didn’t have the worst case of anxiety in the world as much as it may have seemed. That was my spring break. Spring break in the Mental Hospital. Wouldn’t want it any other way.
I also began to not be able to sleep at my dad’s house. It wasn’t anything anybody did but I just had bad memories there. Some of my worst panic attacks occurred there. I didn’t sleep there for 2 months. I also changed therapists. This therapist actually helps me with my anxiety, and I still go to her today.
I had awful nightmares. My mom had to sit in my room with me to help me fall asleep. I was scared of my own bed. I was even scared of the toilet. I was living in constant fear. Obviously when you do something there are a million different possibilities but I could only latch onto all the bad possibilities.
After spring break I went back to school. School became my biggest challenge. Something everybody takes for granted suddenly became a challenge to me. Getting up, getting out of bed, and getting through the day feeling ok became my biggest challenge. If I could feel ok during the day that was a huge accomplishment because I had felt like crap for the longest time. My grades suffered. I was unable to concentrate because I was so paranoid and anxious. I had panic attacks every other day.
Where am I now? It is now summer and I have been doing so much better. Despite having 42 panic attacks in 3 months, I have started to enjoy things again. The medicine I am on may be helping but medicine won’t cure me. It will help, but I’ve had to learn how to live again. I am not cured. I have gone from having panic attacks every other day to having them once every 1-2 weeks. I’m still having them but not nearly as much which is so good. Anxiety is a liar, and I am an Anxiety Trooper.
Living your life in fear is not living at all. My relationship with God has helped me out alot. Once again it proves to be the only stable thing in my life. I am now at a point where I can openly say, “Yeah I have an anxiety disorder, but so what? I won’t be like this forever. I am not alone.”1 in 4 Americans will contract an anxiety disorder at some point in their life. That is 25%.
Hopefully reading my story helps you understand that you are not alone.
And always remember, Anxiety can’t win unless you give up so NEVER GIVE UP!