I was in Florida. This wasn’t my home. My home was in Pennsylvania, but I left that home in search of something new. I told myself that I was going to Florida for a fresh start, but I was really running away from the dismal life I was leading 2000 miles to the north.
When I lived in Pennsylvania, I would wake up, smoke a joint, and then I’d see where my day would take me. I had no responsibilities, no guidance, and no one telling me what to do. In a way, it was the lazy person’s utopia.
I was offered to stay with my friends in Florida. It was December, and a Pennsylvania winter was something I was always looking to avoid, so I accepted the offer. I assumed that my life would remain mostly the same down there except for the fact that I would be able to go outside in shorts and a t-shirt instead of being bundled up like the little boy from A Christmas Story.
I was hit very quickly with the fact that I had no money, and I didn’t have anyone around me who could afford to give me a few bucks. No money meant no weed. This was not good for a person who smoked every day for about three years. The first night was terrible. I could barely sleep, and when I did fall asleep I would have horrible nightmares. I knew I had to go back home. I needed someone to depend upon because I found that I could not support myself at all.
I had my parents buy me a bus ticket. I had no idea what I was in for. At the time, I figured the bus ride home would be as quick as the car ride down to Florida. I was dead wrong. In total, the bus ride took 28 hours, and I spiraled deeper and deeper into anxiety along the way.
I thought I was dying, yet I had no idea why. One moment I felt like crying, and the next moment I thought my heart was going to pound out of my chest. I would sit in my seat, surrounded by strangers, and think about how they were starring at me falling apart. I spent most of the bus ride looking at myself in the murky bathroom mirror. I’d look in the mirror and tell myself that I wasn’t really dying, my heart really wasn’t going to explode, and I wasn’t going crazy.
When I arrived in Pennsylvania, I was a mess. I had no money to buy anything to eat or drink during the bus ride home, so I would pour sugar packets into a bottle of water. I’m not sure if this helped, but it seemed like the best thing to do at the moment. At that point it was all about survival.
When I got off the bus I hugged my parents with everything I had. They asked me if I needed anything, and all I could do was point towards Burger King. I was so worn down that I didn’t even have the energy to speak.
I got back to the place I called home for 20 years, but it didn’t feel like home. Nothing felt the same. I was only gone for a month, but the familiar was no longer familiar. Every room I entered was strange, and everyone I knew looked like a stranger. I thought that I had lost my mind.
After about a week of this feeling of unreality, I woke up in a state of absolute panic. My body was shaking, I felt dizzy, and I was fighting for oxygen. I called my brother, and I told him I had to go to the hospital because I was dying.
After a series of tests, the doctor came into my room with his results. He told me that all of my vitals came back normal, and that it was most likely a panic attack. He went on to explain what exactly a panic attack is, and that it is treatable with medication and counseling.
I was happy that I wasn’t dying, but at the same time, I was petrified of having another panic attack. In a weird way, I was hoping that there was something physically wrong with me that could have been fixed by the doctors right then and there. The weeks following the hospital visit were filled with anxiety. I refused to drive in a car and I basically became a shut-in. Life as I knew it disappeared. I had brief moments of levity, but it was like my mind realized I was calm, so it would throw a worry my way. Anxiety is fueled by fear, and I had more than enough fear to keep the anxious fire raging for what turned out to be several years.
In an attempt to control my “symptoms”, I had an arsenal of topical creams, inhalers, and pain medication to keep the pain away. Each night, before bed, I would rub Icy Hot on my legs and my chest to ease the muscle tension and then I’d take a puff from my inhaler so that I could breathe throughout the night.
I had no idea that the pain I was feeling was a creation of my own mind. I knew I had anxiety, but I never knew the strange thoughts and scary pains I was feeling were happening because of the way I was thinking. I was medicating myself against imaginary illnesses.
I had hit rock bottom. Looking back, this was a good thing. I feared pretty much anything and everything that could be feared, so I had nowhere to go but up. I starting reading self-help books. I read something that changed my life forever.
I was causing the anxiety.
I couldn’t blame the bus ride, the weed, or anything else for the way I was feeling. I had to take total responsibility for my anxiety. I constantly felt like I had zero control over my life, so knowing that I actually had control of my anxiety gave me a glimmer of hope, and hope at that point had been non-existent.
I still have the occasional panic attack now and again, but they are different now. I pay attention to my anxiety because I believe it is my mind’s way of telling me that I need to approach life differently. I view it as a gentle reminder that I need to improve. I used to do everything in my power to avoid anxiety (which does nothing but make it stronger), but now it is a welcomed guest in my everyday life.
I learned that the anxiety was just doing its job, but it needed training. It showed up to work every day, often times scaring me to death, but that was not its purpose. It kept me safe from the fears that I was creating. Now, my anxiety has been given the freedom to come and go as it pleases. I no longer tell it to show up by fearing everything, but when it does stop by I invite it in.
What was once my greatest enemy has slowly become a good friend. He (yes, my anxiety is male) keeps me on my toes, and I hope he never goes away.
After spending the better part of my 20’s in a constant state of panic and fear, I have come out on the other side a better person. I’m now married, I started my own blog, and I’m truly happy.
My purpose online is to give people hope. I want everyone with anxiety to know that it isn’t a life sentence. Anxiety is great at making people feel hopeless, but my goal is to show people that there is a way out. It takes hard work, and there will be many bumps along the way, but it can be done.
I just wrote an eBook about anxiety that is now available on Amazon.com. I talk about my views on anxiety and what tools I use to overcome anxious thoughts and sensations. I plan on writing a full-length book based on my life with anxiety. A sort of autobiographical fiction. Thanks for having me!
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