Even though I wasn’t officially diagnosed until I was fourteen, I’d struggled with anxiety for most of my life. I honestly thought I was just uptight and an over-thinker, not realizing that I wasn’t just ‘aware of my safety’ but instead consciously afraid to leave the house. After entering therapy and slowly expanding my comfort zone through trail and error, I began to feel more comfortable and independent. I was glad to say that I had never had a full-blown panic attack, that was until I was eighteen.
I had just moved into the on-campus accommodation at university. It was my second night, and I had forced myself to attend a meet and greet at the local pub across the street from the campus. After exhausting myself socially, I decided to head back to my apartment. However, it had gotten dark, and I was unable to determine the unfamiliar surrounding streets.
Already on edge, breathing heavily and starting to tremble, I pulled out my phone and called campus security. Throughout orientation, I had been told by every student representative that I was ever on or directly close to the campus and felt unsafe at night I could call security and they would happily escort me back to my room. Unfortunately, the crankiest security guard answered my call and accused me of using the line like a cab service because I was across the road from the campus instead of directly on the property (not that I knew that because I had little idea of where I was). Confused, embarrassed and feeling guilty, I listened to the man yell at me through the phone. Through this, I began to feel physically nauseous, tears swelled in my eyes, and I was unable to stay still. On top of this, my perspective completely changed. It was as if I had left my body and I was watching myself on television. I apologised to the security guard for bothering him, listening to him scold me one more time before he hung up.
I was somehow in my worst-case scenario: outside, at night, in a strange city I didn’t know, without anyone to help, having my very first panic attack.
Thankfully, a friend I had met during orientation had also left the pub and found me wandering around in the dark. She was local, so she knew the area well and helped me back to my apartment. I honestly wouldn’t know what I would’ve done since I was ten seconds from diving into the bushes and hiding there until morning. I also gave my mother a hell of a fright since I’d tried to call her five times after one in the morning.
Once, I got home, I went straight to bed. I was unable to sleep as the fear continued to linger within me, the scene replaying over and over within my head. Even under my heavy covers in my locked bedroom and heavily secured campus apartment, I still felt open, vulnerable and unsafe.
I had always had a good hold on my anxiety until that night, and it reminded me how dominant my mental illness can be, how no matter how strong I may seem, it can still knock me down. I didn’t let it stop me though as in the following weeks I took another step forward and went on the metro train to get some art supplies for university, trumping one of my biggest fears of moving to the city,
Mental illness is a wrestling match, sometimes the anxiety/depression/etc. will flip you over and pin you to the ground but that doesn’t mean you can’t regain control. It may take time, and it may take some effort and therapy, but there is nothing wrong with trying to turn the tables on your mental illness.
by Claire L. Smith
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Claire L. Smith is an Australian author, poet, screenwriter and artist. Her creative work has been featured in Luna Luna Magazine, Mookychick, Anti-Heroin Chic and Moonchild Magazine. Her essays promoting gender equality has been featured in Business Woman Media, Mookychick, NerdVanaTV and A Woman's Thing. She is also an official contributor to Outlet Magazine. A full list of her work can be found on her website.