My name is MacKenzie and I have anxiety. I was asked to write a guest blog post for my dear friend Amy about my journey discovering, understanding, and coping with my anxiety and I must say, the thought triggered the very issue itself. But, if my story can help someone else understand the things that they are going through or make them feel as if they are not alone in their struggle, it is well worth the anxiousness. I want to preface with the fact that I am in no way an expert on the subject. I am not a certified mental health care provider, I hold no official degree or any kind of expertise in the field of mental heath. I cannot tell you what you should do, or how you should cope if you or someone you love has issues with anxiety. All I can tell you is my own personal experience. So here it is.
When I was 15 years old I had my first panic attack. I say panic attack, not anxiety attack, because to me, they are different. In my experience, an anxiety attack is when you have a prolonged feeling of anxiety that manifests itself into physical forms (I’ll get into those later), while a panic attack is more situational and is a bodily reaction to events happening around you in that moment. Again, this is all in my own experience. The situation in this case was an argument with a family member. Nine years later, I have no idea what the argument was about, but I know how I felt in that exact moment like it was yesterday. It hit me so suddenly, it was as if I was being punched in the chest by an invisible force. The physical feelings were more intense than I could have ever imagined. My chest began to clench up, I couldn’t breathe, my palms became clammy, my vision started to blur, and I felt like I was going to pass out. All of this was bad enough on its own, but then add in the fact that I had no knowledge of what anxiety was or what the physical symptoms felt like. So I began to panic on top of having my first panic attack. Hell on earth? I would say that’s an understatement. I thought I was having a heart attack, it felt like I was dying and it only made the panic attack that much worse. And then out of nowhere, the family member I was having the argument with says, “You’re having a panic attack, sit down and put your head between your knees.” Bam. An explanation.
Okay. I have to stop here. Like I said before, I am not an expert on mental health, but I do have my own experience and boy, oh boy, do I have my own opinions. Anxiety can be passed down through genetics. People refuse to see that, and as a 23-year-old who has had symptoms of anxiety all her life and a full-blown anxiety disorder for almost a decade now, I can tell you that my generation handles anxiety completely opposite from the ways my parents’ generation does. This is a huge problem. The more I began to understand my own anxiety and how I react to people and situations, and the feelings I have, the more I was able to see that I am not the only one in my family that has this issue. I was just the only one willing to admit it. I inherited my anxiety from one of my parents, and they inherited it from one of their parents. They refuse to admit that they have anxiety. To them, it’s just stress and you muddle through it. And maybe that’s true. I’ve often thought maybe they have stress and I just think I have this thing called anxiety because my generation is so oversaturated with social media and we are too connected and we overshare and we put pressure on ourselves because we are so concerned with what everyone thinks of us and that has just frazzled our brains and we are so set on self-diagnosis and over-medicating ourselves and that’s what this all is. I’ve considered that option. But that’s writing things off too easily. And to me, that’s not at all what this is. Yes, my generation has its issues. But I believe the issues my generation has are just more obvious examples of the kinds of issues generations before us have had too. The issue is the fact that people aren’t talking about it.
My anxiety progressed even more as I went to college. It was then that I decided to seek medical attention. The anxiety attacks and panic attacks became much more frequent. I began to understand my triggers but there were so many it became impossible for me to avoid them all completely. I tried changing my diet, meditation, exercise, nothing worked. Seeking medication was my last option and quite honestly I should have considered it much earlier than I did. The problem was again, I felt that I should just muddle through and deal with it. Knowing what I know now I am so incredibly happy I brought myself to seek medical help. The stigma behind medication for mental disorders, such as depression and anxiety, is so vast and so unhelpful. In my opinion, those who seek medication for their mental issues should be celebrated because it is not an easy thing to do. For me, I finally broke down and told myself if I was going to thrive in life I needed to acknowledge that my brain chemistry needed recalibration.
Finding the right medication that works for you is a very long process. Unfortunately, it is mostly trial and error. I went through a couple medications before I found the right one for me. Now, I will say the anxiety is still with me. I have come to the understanding that it will be with me all my life. But it is much more manageable now. I can go out into the world and actually feel as if I can breathe. I understand that when I am faced with situations that make me anxious, there are ways I can cope and although it may not seem like it, those triggers are temporary. I also have found a great support system within friends and family members that, while they may not understand the feelings of anxiety themselves, understand that this is my reality and I am better able to get through it with their love and support. So after all of that, my advice is this: If you are going through it yourself, say something. Say something to a doctor, to a friend, to a family member, anyone. Make sure you talk about it because that’s the first step in getting through it. If you know someone that’s going through it and you are trying to understand it, listen. Listen to how that person is feeling, listen to what they need whether it be medication, a hug, or to get the heck out of an overwhelming situation. Just listen. Because even if they can’t say it, they may really need you.
**MacKenzie is an artist and a writer. She began writing poems as one way of dealing with her anxiety. You can follow her on Instagram and read her lovely poems @m.m.lasswell