I’ve described my panic attacks, anxiety and subsequent depression in many different ways over the 20 years I’ve battled my inner demons. Sometimes it is as an adversary, sometimes as a curse or monster, sometimes as my burden, my craziness, even my mental defect. My monster resorts to name calling, low self-esteem, secrets and shame. It’s always amazing to me every time my heart throbs wildly and my mind races with obsessive thoughts that a mental defect or burden can be so gut-wrenchingly physical in manifestation. The mind is powerful.
“I’ve lost myself behind the panic. I cannot see my reflection any longer. And as it takes over my brain, I know I am helpless to argue. I thought I was stronger than the monster. But it lives within me; it is a parasite and I am the host. I feed it unknowingly and in return it consumes my brain. I am doomed…to an unending game of cat and mouse, but who will be the victor has yet to be determined. Will it kill me, or will I kill myself first? Either way, the outcome is the same.”
I first suffered from a panic attack at the age of 10. It was a terrifying, trapped, embattled event that left me utterly changed from that day forward. I will never forget how it happened and I sometimes believe it will never fully leave me. My life throughout my teen years was highly restricted as I tried to hide my problem and maintain some sort of normalcy. Finally, I suffered a breakdown at 18 during my first year of college. Stress, poor choices, drinking, sex, relationships, a part time job and school all led to my inability to leave my house for any other reason than my part time job. And while there, every moment was a fight to maintain my sanity and calm. It was hours on the edge of absolute disaster. Eventually I wanted to end my own life because I couldn’t stand to live inside my body and mind any longer. Luckily, that wasn’t a choice I actually decided to make physical.
“My heartbeat is everywhere at once, slamming through my veins, hot and jittery. I blink, trying to bring reality back into focus, trying to banish the other-worldly feeling that is darkening my vision. My self-defeating mantra zips through my mind on overdrive. I. Am. Crazy. I wrap one arm around my middle to steady myself and stop the churning razorblades in my gut. My hands shake and I’m unable to breathe, wrapped in smothering hot cotton, despair rolling up my body in waves until hot tears prick my eyes. Thoughts thunder: You are crazy. You are trapped. You will be sick all over the floor. You will embarrass yourself. You will scream, cry, throw a tantrum, pass out, pee your pants, vomit or shit. You will reveal the fact that you are totally insane and you’ll never be able to show your face again.”
I’ve been through ups and downs in my 20’s. Days where panic hovers over me, days where I can manage to forget, days where every move I make has to be analyzed through the lens of my anxiety, days where I was very near breakdown. Will I panic, again? Will it ever end?
I’ve been on meds, I’ve been off meds, I’ve tried exercise, meditation and therapy. I’ve been happy on meds, I’ve been miserable on meds. When I turned 30, after 20 years of coping methods, days of quivering fear, lost social experiences, lost relationships, missed career opportunities and more, I decided that if I could do one positive thing with my anxiety, it would be worth the years of suffering. That’s the year I went off meds and started writing a novel about my experience of breakdown at 18.
Nothing has ever been more important to me than sharing my story. For many years, I didn’t know what was wrong with me, I was alone and I was crazy. That’s what I believed. I believed my mother and I (who also suffers as I do) were sharing a dark shameful family secret. No one knew, not friends, not extended family. So to finally share my story with the world was an immensely freeing goal and I thought, if I can help just one person get the help they need, or feel less alone, then my suffering has worth.
I published my novel Angst in January of 2013. It’s fiction, however roughly follows my story through college as I struggled to hide my anxiety and yet compensated in the worst possible way with drinking and partying. In fact drinking has always been a challenge for me. It’s always been one of my coping methods, used to feel normal in situations that I wouldn’t be able to handle otherwise. It was a way to be out with friends and boyfriends but as you can imagine it’s the kind of coping method that eventually backfires. And for me, the drinking and poor choices meant breakdown and complete isolation.
I also started blogging with the release of my novel and it’s been one of the best things for me. I’ve met close friends, I’ve learned that I am not alone nor crazy. Today, my belief is that mental Illness is not a weakness, it is not a character flaw. In fact, I believe it has given me insights into my own mind. I am highly sensitive, verbal, creative, thoughtful and yes, if you read my blog or book, sarcastic and able to laugh, no matter what. I refuse to accept stigma, I refuse to be labeled or ashamed, I refuse to hide and I have learned it’s okay to ask for help. I am proud to be me, anxiety and all! My message to you, it gets better! Find help! Do what you love and don’t let anything hold you back!
Victoria Sawyer is a blogger, author, aspiring graphic designer, social media enthusiast and mental health advocate. Shocking, honest, sarcastic and humorous, Victoria aims to make readers feel tangible emotions and physical sensations through writing that brings you into the mind and body of someone suffering from panic attacks, anxiety and this strange thing we call life. She published her novel Angst in 2013, which realistically and often graphically depicts life with mental illness. Along with crazy blogging, Victoria enjoys reading historical novels, playing with her naughty cats, engaging in rants and metaphysical existential meltdowns and using punctuation to excess in everything she writes.
Angst is available for sale on Amazon.com