I’ve lived with an anxiety disorder my whole life. The first time I panicked I was around five or six years old. I don’t really remember much besides the fact that I was with my parents in a crowded place during a concert, and that I felt a need to escape all the commotion into the safety of my home.
It didn’t end there, I would cry almost every morning before going to kindergarten because the thought of leaving my mom was unbearable. I don’t want to go into many details right now but the truth is that my stay at the kindergarten wasn’t exactly easy and filled with happy times. That would leave me throwing up during lunch time and crying as well, this was always my body’s way of telling outsiders something was wrong. The fear would start by settling itself in the depths of my stomach, making its way up into my heart (who would then be beating frantically), and ended up being thrown up outside.
Relief would follow but it never lasted long because people around me would actually blame and mock me for the happening.
As I was growing up it got worst, almost everything I could do when I was younger was turning out to be impossible to continue doing. I stopped being able to have a sleepover at my grandparents or at my cousins’ houses.
I stopped being able to simply go out with my family if my mom wasn’t going with us as well. Even if my dad was there with me it didn’t matter, it had to be my mom and no one else.
Because of that I obviously grew more and more attached to her, every time my dad suggested that we would go out just the two of us my answer was always a frail “no”. And I say frail because it pained me so much to refuse to go with him without even knowing why I was doing it, why I was hurting him that way. All I knew is that inside of me a switch would flick to immediate panic as soon as something involved being away from my mom.
However, when I started 1st grade at the age of 6 things got a little better, because I had finally gotten rid of the hell that was kindergarten. But even with a new chapter beginning, anxiety was still attached to my neck like a starving tick whispering fear into my hears.
I was 9 years old and in 4rd grade, the first trigger that lead to days of suffering that would come next was a single question that popped inside my head, “What if my mom died? Right now while I’m in this classroom?!”
I wasn’t capable of interrupting a class to ask if I could go to the bathroom so I just stayed still and silent in my seat. When I felt the bile and food trying to pass their way through my throat I turned to the classmate next to me and whispered to her that I wasn’t feeling very well.
She was one of the kids who had no problem asking something to the teacher so I knew she would do it for me. The teacher told her to accompany me to the bathroom in case I needed some help, and once I was there I eventually threw up.
It didn’t help much because the thought of having to go back to class and sit still and quiet as before only made my panic rise. I didn’t want to go back, I wanted to get away from school and call my mom to pick me up or simply to know if she was ok.
I can’t recall what happened on that day after that panic attack, but what I’ll never forget is what followed through.
My classes only began around 1pm so my routine was pretty simple: My parents would leave me alone at home to go to work, then they would return so we could have lunch together and after that on their way back to work they would drop me off at school.
Sounds like something easy to manage, but it was far from it. Every single day I would wake up in fear and most of the times I avoided eating breakfast or anything at all.
You see I had found a way of stopping my body from vomiting, if I didn’t put any food in my belly then there wouldn’t be anything for it to throw up right?
That mixed with watching my favourite cartoons all morning helped me to distract myself from the screaming inside my head. During each cartoon I would count the hours, in fact, since I had already memorized when each cartoon would start and end, I knew how close the time for my parents to be home would be approaching. And just as if I were a puppy, as soon as I heard the keys turning on the door I would freeze in panic, and gulped down the feeling of sickness trying to overcome my senses.
I greeted them with a smile and told them that I was feeling fine to go to school. At that point they already knew about my problem and I was even seeing a children’s psychologist.
Eventually, I actually started to get better. It took months for that to come true, but it was possible to accomplish.
However in my late teenage years, my anxiety got extremely bad. I was seventeen and in 11th grade when I had my first panic attack in the form of dizziness and lack of breath, once again in a classroom.
That was the start of what would soon become a general and a social anxiety disorders. Depression ended up coming as well, so between the ages of seventeen and twenty I lived in darkness.
This is my experience regarding mental health, I have so much more to say so I hope that’ll accept me.
My name is Alexandra Paula Condesso and I was born in January 7th, 1995 in the city of Lisbon, Portugal.
I’ve lived my whole life in a town only fifteen minutes away from Lisbon. I’ve always studied here until I went to high school, but even that wasn’t very far from my home.
When I started 10th grade the subject I chose to study was the area of Languages and Humanities, because my greatest passions have always been the English Language and the Arts. Unfortunately in the school I went to French was the main language and English was only the second one, which made me a bit sad but I decided to keep going with the choice I had made.
However it wasn’t easy at all, around 11th grade my anxiety got worse each day and eventually I had to quit school to seek professional help. That was five years ago when I was only seventeen years old.
I started seeing a psychiatrist for the first time who diagnosed me with general anxiety, social anxiety and agoraphobia. I also had to change to a psychologist who knew how to deal better with my problems instead of the one I had since I was a child.
A few months later my psychiatrist suggested that I should try group therapy with other youngsters like me, especially the group who practiced photography. At first I said no, I was barely even able to leave home let alone being with a group of people I’d never met before.
Despite that, after a long while I finally decided to give it a go and although it was extremely hard I was able to do it. Eventually I started to frequent other different therapy group activities and socializing with other kids with similar problems like me.
As the time went by I started to take bigger steps and facing some deep fears of mine, like riding the bus alone for instance or go for a walk in the city alone. A few more months later my team of doctors decided that it would be good for me to get back to school by studying one of my passions, photography.
There was just one “small” problem, I wasn’t ready. Because of that all went wrong and once again I found myself returning to the very beginning. To make things even worse my psychologist wasn’t available anymore and neither was my psychiatrist due to personal matters. This was also the time I started to fell into a deep depression.
From then on my life consisted of one thing only; staying home in bed all day long.
Of course that didn’t last very long because my mom started to force me to go out even if it was just to spend the day at my grandparents’ house with my cousins.
But soon the summer was over and it was time to go back to school again, so at the age of eighteen I was once again forced to enrol myself on a high school around ten minutes away from home by bus. I started in the middle of September and gave up around November, which made me fell on a state of hopelessness and suffering all over again that only seemed to get worse as the days went by.
Then one day things started to change. My mom was always and still is my guardian angel when it comes to understand my struggles regarding my mind, so she took upon herself to seek professional help for me which led us to a wonderful psychiatrist who made the huge difference in my life that I so desperately needed.
He knew that group therapy had been extremely helpful to me so he recommended that I tried it once more, but this time with a group of adults because at that time I was almost turning nineteen in January, and here in Portugal you’re considered by law an adult at the age of eighteen.
I immediately agreed to it and so I first started having individual sessions with a new psychiatrist and a new psychologist, and later on with an occupational therapist.
That is the process at the Hospital before you’re accepted into group therapy and then in January, a week after I’d turned nineteen I had my first group session. It was on a Friday and it lasted only half an hour long and I remember being excited for Monday to come. An excitement like I hadn’t felt in a long time, it wasn’t nothing like anxiety because it was a feeling of happiness. I was happy and proud with myself for having taken such an important step to take care of my mental health.
All this process lasted around two and a half years having being finished in last September 2016, because I decided it was finally the right time to get back to school and most importantly because I believed that I was ready to live my real life outside of my therapeutic one.
Nowadays, my anxiety is almost inexistent and my depression is long gone. I’m able to do things I’d never believe I could and I also learned to take chances like I’d never taken before.
Today I’m a person happy with herself and capable of dealing with her most difficult parts on her way of thinking and being.
In conclusion, having been through all of this and much more my goal is now to speak openly about mental health and what it’s like to live with it, and also hearing other people’s experiences and thoughts on it.