Every day I am grateful for my two best friends. I don’t know what I would do or where I would be without them. Without judgement and possessing the willingness to try and understand, they are my most reliable and biggest supporters in my overcoming anxiety.
Sometimes it feels like my best friends saved me. My baseline of anxiety was getting higher and higher over the span of years. An anxious state was normal. Anxiety didn’t just hit me one day. It came up on my gradually. Every increase in anxiety became the new normal until I wasn’t a person anymore. I was just anxiety.
I was about to begin my senior year at university and all the uncertainty to come came crashing down on me. Between the pressure from day 1 of school for recruiting for a full-time job (not that I was recruiting, but everyday I was faced with whether or not grad school was the “right decision”. Choosing a different path is hard. It’s even harder when you’re predisposed to anxiety), to anticipating the fact that my best friend/roommate was going on exchange second semester, there was so much I couldn’t control. There were so many unknowns. I now know I have a low tolerance of uncertainty. I’m working on it through exposure therapy, which I am currently avoiding. (Typical anxiety me, right there. Still working on it).
It was an August night and I couldn’t sleep. It felt like I couldn’t breathe. All I could feel was heart beating, raising and lowering my entire body from the mattress so that I couldn’t lie still. One of my best friends who goes to a different school told me I needed to go back to speak with a therapist when I got back to school and had access to psychological services. She was the first push to make me realize living feeling like, there’s going to be a test the next day you hadn’t studied for, wasn’t normal.
When I finally went to the doctor on campus a month later I was prescribed anti-depressants. I had been having what I learned were panic attacks. I didn’t want to take them. I didn’t know what they would do, I couldn’t imagine a life without anxiety, what if anxiety leaves me completely? I held (and still hold) a subconscious belief that a certain amount of anxiety is good because it motivates me to work harder and faster. Consciously I know that this is untrue. However, anxiety is like a weird abusive relationship with yourself. You think the thing that’s obviously bad for you, might be doing some good.
My best friend/roommate sat down with me one night to talk about my anxiety and how he wanted to see me get better. He encouraged me to try the medications, and if it didn’t work I could always stop. No one tells you how medications come with no guarantees and lots of side effects. But I pushed through. Some days I didn’t know what my mood would be like 2 hours down the road. I could be totally functional and just hours later my hands would go numb from adrenaline, I would be super hyper, have a non-existent short-term memory, and have the intense need to physically run away. It took months to find the right dosage or medications and the right combination.
I am so lucky to have had such close friends who cared about me and wanted to see me get better. I know that they also talked to make sure that I did things like eat. My best friend who I lived with always challenged the anxious me, for example by pushing me to go to social events (and sometimes literally dropping me off and later picking me up). He was also awesome in picking up on small things that made me more comfortable. I’m extremely jumpy so he would also make sure to announce himself and wait if I was about to come around the corner. He would also lend me his car so I could go home at lunch to go for a run and other times drive me to therapy.
It almost seemed at one point I wouldn’t graduate. Meeting deadlines and focusing were at times impossible. Getting through school was really tough. I couldn’t have done it on my own and I wish all those going through severe anxiety could have the support systems I did. It feels like a war against yourself and you absolutely need people to look out for you when you can’t look out for yourself.