I guess my story begins a couple of years back when I was first diagnosed with panic disorder. I had begun to have recurrent panic attacks in my classes, and it had gotten to the point that I couldn’t even make it forty minutes sitting in a classroom without having a complete breakdown. I constantly felt like I couldn’t sit still, like I couldn’t breathe because I was always so wired up with the adrenaline coursing through my body. I just wanted it all to end, and there were dark moments where I wondered what I wouldn’t give to get a little bit of relief from all the anxiety and ups and downs of every single day. I would break down some nights because I was always so scared that this was going to be my life forever, this constant cycle of misery and panic. And I didn’t know what I was going to do if it was.
People kept telling me it would get better, but when? I never really believed them because I could hear the doubt in their voices. I wanted someone to tell me that one day this whole thing would pass, and I would never have another panic attack again. But they couldn’t do that, and so I never felt that I was going to get any happier. I felt like my parents never really understood what was happening to me, and I always felt guilty, like I was a constant burden on them. My friends, not truly connecting with me anymore, began to pull away, and all I felt was betrayed and alone. There were days when I felt so alone, like it wouldn’t even matter if I did something to take myself out of the equation. There were days when all I wanted was someone to show they cared.
I think that, to be honest, I wanted someone to save me from myself, someone to swoop in and tell me that everything was going to be okay and take away all my anxiety. But now I realize that maybe that kind of thinking was only part of my downward spiral. Because now I know that you have to save yourself, otherwise you’ll never get back self-confidence or bravery; you’ll never know really that you can save yourself unless you do. And I guess I’m here to tell all of you that you can, no matter how depressing that may seem. I know that if someone had told me a year ago that I had to do it myself, to pull myself out of everything, I would have been so angry, because wasn’t I already doing enough by just living? But, the thing is, with time, it will get better. Personally, I don’t think I ever really realized that I was the one saving me during the past year; I don’t think I knew until recently.
And what’s the point of this story, you may ask? Well, I guess what I really wanted to share with you is that it gets better. And I know that sounds so cliched and there was a time when I thought that the whole idea of it getting better was a lie told to youth as a last-ditch attempt to save them. But you heal. Slowly and never completely, but you heal. A year ago, I couldn’t get through the day without breaking down, having multiple panic attacks, not sleeping. But, today, I can get through an entire week without doing so. Am I completely better? No. Will I always carry around this shadow of anxiety? Most likely, yes. But the shadow, it gets smaller, little by little. It doesn’t feel like it’s consuming or containing or suffocating me anymore. I can still feel it and on bad days I am still painfully aware of it, but it’s not overpowering any longer. I may have lost a lot of wars against my anxiety, especially in the beginning, but I won the battle. By talking about it, instead of hiding behind and being afraid of society’s response to mental illness, I won.
So, I guess the point of this story is to share with you that it really, really gets better. Even during the darkest days, when you feel like you can’t spend one more waking moment as miserable as you are now, I hope you keep in mind that there are still days in your future where you will wonder if you can be any happier than you are then.
I hope that you know how beautiful you all are, no matter what society may tell you about your mental illness or sexual orientation or different character traits. Beauty isn’t about being normal, it’s about being different and colorful and vibrant. It took me years, but I know that now. I can look at myself in a mirror today and be happy with the person looking back, when a year ago I thought there was no one and nothing more despicable. So, I want to leave you with this: there is always hope. For everyone.