It had been a strange week. Something was up, and we all noticed it—it was hard not to: every single day my parents had received a call from the nurse’s office at my elementary school saying that their daughter was not feeling well. Every day, one of them had rushed to come get me, only to find that, when they swooped me up and got me home, I was completely fine. Of course, every kid has fabricated a sore throat or the sniffles at least once before, but this was not that. I was clearly not lying. But even so, I couldn’t communicate what was wrong with me. I just knew that something was.
My mom and dad turned on parent mode. They made some calls, did some Google-ing, and after a few days of research I found myself hearing my mom call, “Layla! Come into the living room! Daddy and I need to talk to you”. I shuffled in, and plopped myself down on a couch. My dad eventually broke the silence. “We think you have something called anxiety.”
Initially, I was relieved. Finally this thing inside me was no longer an enigma. It was concrete and real, something that could be worked with. The most powerful emotion, however, was humiliation. I was in third grade. The most complicated emotions my peers were experiencing ranged from excitement for recess to disgust towards vegetables. I was terrified that my peers would find out and ostracize me. I was maddeningly angry that, out of everyone in my world, anxiety was affecting me. I felt alone and confused. When my parents told me that they were going to meet with my teachers to discuss a game plan, I hysterically begged them not to. But, of course, they did. It was decided that whenever I was feeling anxious, I could go outside and gather myself. I also began seeing a therapist, who I now know helped me, but back then seemed to me like a waste of time.
With this help, as the months passed, anxiety went away, and by the end of third grade I had literally forgotten about it. It came back in exactly the same form in fifth grade, but, once again, it drifted away gradually, and its memory slipped my mind. Of course, it didn’t stay dormant eternally, and it is still a part of my life today mostly in the form of panic attacks.
My panic attacks vary, and each requires different coping mechanisms. For distraction, I read my favorite chapter in the world (“The Old Forest” in the Fellowship of the Ring, for those to whom it may apply), or watch a TV show. Drinking tea and listening to a guided meditation are calming. I don’t seek help from others—for me that feels over-stimulating, but outside support surely helps a lot of people. I have even hyperventilated into a paper bag, like you see cartoon characters do on TV. Perhaps the most important part of responding to a panic attack is one’s internal dialogue. Personally, if I feed my anxiety even a little, it blows up like crazy. I stay positive: I’m not going to feel this way forever and it’s going to be okay. Labeling anxiety for what it is reduces its power. Overall, taking action, in any way, helps me, and the first step to action is addressing the problem.
Perhaps the most inconvenient problem that anxiety spurred was the severe difficulty I had with sleeping somewhere other than my own bed. Even at home I would wake up at around 3am, every single night, feeling anxious, so experiencing this in an unfamiliar environment just intensified the issue. This was also very inconvenient for my mom and dad. Many times, I would bring myself to leave home, only to call them inconsolably begging to come back just a couple days later. My parents have shipped me home from countless sleepovers at friends’ houses, a camp on Catalina Island, and even a school trip in Mexico. This problem has improved as I’ve gotten older, but it is still very powerful at times even now, and, consequently, it was of much concern during my college application process.
When I started looking at schools I knew that I needed to get away from Los Angeles, not to escape my parents or establish my own curfew, but to learn how to function without using home as a crutch as I had so consistently in the past. So, come late August, I said goodbye to my room and my cat (many tears were shed), and I boarded a plane to Washington DC.
The first week was a real test. I experienced intense anxiety at least once a day and had a panic attack just the second night at school. I was prepared, though, having known that this would happen. I gave myself space, let myself cry when I needed to, and, most importantly, never gave myself an out. Going home was not an option. I was determined to get through it, and I did.
Tonight marks two days until I go home for the first time in three months, and I can truly say that I am okay. That’s not to say that my anxiety is gone—I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to claim that it is, but, with it by my side, I am doing well. Any time it creeps up on me, I find strength, trust that a new day will come, and always repeat my anthem: keep on keeping on.