When I was in 10th grade, I had my first panic attack. I was backstage waiting to go on for the closing number of Les Mis ( the spring musical I was in) and I thought I was going to pass out. My eyes were blurry and my legs were shaking. I didn’t go on for the number and instead sat backstage shaking and taking deep breaths.
I had my second panic attack in Mr. Flaherty’s history class 2 days after that. I went to the nurse because I thought I was going to throw up. My mom dismissed me from school.
I’ve had a panic attack in the shower, on the bus, on the train, in the car, and in my bed. I’ve had a panic attack during a band concert and on a plane. I had a panic attack on a boat in Greece and on my living room floor.
By senior year of high school they seemed to be getting better, or at least I had learned how to control them. I knew the signs and the triggers and I knew how I felt before they started. I thought I was doing better.
I was excited and ready to go to college. I was going to live in the dorms and it was going to be amazing, or at least that’s what everyone kept telling me.
But it wasn’t amazing, in fact I hated college my first year.
Every night, around 3 in the morning I would wake up from my deep sleep having a panic attack. I would cry and shake and be nauseous. I would walk out of the dorms to the middle of Boston because I just couldn’t breathe and I needed some air. My heart was racing and my palms were sweating, but I felt freezing cold. And it happened, every single day.
I didn’t tell anyone. I went into college thinking it was going to be the best years of my life, and everyone would be having a great time. Why wasn’t I having a good time? What is wrong with me? I’m all alone, or at least that’s how I felt.
By the middle of February I couldn’t take it any more. I was never sleeping, I was having 3-4 panic attacks a day. My only thoughts were on surviving. One morning in February after another night of constant panic attacks I sat in the 150 Tremont Street cafeteria eating my breakfast and crying. I called my mom and finally told her what was happening to me.
After lots of tests and discussion with my psychiatrist, it was determined I had panic disorder and Generalized anxiety disorder, and insomnia brought on by the GAD and panic.
I took the T home that day with so many emotions- relief, worry, shame, hope.
Panic disorder means I have a chemical imbalance in my brain, causing my body to have sudden and unexpected attacks of fear. The good news, with medicine and counseling, I can learn how to live with this disorder.
I made a lot of changes, I started commuting to college every day. I came up with a strict night time routine which helped my brain learn how to sleep again.
I learned how to cope with the constant anxiety. For me, the best way to cope was to have a set schedule and routine. I lived by my calendar, crossing things off when they were complete. To this day, straying from my routine messes me up for the whole day.
I would stay busy, I worked a lot, I had some internships, I read a lot of books, watched tv, worked hard for my grades. I taught dance and competed in pageants and went skiing on the weekends. I thought if I was busy, I wouldn’t have time to be anxious, or at least I wouldn’t have time to think about how anxious I actually was.
I would test myself to see how long I could go without a panic attack. 1 day, 1 week, 1 month.
And just when I would feel confident with my progress, I would have a random panic attack on a Tuesday night and worry I was reverting to how it used to be. I had medicine to take if I did start to have a panic attack, but I felt ashamed if I needed to take it, like I was never going to be okay again.
By senior year of college, I felt pretty normal again. Even if I started having a panic attack I could control it and go on with my day- a huge improvement from how it used to be.
I started applying for jobs, feeling ready to graduate from college and start in my field.
I graduated from college on May 19, 2019 and moved to Idaho on June 15, 2019.
Moving to Idaho has been really great, but also really hard. I love my job, and going to work, but I would be lonely on my days off. Sometimes I would just go to TJ Maxx or Target just so I wouldn’t be alone.
About one month into living here I adopted my dog, Jackson, from the shelter, and I am so glad that I did, because he became my best friend and a great way for me to meet people, we would go on walks or hikes and to the dog park.
There has been so much good to come out of moving to Idaho and working here, but let me tell you, when the world shut down last March, I did not handle it well at all.
I went back to how I was freshman year of college, solely focused on trying to get through the day.
If I felt lonely when I first moved here, that was nothing compared to how I felt when the pandemic started.
I cried all the time, I felt like there couldn’t possibly be another person in the entire world who understood how I felt. I was alone. I was back to my daily consuming anxiety and not being able to think about anything else.
Because one of my main coping mechanisms for anxiety is to be busy and not have time to focus on the anxiety, when the world shut down, there went my coping mechanism, and the anxiety and panic attacks came right back.
After a few months of things staying the same, I decided to make some changes myself.
I started going to therapy, I moved to a bigger apartment, I tried to find things I liked to do, even if it was something small like taking a walk or baking some muffins.
Through it all, everyday, I showed up to work and tried my best. And some days, my best was really really really bad.
So, if you are still reading this, you may be wondering, Why is Elizabeth sharing this with us?
Well, I’ll tell you why.
Because over the past 2 years, I’ve been telling the stories of the people and for the people of Southern Idaho, and it’s been an honor.
But, what I’ve learned from doing this is that everyone has a story to tell, and every story matters. Now, it might not matter to everyone, but my goal is to have each story I share affect just one person.
So in reality, my story may only have an impact on one or two people who have read this far, but in my mind, that’s enough.
I know what it’s like when you feel alone, when you lay in bed at night crying because it’s all just too much to handle. So if you ever feel that way, I get it.
If there is one thing I’ve learned since 10th grade, it’s this:
All of my life, I’ve wanted to be successful, thinking that I would finally be successful when XYZ happened.
I still worry I won’t ever be successful, but I’ve come to realize there is no definition to success, like all of the stories I’ve told over the past year, everybody’s is different. Maybe I won’t ever be the host of Good Morning America, or a rockette, maybe I’ll just be happy.