Of course, 9/11 was a traumatic day for all of us. I grew up in Atlanta, Georgia but my entire family is from New York. I had visited and knew exactly what the World Trade Center was while most of my classmates did not. My family was very affected by 9/11. My dad used to travel every few weeks to work there, and he easily could have been there that day. He lost countless friends and co-workers. My cousins went to school in the city at the time. My second-cousin Kevin Donnelly, a lieutenant in FDNY Ladder Company 3, was a first responder. He didn’t make it out.
Being 11 and trying to understand that event and fearing for the lives of my family members really shook me up. We flew to New York not too long after for Kevin’s memorial service, which is the first time I experienced real anxiety. I saw the National Guard at the airport with huge guns and felt panicky. I was so nervous to even get on a plane, and I was a child who absolutely loved flying. I don’t think my parents really thought anything of it. I wasn’t having a full-blown panic attack and they probably couldn’t tell what was going on. But, it was the beginning of my struggle with anxiety.
I would get overly anxious about things that other teens would just be a little nervous about, like taking tests, taking pills and storms. It was such a problem that I stopped having fun and doing what I loved. I didn’t get help my junior year of college, when a tornado hit my college town. After that, my anxiety was at an all time high and I just wasn’t able to live my life or be myself.
I had been to therapists before for various things, but I never went for anxiety. No one had ever talked to me about it so I didn’t know that’s what I was dealing with. I know people with anxiety, but everyone else’s is so different than mine. I never realized that what I was dealing with was classified as anxiety too.
So while I was in post-traumatic stress disorder therapy, I started to make connections back to things that happened to me. Everything made so much more sense, and I began to learn ways to handle my anxiety. Given that taking medicine is one of my triggers for anxiety, I didn’t want to take any prescriptions to help me deal with my anxiety issues. I know going on an anti-anxiety medication would help me a lot, but that in itself makes me panic. So my therapist taught me ways to work around it.
Part of dealing with anxiety is finding things that work specifically for you. It’s a lot of trial and error. I do a lot of breathing exercises and meditation. My therapist suggested brain-stimulating apps for me, so I play puzzle or word games on my phone. I also do certain ritual-type behaviors, which points to my OCD tendencies (another issue entirely), but I listen to the same music every morning when I get ready and when I go to and from work. Being on a crowded subway and stuck underground makes me super anxious, so I have to keep some sense of normalcy to calm me down.
For a long time, I let my anxiety control me. Now, I control it instead, and it’s made such a difference. I stopped allowing myself to be afraid to do things so I went out more, I did activities I wanted to do. Certainly, it takes a lot to break down that wall, but once I did I felt so much better.
I definitely still experience anxiety and panic, but I manage because I have techniques to deal with it. I watch myself carefully too because I know that with age, my anxiety will change and might get worse. I’ll likely have to medicate at some point, but for right now I’m doing just fine without it.
If you’re struggling with anxiety, or you feel nervous and you’re not sure why, I encourage you to talk to someone about it. Mental health has such a stigma, so everyone’s scared to bring it up. You’re not crazy or weird for having anxiety. It’s a lot more common than you probably think, so don’t be afraid to discuss it. The sooner you start talking about it, the sooner you can get help and be on your way to enjoying stuff!
Do you struggle with anxiety? Have you talked to anyone about it? Do you think you have anxiety but aren’t sure? Tell me in the comments!