Moving Forward

Senior reflects on personal experience with stress, anxiety 


Photo by Peyton Sims

Story by Abby Elliott , social media editor

My chest is tight, my heart is pounding and my throat is closing, all which are restricting me from getting in a single breath. I can feel my tears roll down my cheek as I break out into a cold sweat. At this moment, the only thought in my head is, “why?” 

Anxiety attacks: what really causes them? A bad test score here, parents fighting there, or maybe even falling behind on a car payment. I have suffered from terrible anxiety for years, but I have only recently learned what really caused me to shut down in the middle of an algebra quiz. My mental health over the years has fluctuated. Just eight months ago, I probably would try to defend my mental state, playing it off as “I’ve gotten better,” when in reality, I am just more aware of how to deal with surroundings that push me.

I was 14 when I had the first anxiety attack that I specifically remember. The day is all a blur. I can’t recall anything from it, what I had to eat, the classes I attended, not even the date. My mind has pushed out every single part of the day except for how I trembled at night alone in my bed, balling my eyes out for what seemed like hours without a “reason.” My hands trembled as I dialed my mother’s phone number. My mom’s voice shook with understandable worry about me and my father’s safety. All she could do to calm her weeping child was to tell her that everything was fine and to go to sleep. Needless to say, it didn’t work.

My parents were never the most knowledgeable when it came to mental health. I was raised ignorant to the many issues that affect an extremely large population of our current world. This led to a lot of confusion among both them and me. I was always told to hold in the tears until you get home, and that if you cry with no real cause, then you must be crazy. I truly learned how wrong and damaging these stigmas are during my sophomore year. 

I was in my algebra class, preparing to take a quiz that I was not ready for. My teacher handed me the paper that read “Algebra II Functions of Polynomials.” I looked down at the first question and it might as well have been another language. I shook it off and went to the next question, then the next, and so on. None of it made any sense. My thoughts started to spiral with worry. “My grade is already low enough as it is, if I fail this then I won’t pass the class. If I fail both this and world history, my GPA will plummet,” I thought to myself.  My mind went crazy with anxiety. Tears started to roll down my face and my hands started to shake. I dropped my pencil, and it felt as if I was no longer just taking a simple math quiz. It might as well have been my entire future on the line rather than just a recoverable grade average of a C. 

The world around me started to spin which only added to the nauseated feeling in my stomach. I realized that I just could not handle it, so I dried my tears and pulled myself together enough not to cause a scene. I wrote what I could on the quiz to ask for a retake at a later date and texted my mom to come get me before I became the center of everyone’s attention adding to my vast amount of anxiety.

Once my mother picked me up, she was extremely panicked and thought that something must have happened for me to be this distraught. After I explained through hiccups and sobs about how I completely lost my composure, all she said was “What is wrong with you?” She asked not with any disgust or malice in her voice, but just pure confusion. That was the moment I realized that these attacks that have been happening since I became a teenager have all been due to stress and anxiety. “They’re anxiety attacks,” I mumbled to her as the true root of it had hit me. 

The pandemic was an eye-opening time for me in many ways. Along with it, I gained an extreme awareness of my own mental state. The first few weeks of quarantine were a nice break from the crazy world and my anxiety lightened. But after a while, I started having these episodes where I would sit alone in my dark room with music playing, and feel… nothing. Absolutely nothing. The best I could ever hope to describe it as, is a large dark, empty pit. No light, color, sound or emotion. I am still not exactly sure how to feel about it. It is kind of scary when I sit down to think about it. There is no other word that I can come up with to describe this numbness besides depression.

This is all one big paradox really. I have times when my emotions and thoughts are going faster than I could ever try to describe. My eyes were constantly watering while listening to sad songs on repeat. Then the next day, I could be back in my bottomless pit without any feeling at all, just existing. I have spent an uncountable amount of time trying to understand my head. I slowly grew more conscious of my limits. For instance, social interaction is draining and can cause my anxiety to spike. On the other hand, not going out with my friends after a week tends to push me into a depressive episode.

This last year has been both amazing and torturous. I cannot even describe the amount of stress that I have gone through. I hit a point where I was having a panic attack every other day like clock work due to my intense workload. On the other hand, I’ve made incredible bonds and memories with people, some of which I know I won’t ever forget. Through all of this, I have gained an immense sense of open mindedness toward people who deal with similar struggles. I don’t know why my body is the way that it is, and this can be frustrating at times. All I can do is keep moving forward.