Guest Blog By: Sarah Fader
I started experiencing panic attacks as a teenager. I was 15-years-old scared and alone. When I had my first panic attack, I was in my apartment with my mom. I remember reading a comic called “Books of Magic” where these characters who were supposed to be eternal ended up dying. It freaked me out, and I started to hyperventilate. My
breathing was labored and my heart was racing uncontrollably. I was scared that one day I would die. I began to feel small and out of control. It was like the universe was swallowing me whole. What a bizarre feeling this was. I needed to leave my apartment.
Thankfully, my mom was there and she took me outside. Being outside was something I would learn was a distraction from anxiety. Being inside made me feel more claustrophobic. Breathing the fresh afternoon air made me feel as if I could live again. Everything was bigger and not closing in on me.
That panic attack was the start of many. I found myself trapped in a feedback loop. I couldn’t figure out how to stop my heart from going a mile a minute. I would wake up sweaty with my heart palpitating. The worst part about living with this level of anxiety was concealing it from people around me who I felt couldn’t understand. When I went to
high school, I had to pretend that everything was fine. Thankfully, I attended a performing arts high school (the FAME school to be exact) and I was able to channel my anxiety into theater. But still, it was hard to behave “normally” when I felt the exact opposite of “normal.”
I felt like a freak. I was convinced that no one could possibly understand how bad I was feeling inside and so I hid my feelings. Anxiety was crippling to me at times. I would spend entire days just trying not to shake. My mind never stopped. The thoughts I had were intrusive and scary and made me feel like something was wrong with me.
I had obsessive repetitive thoughts about cutting my wrists. I knew I would never actually do it, but the thoughts tortured me.
As a teenager I lived in fear of who I was because I thought that person was damaged. I believed that she was broken. When I entered my 20s I continued to believe there was something wrong with me. Though I was in therapy and taking medication (which made these exponentially better for me) I still believed that there was something fundamentally wrong with me.
After I had children, I began writing seriously. Over time, I pushed myself and I started to make a living as a writer. It was only when I began to tell my story about living with mental illness on a public forum, that I started to heal. I wrote Fighting Against The Stigma of Mental Illness for The Huffington Post.
I was tired of living in silence about panic disorder. I was ready to embrace the fact that yes, I have anxiety. No, it doesn’t make me weird or a freak, it is simply part of my brain chemistry. It is just like having diabetes or heart disease. It’s a medical condition and it doesn’t mean that there is anything “wrong with me.”
Once I told my story, I began to focus on what was right with me rather than what was wrong. I was free, I was empowered, and I was able to be the person I wanted to be. Anxiety is my defining character trait. I am brave, charismatic, fun-loving, sarcastic, loving, generous, and a good friend. Those are the things that I began to embrace and focus on.
I no longer think there is something wrong with me, because I see the good. I see who I am and who I am is a beautiful person. I am a mother of two incredible human beings who I hope never have to deal with panic. But, if they do I will tell my children that they are not alone. I will remind them that they are powerful and beautiful and loved. Because, I know I am.
Sarah Fader recently released a collection of her essays from around
the Internet and you already love her because you read this article
and you want to buy her book.
She is the CEO and Founder of Stigma Fighters, a non-profit organization
that encourages individuals with mental illness to share their
personal stories. She is an author and blogger, having been featured
on Psychology Today, The Huffington Post, HuffPost Live, and Good day
Sarah is a native New Yorker who enjoys naps, talking to strangers,
and caring for her two small humans and two average-sized cats. Like
six million other Americans, Sarah lives with panic disorder. Through
Stigma Fighters, Sarah hopes to change the world, one mental health
stigma at a time.
Gabe Howard is a bipolar writer, speaker, and advocate. Find him online at www.GabeHoward.com.