When addressing a serious issue such as mental health, it is extremely easy to simply want to hide. Being outright and open about personal struggles is, in itself, anxiety inducing. However, how could I possibly hope to touch others lives if I am not transparent myself? It would be hypocritical of me to proclaim that you should not be ashamed of your journey through mental health while hiding behind a screen myself. So, who am I?
I was born and raised in Central Pennsylvania. I have three siblings, two loving parents, and pets galore. I love the outdoors, reading, writing, and music. Throughout my childhood, I was always the cautious type. I would overthink things more than the normal kid would, but it never affected my day to day life.
I had my first panic attack while camping when I was about ten years old. I had no idea what was happening, just that I could not stop sweating and I felt as if I would die. I’m sure my parents knew what was going on, but never felt the need to intervene because strangely enough it would be my last panic attack for seven years.
When I was seventeen, I started having small panic attacks in certain situations. Crowded malls, long car drives (like ten hour trips to South Carolina, or an even more daunting seventeen hour plus drive to Florida) all started triggering these attacks. Yet I did not let these random attacks of upset stomachs and sweating to hinder my life. I was a full-time student, worked 30 hour weeks, and lived an adventurous life.
How My Emetaphobia Started:
The first real issue with anxiety that I developed was emetaphobia (the fear of vomiting). The fact that I have this phobia is a bit funny to me, since I was exposed to vomiting often during my childhood years. My sister always had a very sensitive stomach, which has led to many memories of sitting on our bed as a child while she threw up in the bathroom. Therefore, it always struck me as odd that I was afraid of a natural bodily function that I was familiar with. I believe the problem is that I am not familiar with vomiting myself. I have vomited once in my life. I was eleven, and I was asleep for most of it. If you were to ask me what it feels like in the moments before you vomit, I would have no answer.
Even though I never liked the thought of throwing up (who does?) I literally never thought of it because I never did it! All of that changed in January of 2016.
My mom had started working at an elementary school, and had made the equally elementary decision to eat food out of the break room without washing her hands (germaphobes worst nightmare). And that is how the stomach bug hit our house for the first time in my 18 years of life. It was brutal. There was a snow storm, leaving us snowed in for four days. One by one my family was taken down by the bug. It seemed like my entire week revolved around vomiting and diarrhea. I was the only one who didn’t catch it. But my life was changed forever.
From there, my worry over vomiting went from a discomfort to a full out obsession. I avoided people at all costs. I stopped eating food with my hands. I washed my hands till they bled. I tried every natural remedy I could (ever heard of the grape juice trick? I drank grape juice almost daily last winter). Winter is now a time of fear and panic. Winter is when no one is safe, because the stomach bug stalks the alleys. My emetaphobia is largely what has allowed my panic disorder and agoraphobia to start and fester.
The Beginning of Panic:
In the Fall of 2017, I had my first full-blown panic attack while I was at school. It came on as sweating, nausea, and the intense need to use the bathroom. Keep in mind that I am at this point only having mini panic attacks in certain scenarios, and am terrified of gastrointestinal distress. When this panic attack hit me like a wall, I thought for sure that I was falling ill, and that I needed to get home immediately. My school is a 35 minute drive from home. I rushed to my boss, told him I was sick as a dog, and needed to leave. Attempting to keep myself together, I fled home. Little did I know, I had just reinforced my anxious mind for the first time.
I began having sporadic panic attacks at random times. If I had to sit in class for too long, or if work got to stressful, I would panic. I continued to work through them until about November. Then they started to get so severe I would leave work or school, skipping classes and limiting my nightly adventures with my fiance.
I struggled through the rest of the semester, and figured that a break over Christmas would revive my spirits and leave me less anxious. I started Spring semester with a four day winterim class that lasted four hours. It was nervous and would get anxious, but I passed the class with flying colors. I looked forward to the real start of the semester and going back to my job.
I lasted four weeks.
Four weeks of skipping classes and work. Four weeks of panicking on the drive to school. Four weeks of drinking ginger ale and eating crackers to settle my anxious stomach. Four weeks until I cried my way into the job I loved and quit. Four weeks until I quit school (one of the greatest loves of my life). I stopped leaving the house and developed genuine agoraphobia (the fear of open spaces or leaving your home).
That is when anxiety first really took over my life.
Did You Go to Counseling?
One topic that is really hard in my journey with anxiety is that I did seek counseling, and early. My first panic attack at school happened in late September. By the first week of November I was in counseling for my anxiety. I knew it was serious and I wanted to get on top of it.
The sad thing is, it didn’t work. I was taught several techniques for calming down. Grounding, breathing, ways to handle the anxious stomach, and simply talking through my anxiety. I guess this just goes to show that you can do everything “right”- early intervention, following the advice of a counselor, and things can still go south for you. At my worst, between February and I would say May or June of 2018, I was having several panic attacks a day, and could not go more than five minutes from my home, and that was only on my best days.
In the past few months I have started up counseling again, with a different counselor who uses a different approach. Already I can see the differences between the two. So yes, I did originally go to counseling, then took about a four month break, and am currently back in it.
Where am I now?
I am married as of August 2018. I live in my own apartment with my husband, and we strive daily to improve my health and mindset. I work relentlessly on leaving the apartment, gradually exposing myself to situations (going to the mall, riding an escalator, doing the grocery shopping). I am proud to say that I have been making baby steps to recovery, and the amount of panic attacks I have daily has decreased significantly. I hope to be able to continue to update this section of my “About Me” as I reach new goals in my journey to live free of anxiety.