<tw// anxiety, mentioning of death, brief mention of suicide>
I have always had the underlying qualities of someone with anxiety, but it wasn’t until college when the issue really disrupted my everyday life. As a kid, I was always a hypochondriac and thought every ache and pain I experienced had the potential to kill me. I couldn’t tell you how many times I went to the emergency room or clinic just for them to tell me that nothing was wrong. And how many times I just thought they didn’t know what they were talking about. (Did I mention I’m stubborn?). Oftentimes, I knew I was being ridiculous, but I couldn’t help it. I thought I was going to die. The beginning of when it really started to get bad was high school. I can’t remember what year it was, but I remember I went to smoke weed with a couple of my friends and a couple of random people at a park. I had smoked before but it didn’t do anything, so I thought I would be fine. I was wrong. Shit hit me like a brick. One minute I was running around the grass laughing and the next I couldn’t even stand up. I’m not going to go into detail because it is honestly still embarrassing, but I will say that my entire world was literally spinning, and I could not focus on anything or even feel my body at some points. Everyone has super different experiences with marijuana; for some, it’s super relaxing, while for others it can induce anxiety or bad trips. Unfortunately, mine was the latter.
I want to make it clear that the weed was not the cause of my anxiety, it just served as a catalyst for its crippling development. But unfortunately, its role caused that initial experience to resurface both mentally and physically every time I had an anxiety attack. Essentially, every time I had an attack, I felt like I was back in that park. This inevitably led to me associating my anxiety with weed and hating everything about it. I struggled with PTSD for some time in that the smell or mention of weed would make me start to experience a sense of depersonalization, or the feeling of detachment within myself, with the world becoming vaguer and more dreamlike (nightmarish, actually). I tried smoking more (I know, crazy) partly because I didn’t understand why I reacted so terribly to it, and partially to try and assuage this irrational fear and overcome my anxiety. But it only made things worse. I eventually stopped smoking altogether. I never said anything because I thought it was stupid and I was being dramatic. I thought people would laugh at me and I was embarrassed and annoyed because of it. I could sit here and explain in detail every time I went to the hospital thinking I was going to die. About how every time I was dismissed by my doctors and told that I was fine, I never once believed them because of the overwhelming neglect black women face in the health system, but I think you get the point.
My sophomore year of college was when it got really bad. It eventually started to affect other aspects of my life. Being around too many people was a lot. Being in foreign places was too much. Anything that could remotely cause me any danger, even if seemingly irrational, set me off. I was afraid of ordering food because I thought that it could be laced with drugs. I had lost it. I just wanted to stay in my bed all day every day. But I wanted to be around people because I didn’t want to be alone. I was a mess. My stress levels were high this year, which really contributed to my anxiety. I questioned if I could even do regular everyday activities anymore. I had attacks virtually every other day. I skipped class because of them. I blew off friends and family because of them. I could never predict it. It was horrible. It felt never ending, and I felt like I couldn’t breathe. It got to a point where I would have rather died than keep going through it. I’ve always been good at keeping things to myself, so I hid it well. I didn’t think anyone would understand. I felt so alone and there were times I would cry instead of sleep because I was so miserable and I just wanted it to stop. Or I would only get two hours of sleep because I would have an attack in the middle of the night. I knew I needed help, so I decided to start seeing a psychologist. She was kind, but she didn’t understand either. This is not to say that she didn’t help me, because she did, but my anxiety did not stem from smoking marijuana. It stemmed from the years of trauma at home and trying to explain that was hard for me at the time. Our conversations were surface level; they were never enough. Ironically, it got so bad that the fear of death transformed into a lack of care and anticipation of death. If I died, I died, and I just wanted to get it over with. Every time I would have an attack, I just tried waiting to die and hoped that maybe then I would be ok. I was confused on what happened after death. I thought after death there was a possibility of nothingness, and as much as that scared the hell out of me, it was better than hating life as much as I did.
Another reason I kept to myself was because I felt unjustified. There were and always will be people that have it so much worse than I do. And I was sitting here wishing to die because I had anxiety? I felt ridiculous. Stupid. Embarrassed. So I rode it out by myself, briefly mentioning that I had anxiety every once in a while, but never how much it affected me. I wish I could go back in time and tell myself to stop comparing my pain to other people’s…nothing good ever came out of it.
I did breathing exercises that my psychologist told me to do and they were mildly helpful, but not completely. Eventually I stopped going to see her and she didn’t contact me to come back. I don’t think she saw my problems as serious, which could have been due to the brave face that I unconsciously wear so often, but I no longer cared enough to do anything about it. I carried on with my breathing exercises and accepted that I was going to die someday, and I needed to stop trying to prevent it. It didn’t help that much. I still had terrible attacks, but there was nothing more I felt I could do. I was never suicidal, I just wanted to die. Sometimes I wondered what it would be like if I killed myself, but I could never bring myself past that train of thought. I distracted myself with track and school and with people I loved but deep down I was struggling so much. I really wish that I had been able to reach out to someone. I used to have a lot of trouble talking about my deep feelings and thus unfortunately kept things like this to myself. My entire life, I never felt like anyone understood me. I knew I wasn’t alone and I knew people loved me unconditionally, but sometimes I would try to get them to understand me more and I would feel dismissed. Other times, I know they would listen and try to understand, but not really get it. Luckily, I don’t feel this is the case as much, but in the past, it was disheartening. After a while, I just stopped trying so hard. I am not someone who believes that one should make drastic efforts for others to understand them, but feeling like no one, or maybe only one or two people, understand you, gets lonely.
Before I get into present day, I want to explain my particular feelings when I have an anxiety attack. When I start to feel an attack coming on, my breathing shallows and my face feels flushed. I start to feel like I am losing control of my body and then suddenly a sense of depersonalization hits. But the key feeling that tells me it is about to come on is my hands. My hands start to tingle and it feels as though they are all quickly rubbing together to create the sensation of a thousand fingers. It’s very strange and uncomfortable. But I describe this to say that, looking back now, though I’m not sure I could pinpoint an exact moment of when things got better, I do remember one instance in which I felt an attack coming on, so I excused myself to try and prevent it. As I struggled to breathe and stay calm, I looked down and realized that I was doing it to myself. I was unknowingly rubbing my fingers together to create the sensation of losing control. It was so strange. It really was all in my head. And that brought me a small sense of relief.
After that, things were still hard, and I still struggled. But over time, telling myself that what I’m feeling isn’t real, that I will be okay—helped. And while it unfortunately was reflected in my grades, half-assing my assignments or simply not doing them to avoid stress, helped. I wouldn’t recommend this because it can eventually lead to more stress about grades, etc. But temporarily, it brought relief. I still struggle with anxiety and I still have attacks from time to time, but I am much better now. Distractions help me a lot. I try to engage in healthy distractions. But I also try to address the issue and understand how my surroundings may be contributing how I’m feeling. I think growing as a person in general has helped me greatly. There are times where I still doubt myself. “What if it is real?” “What if it’s not an illusion? What if this is happening?” It’s hard, and I do believe at some point I will go back to therapy. But for now, I’m okay.
Maybe one day, I will be able to write a post on how to properly cope with anxiety, but that’s not exactly what this one is. I hope I was able to make even one person feel less alone, or for those who don’t struggle with anxiety, I hope I was able to help you better understand. What I will say is that trying to handle this on my own was not the way to go. I wish I had been better able to talk to people because I think it would have saved me a lot of pain. But I see it as something I learned and have grown from.
I wrote this post because it helped me to finally express how I felt in writing after all this time, but I shared it because I think it’s important and that maybe someone could relate. Everyone’s experience with anxiety and mental illness is so different, and this is only mine. If you made it this far, thank you for reading, and know that I really appreciate you. Peace