In order for this story to go anywhere, first things first…this is what you need to know about me: I am a crier, and I am sensitive.
I’ve been these things since I was a very young age. I was very back and forth about how I felt about being these things. Sometimes, I didn’t care, and sometimes I cared so much, my head felt heavy that it made me feel even more sensitive. Of course, I’d get upset at anything a normal kid would – the ends of happy movies, hugging my friends goodbye, scraping my knee after falling on the sidewalk, missing my parents when I started school. But it didn’t stop there, and it still hasn’t.
This is the story of how I came to know of my anxiety.
I always thought that being sensitive was okay. You cry sometimes? It’s all good. It shows how much passion you have, how much heart. But then came a day when somebody I’d known all my life took me by surprise called me an overly sensitive young girl. I was ten, and I was confused.
I immediately felt struck. Overly sensitive? What’s the big deal if I get upset sometimes? Do I get upset too often, at things I shouldn’t be getting upset at? Am I a baby? A million and one thoughts raced through my mind, and feeling too overwhelmed to try and talk them out with anyone, I pushed them away and got back to my daily routine as a ten-year-old: school, homework, outside time with friends, sleep, repeat.
Things seemed to be going pretty well. I had the occasional cry or worry, but nothing that seemed to concern my parents or seemed out of the ordinary to me. I finished my elementary school years with my two best friends at my side and the whole world in front of me. And then came high school.
My high school years were certainly not my favorite – partly because I wasn’t a fan of the atmosphere and mostly because this is when my anxiety began to kick into full gear.
We’re going to flashback to my junior year of high school for a moment. I was sixteen years old. I was more than halfway finished, more than halfway to college, ready to be myself, since I felt the need to hide inside my shell most of my teen years. I had a friend, a best friend, someone I could tell everything to, someone who showed me just how incredible it is to just be you, and I got my heart broken. A friendship I thought would last a lifetime ended when he decided he was finished, and when it ended and there was nothing I could do about it; I felt empty. Paralyzed. Alone. I fought every day to hold back the tears, and kept telling myself, “You’re too sensitive, Katie. You’re too sensitive.” Saying this was not positive. It broke me. I needed to let myself cry. But instead, I kept my feelings bottled up, and eventually, I imploded.
It was an evening like every other. I was sitting at my kitchen table as my mom was cleaning up the dishes from dinner. My dad and my brother were sitting on our couch our family room, directly across from the chair in which I was seated. I was thinking about it. The friendship that ended. I tried to push it away, but it was still too new. It hurt too much. My head felt heavy, my heart began to race, and I began to cry.
It was a normal cry. My mom asked me what was wrong, and I told her. And then, eventually I couldn’t pick my head up off of the table. I was screaming and crying and banging my hands against the wood, while my parents frantically tried to console me and figure out what was triggering this outburst. My brother, nine at the time, stared at me with wide eyes, and was eventually sent to either his room or the basement while my parents helped me to breathe.
It was twenty horrendous minutes of screams, sharp intakes of breath, sobs I couldn’t stop and a heartbeat I was sure everyone could hear. I felt the loud, overbearing pounding in my ears and all I wanted to do was sleep. Finally, the screams subsided, my tears stopped, and I was breathing almost regularly again.
I knew in my heart that this was more than being “overly sensitive”. I knew it was something more, but I wanted no part of it. I wasn’t going to admit I had a problem. My mom suggested that maybe I see someone. Woefully, I agreed, because deep down I knew. I knew I needed to talk to someone.
That week, my parents and I sat down with a therapist. She asked me routine questions I was expecting: your age? Your school? Your class year? And then the ones I was not: History of family abuse? Verbal/physical/sexual abuse? Childhood trauma?
I was stunned. How could I, someone who’s crying over a friendship ending be taking up the time of a therapist who could, and should, be helping someone with a bigger problem than me? There are kids out there getting abused, they need the help, not me! I can manage to get over this loss by myself! I can do it!!!
But I couldn’t. I wanted so desperately to be strong, but I didn’t have it in me. The questions continued, and something triggered the tears. I felt angry, and I felt crazy. Surely, I didn’t need to see someone…or did I? My therapist said to me softly, “I think we found the source.” I agreed with her through choked sobs as my parents sat next to me and discussed with my therapist that weekly meetings should be scheduled as soon as possible. And that is what I did, friends. I met with a therapist once a week.
The sessions were helping. I was getting a lot off of my plate, and a lot of feedback. I was discussing things I didn’t realize were bothering me until my therapist and I uncovered them, one by one, every week. Things were looking up. Maybe I needed to get a few things out in the open, and I’d be okay…
I decided to continue my therapy as I entered college. My parents and I thought it would be a good idea, considering moving three and a half hours away from home for the first time in my life is such a huge transition. I called my therapist once a week, and we had hour long phone conversations. My anxiety, now steady and not really incredibly overwhelming anymore, seemed to be a normal part of information about me: eighteen, college student, anxious.
So, I did it! I moved to Connecticut, away from my family and best friends, and found my niche and made new friends! Anxiety? Eh, it’s whatever. I’m sure it was the transition getting the best of me, and now I can get back to my normal routine of only semi-worrying!!!!
Eventually, I stopped calling my therapist. Not because I didn’t want too, but because I was immersed in my newly founded friend group, enjoying every ounce of freedom that I had, that I just…forgot. I was heavily involved in the choir program, where I truly found my happiness. I’d made the funniest, most caring, most interesting friends and I was incredibly grateful to my university for bringing them to me. Life was good, and I was better.
Now here we are, sitting in the common room of suite 101, building North, as the snow piled up outside and my friends and I were bundled under blankets, sipping tea and watching some cheesy 90s sitcom on television. I felt safe during my sophomore year, and decided to open up.
“I want to message him, you know, just to say hello,” I’d said about my friend who’d left.
“If it’s what you need to do, then I think you should.” One of my friends told me. I wished she’d hadn’t.
And so I did. I made up a lame excuse as to why I was messaging him, trying to avoid sounding too desperate for a rekindling of the friendship, and waited with trembling hands and pounding heart for a response. I got one.
The conversation lasted a full half hour. I was overjoyed and probably a little too elated. And I’m sure he felt the opposite: bored, wondering why on earth I was still trying when he’d made it perfectly clear he didn’t want me as a friend anymore. But here I was, trying with all the power I had left.
“Would you maybe wanna call sometime next week, and catch up more, when it’s not too late?” I’d asked, overly excited about our future conversations.
“Yeah, that sounds great,” he’d replied, and I’d just about jumped out of my skin. So maybe the friendship wasn’t over! Maybe I’d done it!!!! All I had to do was reach out and be a friend, right, Katie? “I’ll call you next Tuesday.”
Ah, friends. If I were still holding on for that Tuesday, well, I’d still be waiting.
You know how people say that time heals all wounds? I never really believed that, until it became true.
Sophomore year had ended. In March, I’d decided to take a leap and apply to study abroad the fall semester of my junior year. Not something you’d think someone with anxiety would be up for doing, huh? Well, I did it.
That’s when things got really, really bad.
I’d spent the entire summer before moving to Italy pushing the thought that I was moving to Italy out of my head. One of my best friends was moving to Florida to work at Disney World. My other best friend was going back to Maryland for school. And I was going to live across the world for four months. But hey, I didn’t need to think about that, right? Wrong.
The night before is when I’d done all my packing. I packed four months worth of clothes and other necessarily belongings into a suitcase and a carry on in about four hours. I was nuts and my mom was angry, but I’d pushed it until the last minute because, well…I just couldn’t believe I was moving to another country. A non-English speaking country – without my parents and brother and best friends. I was terrified.
I’m not going to lie to you all – when I first arrived in Rome, I loved it! The cobblestone streets felt so foreign against my feet, the scents homemade sauces and noodles and pizzas wafted through the streets, and every flavor of gelato was melting in my mouth. Gosh, how incredible was it that I was walking around another country, back to my apartment? My apartment that I lived in, because I moved to Rome.
September was spent galavanting around Italy. I’d gone to Tuscany, Montalcino, Montepulciano, Sienna, Perugia, Sorrento, Capri and life was beautiful. October, I’d gotten to obsess over my love for Harry Potter when I’d traveled to London and cried when I took a photo at King’s Cross Station, Platform 9 and 3/4’s. I’d also cried when I took the studio tour in Leavesden, and seen where the Potter movies had been filmed. There was a lot of happy crying.
And then November came. It was still blazing hot in Rome. It didn’t feel like fall. I was going to France for the weekend with a few friends. We’d arrived in our hostel and there was a strange man living in there with the group of us. I felt uncomfortable and I tied my blankets tightly around me. I couldn’t sleep. I’d texted my mom. “Count sheep,” she told me, only beginning to eat dinner, while I was staring at the 1:23 a.m. on my phone. I tried that, and after much crying and heavy breathing, I fell asleep.
It rained all weekend. Nothing was exciting. Our flight got delayed because of a thunderstorm and when we finally boarded the plane we were all in different seats. I’d been listening to music and suddenly there was turbulence, more than I’d ever experienced. It was nothing terrible but nothing exactly comfortable. I was uneasy. I knew my mind was going to wander. I stared at the top of my friend’s head a few rows ahead of me and tried desperately to ignore the woman at the window seat in my row who was holding Rosary beads to her head, praying and crying. I began to hyperventilate.
The man in between the woman and I patted my hand and said, “Everything will be alright. It isn’t too bad. Don’t worry.” That is easier said than done. I’d tried to take his words seriously, but why should I believe a random person I’d never met? I shut my eyes and prayed. I counted sheep, like my mom had told me a night prior. I let the tears fall from my eyes and counted down the hours, minutes, seconds until we were back in Rome.
When we landed, we took a bus back to a stop near our apartments. I turned on my Disney music and cried. I needed to keep it soft because I couldn’t let anyone see me losing my mind over a little turbulence. What would they think?
I Skyped my parents that evening. I tried to keep my cool, but suddenly, I was sobbing hysterically and didn’t care that my suite mates could hear me from the kitchen. “Please, just don’t come,” I’d begged them. “Don’t come and visit for Thanksgiving. Just stay home and be safe. Don’t fly here and back. Don’t come, don’t come, don’t come.”
They were surprised. So was I, quite frankly. I’d just gotten off of the worst flight and all I wanted was a hug from my parents. Shouldn’t I want them to come and be with me for a week, so I could feel safer? Happier? No. I didn’t want them to come. I wanted them to be safe, at home, going about their everyday routines…not flying out here to see me.
But they did come for Thanksgiving – them and my brother. And I was a wreck. I tracked their first flight from the states to Ireland, and then their connecting flight from Ireland to Italy. I tracked them obsessively. If the site didn’t update in two minutes, I’d hyperventilate. My friends went to go see mass at the Vatican and were within ten feet from Pope Francis. I stayed in bed. I sipped tea. I gave myself a sore throat and my eyes were red from crying. I didn’t shower and I didn’t eat. I just wanted my family in their hotel.
Eight crying sessions, multiple panic attacks, and a few hours later, my family had arrived in their hotel. My mom had called me. I sprinted over ten blocks to their hotel. I barely even knew where I was going – I just knew I had to get there fast. I ran and ran and ran until I got there and hugged everyone and cried.
November and December were not happy tears. They were sad ones. Lost ones. Heartbroken, lonely, scared.
Earlier that week, before my family had arrived, I’d felt a pain rise in my chest. “It’s anxiety,” a friend told me. “I get it all the time when I’m stressed or anxious. I promise you, that’s what it is.”
I wanted to believe it. And at first, I did. But when the pain didn’t go away, even during the week with my family, I knew it had to be something worse. If my family was here, then why was the pain still here? There was only one thing to do, so I begged my dad to take me to the doctor.
We went to the hospital. The Italian doctors who spoke broken English tried their very best to communicate with my dad and me. “Nothing is wrong,” they had said, after checking my chest and my head. “You are OK.”
But if I was okay, why on Earth was I losing my mind so much? A day after I went to the hospital, I made my parents bring me to the doctor at my university. She spoke better English than the doctors at the hospital. She listened to my chest and to my breathing. “There is nothing wrong with you. You are stressed and homesick and can’t bring yourself to feel better, but that is all. Eat chocolate. That helps me.” She’d smiled, and so did I. It reminded me of when Lupin offered Harry some chocolate in the Prisoner of Azkaban.
The day my family traveled back home marked TWO WEEKS until I was finished in Italy. I desperately wanted to take my exams early and skip my final trip to Switzerland. I wanted to get home as soon as possible. But I didn’t. I took my exams on the scheduled days and traveled to Interlaken and had an okay time, despite my pounding chest and anxious mind.
I can’t really remember, but I must’ve kissed the ground when I returned home. The flight to the states from Italy was the longest flight of my entire life. I barely slept the night before, partly because of nerves and partly because I was so bloody excited to get the heck home and lie in my own bed and watch Christmas movies with my brother. In the car on the way home from the airport, I was animatedly discussing my adventures of my final two weeks in Rome, but also how happy I was to be back in America. I plopped onto my couch in my house, and fell asleep almost instantly, as Christmas Vacation played in the background.
Those couple of weeks at home were the greatest of my life. I spent Christmas with my family, saw Frozen with my two best friends, and relaxed in my own home, feeling much better about being back in a land where everything was familiar and safe. I was so happy that my time in Italy had come to an end.
And then, the night before I was supposed to head back to Sacred Heart, my home away from home…I felt that pain again. I didn’t want to go back to school. I was panicking. I clumsily searched around Monmouth University’s website, taking in any information about transfer students. I couldn’t go back to Connecticut, I just couldn’t. I needed to stay as close to home as I could.
It was too late to transfer to Monmouth U. The entire three hour car ride back to Sacred Heart was very difficult. I sat in the front seat next to my dad with my headphones in my ears, listening to Disney, or Harry Potter instrumental music, all while pushing the tears away.
A few days in, I was feeling semi-comfortable in my normal routine again. I was back in choir, enjoying my media classes, and spending all of my free time with my friends. It was back to normal, finally, and I felt wonderful.
Until one day, I didn’t. My head began to hurt this time, and I kept taking Advil to make the headaches go away. And when they didn’t, I panicked. Something must be wrong if the medicine isn’t working, I thought to myself. This can’t be good.
I sat alone in my apartment and cried. I called my mom and screamed. “Something is wrong!” I’d yelled, and so my parents did what they thought was best. They came to Connecticut, and took me to yet another doctor.
I sat in a hospital gown in the middle of a bland-looking hallway as I waited for the doctor to tell me the results of my CAT scan. When she arrived, she handed me and my parents and information packet on headaches. “Your stress and anxiety is making you think that these headaches are something more than what they really are,” she’d said kindly. “I promise you, there is nothing wrong. You are just worrying.”
Information on Stress Headaches. I must’ve read the packet twelve times, just to be sure that, yes, I just have a stress headache. Nothing else. It became obsessive. I was becoming a hypochondriac. I felt scared and lonely and didn’t know what to do, so I went back to therapy at my school’s wellness center.
I had to answer a bunch of questions again, this time through a computer. Have you ever been in therapy before? Yes. Any history of abuse? No. Have you been diagnosed with a mental illness? If so, what? Yes. Anxiety. I hated myself for having to say yes to that question.
But going back to therapy again helped me, slowly but surely, and it made me feel even more comfortable that the woman I was talking to had also struggled with anxiety as a young girl. I related to her on many levels. It was only then, in the middle of one of our sessions, that I finally began the process of the acceptance of my anxiety.
Flash forward, friends. It’s present day. My little friend is still here, lurking in the back of my mind every single day, but I have my tools to help me push her away, sometimes. I still go to therapy, with my first ever therapist I met when I was sixteen. I still have my off days. I’ve had a rocky few years. I lost all three of my remaining grandparents – my grandma Rita in July 2014, my grandpa George in July 2015, and my other grandma Lillian July 2016. I had to watch each of them suffer, especially my grandma Lillian, as she’d been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease back a few years ago. It was horrible. My anxiety sky rocketed during those awful months.
But I also had really good ones. A couple of weeks ago, I decided to take a leap and dye my hair dark brown, just for the heck of it. In November, I accepted a Social Media Position at my favorite Harry Potter site, MuggleNet. Yesterday, my best, best friends and I returned home from a Disney vacation, which just so happened to be one of the best weeks of my entire life. A lot has happened, both good and bad, and my anxiety has been there through it all.
I felt crazy when I was first diagnosed with anxiety, like I was abnormal. I didn’t want to tell anyone. I felt pathetic for having to go to therapy because I couldn’t help myself. I felt like a baby. But today, I don’t feel that way anymore. I still have my bad days, believe me, but I want to spread more awareness. More people need to learn about mental illness, which is why I decided to begin this blog in the first place. I want to be able to provide as much information as I can to others, who are either dealing with something similar, or to people who are looking to learn. This is my story. It’s different from yours, reader, even if anxiety may play a part in both of ours. But know that we’re in similar boats, even in our separate battles.
I want to update this blog as regularly as I can, describing different events and how I cope with my anxiety, in the hope of reaching someone looking for a little bit of help. If I can reach even one person with a bit of advice, I’ll forever be grateful.
This post has been in my queue since July. I have not had the courage to publish it, but I promised myself that in the new year, I’d be open to sharing and willing to lend a helping hand, and this is my first step in doing so. Remember, you are not alone. I thought I was, but it’s the furthest thing from the truth.
If you’re reading this, thank you. This was difficult for me to share and even more difficult to write. Reliving some of this hurt deeply, but also reminded me of how far I’ve come since that evening as a sixteen-year-old crying over an ended friendship. I’m grateful for my experiences, even when my little friend was driving me absolutely mad. I wouldn’t be as strong as I am today without it.
Don’t worry, friend. If you have anxiety, you’re not alone. It’s all going to be ‘A’-OK. 🙂