Anxiety isn’t a four-letter word. It’s not something you should feel embarrassed to say in front of your friends and family. It’s an ugly reality for anyone that experiences it. I’m lucky to have had a support system while my anxiety reared its ugly head, but not everyone is and not everyone understands.
The first time I saw a panic attack I was twelve. I grew up in a small town where Friday nights in the fall are spent at Ernie Hicks Stadium watching the Blue Tornado football team. I was walking with a group of friends around the track when one of them started crying. She said she thought she would faint. She was the type of person who loved attention, so this was not unusual. I rolled my eyes as we walked her to the ambulance on the side of the field. When she told us it was a panic attack, I assumed she was making it up as another way to get attention. I didn’t understand how awful it truly was until a few years later.
My first panic attack happened when I was 15. I was walking through the mall with my boyfriend and his family. It was crowded but not shoulder-to-shoulder. I felt lightheaded and thought it was just low blood sugar. Sweat pricked at my forehead, and I felt like everything was moving in slow motion. I cried and called my parents to come and pick me up. Even though I felt afraid in my own body, I wanted to run. After it was over and I was home, I still didn’t realize it was a panic attack.
I noticed that anxiety changed the way I thought, the things I did, and the person I was. I was outgoing, go-with-the-flow, and excited to go out and do things. I was turning into a scared version of that. I wouldn’t go out with anyone unless I felt like I had control of when we could leave. I didn’t go to crowded places. I wouldn’t go anywhere with my boyfriend’s parents because I had one while I was with them. I knew they would take care of me, but I felt like I had to run and I wanted no one to question why.
I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Panic Disorder after many trips to the doctor. I felt like something was wrong with me, but all tests came back negative. There was no way I was 100% healthy and felt like my insides were turned out and my heart would explode. They took me out of school for two months of my senior year in high school because I couldn’t leave home without being afraid of having another panic attack. Talk about feeling isolated. Depression hit me next. What if I never stopped feeling this way? What if this was my new normal? I didn’t want to keep living life if this was what I would feel as soon as I opened my eyes each day.
Relief came in the form of counseling and medication. The best five words I’ve ever learned was It’s temporary, it will pass. Do I still have anxiety? Yes. Do I still get panic attacks? You bet. Some days are easier than others and sometimes I still have setbacks. But I feel like I’m equipped with the mental tools I need to get through it.
Recently, my husband and I bought tickets to a rap concert. We purchased pit seats with a bonus package that allowed us the opportunity to go on stage during the performance. We were both excited but I felt the familiar rush of panic through my body the closer it got to the day. I kept telling myself that I would be fine and if anything happened my husband would take care of me. All night, I kept getting waves of anxiety but I could push them off. With each time I talked myself down, I felt stronger. It was time for us to go backstage and I felt a childlike excitement with no trace of fear. We walked through the gate and the crowd erupted in front of us. 20,000 screaming fans and I felt like I was on top of the world. Will Smith once said “The best things in life are on the other side of fear.” I’m ready to take the jump.

Maddie M. White is 23 years old and passionate about mental health and writing. She hopes to inspire people with her stories and the characters in them. She has work featured in Rhythm and Bones, Flash Fiction Magazine, Pixel Heart Magazine, Paragraph Planet, Who Writes Short Shorts, Mojave Heart Review, and Moonchild Magazine. You can find her on twitter at @maddiemwhite17.