#MHYALit: Pretending to be Normal: A Story About My Anxiety by Jessica Sankiewicz
Today we are excited to have Jessica joining us to discuss anxiety.
You can read all the #MHYALit posts here.
Near the end of last summer, I had it brought to my attention that I might have anxiety. This is something I never thought possible for me. I suppose part of the blame rests on television and movies for giving me an exaggerated impression of anxiety. I always thought of it as some huge thing–severe panic attacks, never wanting to leave the house, unable to be around people, etc. But that’s not always the case. Sometimes it’s not as easily noticed by others, and especially by yourself.
I didn’t see it. I thought it was just me–that I was “shy” or that I got “nervous” around people I didn’t know well. Looking back, however, I can see it all. The moments where I panicked. Where I freaked out. Where my heart was racing. Where I played it off as “no big deal” because I thought my reaction to a situation was normal.
Normal. Ha. Isn’t that pretty much the bottom line? We all want to be normal, or at least pass as normal. And that’s pretty much what it was for me: it was normal to avoid people and events, to only go to parties if I have a friend to hang on to all night.
There was a point in my teen years when I broke out of my shell. I was sixteen and starting to talk to more people. It was difficult, but I continued because I wanted to fit in–you know, be normal. For years, I managed to do just that. Then about six years ago everything changed. I faced several difficult situations (a rough break up, my parent’s divorce, the deaths of two people I loved) and my life started to feel completely out of control. Being around people was hard. Very hard.
A friend of mine graduated from high school that summer and she was having a celebratory dinner. On the way there, I started to freak out. I was on a busy highway and wasn’t positive about which road to turn on, so I ended up missing the road entirely. I almost did a U-turn to go back when it hit me that I couldn’t handle this dinner. I drove home. I spent an hour on the road, only to go back home.
At the time, I made excuses. “My family is going through a difficult time right now” seemed to be the response of the moment when it came to doing things with friends. While it was true, it was still an excuse. I let it slide, though, because I was having trouble coping with everything. I figured it would get better after a little more time. That’s all you need, right? Just a little bit of time.
But it didn’t get better. It stayed the same. Sure, I managed to push through certain barriers. I remained close to a few friends, even bonding tighter with them. Having them around made me feel like everything must be okay.
When it came to people outside my tight knit group, that was another story. The second I heard about something that was coming up, this strange feeling would overcome me. I’d try to be excited, and even though sometimes I was excited, I was already coming up with excuses not to go. Eventually, people stopped inviting me places. They spoke to me less and less until they stopped speaking to me at all. It seemed I could never fully explain myself to them, and they didn’t try to understand.
As the years rolled by, I remained motionless. I rarely went out; I was just drifting through life, through the day to day. When I did get out to socialize, I became easily frustrated and then either very irritable or very quiet. I don’t think anyone knew how to handle me. They probably thought I was just a jerk. Trust me, I felt like a jerk. I felt guilty constantly after my reactions. But I was still making excuses for them.
In the last year, however, everything came to a head. It reached the point where my roommate had no idea how to deal with me anymore. She and I have been friends for several years–good friends–so it was really throwing her with my mood swings.
I talked to some people and started looking up information on anxiety. When I learned more about it, it felt like a weight had been lifted off my chest. Finally… finally things were starting to make sense. All my life I was under one impression only to discover that I didn’t even truly understand myself at all.
I went to my doctor to talk about it and she was, to put it simply, amazing. She told me that she struggles with anxiety and depression herself. She said to me, “I’m not only talking to you as a doctor, I’m also talking to you as a fellow sufferer.” She was kind. She understood. She told me that so many people are afraid to admit to having anxiety or depression. They still see the stigma and don’t want to believe it’s a real thing when it is.
It’s real. Anxiety is real.
She prescribed a medication that is already helping me. I still have a long way to go, but I feel like I took a step in the right direction when I acknowledged the possibility and had the determination to see it through.
If I had known when I was a teenager what I know now, things might have been a little bit different. I would have had the chance to do something, to make things a little easier to handle. I do realize, however, that finding this out now at the age of thirty isn’t the worst thing. I’m thankful I recognized it when I did and got the help I needed.
While knowing years ago would have been nice, at least my experience can be told for others who are like me, pretending to be normal. They can take that first step, scary as it is, and improve their lives. Don’t be afraid of the stigma like some people are and know that you are not alone. There are other people out there who are just like you, facing those same fears. I faced them. I stand up to them every day. And so can you.
Meet Our Guest Blogger
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Filed under: #MHYALit
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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