Preface: This was written as a nonfiction creative writing essay in a class I took last semester. However, this story is the best way I could ever describe what it is like to have anxiety.

Drowning In My Own Earthquake
It starts with the thoughts that run circles in your head:
            I am losing my scholarship.
            How did I let this happen?
            There’s nothing I can do.
            How could I have let this happen?
            You build yourself up with these thoughts until you can’t do anything but let the wave completely crash over you. You breathe the water you’re drowning in into your lungs and fully subject yourself to the thoughts that are driving you mad. The Richter scale set at a five.
It is like an earthquake the meteorologist forgot to mention because things like this can’t be predicted. You don’t know when your world will begin to shake and all your most precious keepsakes will come crashing down with it. It is an anxiety attack, the plainest of its kind. The racing heart, shaking hands, shortness of breath. It is your mind racing and coming to conclusions that your rational brain would never come up with. Anxiety is one of the most common illnesses in the world and affects millions but in the moment, the moment when everything is falling off the shelves, you don’t just feel like one in a million, you feel like the only one and you feel yourself losing it all.
            It was 20 years into my life before I ever felt something so strong, something that shook everything up so much. It wasn’t until I really began to enter a different mindset that all this began. But one day being bailed on, an event that is usually pretty insignificant, turned into a source of complete dread and misery. It was the ground ripping apart and the swaying of the tallest buildings. Suddenly the culmination of so many weeks of stress, no appetite and sleep deprivation crashed in on me and I tore apart like I imagined the carpet under my feet would. The tears fell as if they would in a summer rainstorm and everything that I had tried not to feel for so long became a reality. Brain chemistry, life events, personality and my own thoughts led me down a spiral, led me into a tornado, leaving everyone and everything I cared about in its wake.
            I got into a relationship with a boy who had too many issues but was unwilling to admit to them. I was in love with an addict and brought the task of fixing him upon myself. His lack of care and absurd accusations became a daily routine and it eventually broke me. At the same time, my roommates were feuding, my dog was taken away from me, and I entertained the idea that I could handle 19 credit hours and somehow keep up a 30-hour workweek on top of everything else. By the end of December, all I wanted to do was disappear. There was no easy to way to clean up the mess that I had so haphazardly created.
All the anxiety and copious amounts of stress that these events brought on pushed me over the edge but it was the loss of control that was scariest because I could not control the damaging thoughts I was having. There was no way for me to put into words the things that I felt amidst these panic attacks and there was no way to feel better about them afterwards. I wrote pages among pages of frustrated lines that I would never let anyone read and I told everyone around me that I was okay; that a few tears and a few deep breaths would take it all away.  It was like being stuck on one of those freeway overpasses during an earthquake. You know what is happening and what the outcome will be but you are stranded with nowhere to go.  
            Next comes the immense feeling of doom, the thought that everything you have worked for to keep this boat afloat is gone. You begin to feel a sense that nothing will set this straight and that you have let everyone down. You begin to fear not only your own thoughts and the effect that it will have on you but also the way that others are going to react to the terrible mess your storm has created. At this point, there is no use in trying to talk yourself down. Within 10 minutes of your first spiraling thoughts and the first symptoms, you are in for the ride.
            The Richter scale is now set at nine. Your entire being shuts down. You know what is going on and you have tried to stop the immense feelings inside you. You can feel your heart racing and you can’t breathe. You look for any sign of blue skies and pray for the clouds to clear up. I tried to call my mom with shaky hands as the pictures taped up on my walls and the slightly dimmed Christmas lights bordering my ceiling, closed in around me.
            “Breathe,” she said, “everything will be better if you breathe.”
            You forget the most basic of human functions when you’re so caught up in your head. It is often hard to remember what being a functional adult feels like.
            “Why are you overthinking this so much? Stop thinking about it.” Her words were not soothing. My mother had some idea about earthquakes and she had some idea about panic attacks. If it were genetic, I would blame her. She had several nocturnal panic attacks throughout her life but those feelings of immense fear that she felt a select number of nights once or twice a year plagued my life almost every day.
            She assured me that whatever happened, we would figure it out and for a minute that calmed me. It brought my electrified nerves down to a low buzz. It brought the world a little further away and made my fears a bit more tangible. My Richter scale was brought down to a low, roaring four.
            That was the first time I had ever experienced a feeling so hard to explain and it was the first time that I felt so out of my head. An entire 18% of the population alone in the United States suffers from this same exact kind of thing. Although women are much more susceptible to these panic attacks, it is a part of the human condition. A part of every man and woman’s brain has the power to do this. This small part of the brain has the power to induce a magnitude nine earthquake.
            After the first attack, they got easier to deal with but never went away. You begin to notice them coming on before they hit you with 100 mph winds and you learn to try and move towards the eye of the storm where it is the most calm, the safest. It is in this moment that I start the deep breaths the, you will survive this thoughts. As much as you want to think that you won’t lose control this time there is always a part of you that knows that to be untrue.
            They happen over uneasiness in relationships, failed friendships, bad grades, a hard day at work or even not getting a response to a text message that you thought was important. The threatening fear that he doesn't love you anymore sends the world around you into a spiral. You don't want to feel like you lost control of your best friend and had no way of saving her from her own inevitable demise. There's no right way to tell your parents that life became too much this semester and as a consequence you are getting a D for the first time in your life. A snarky remark from an ungrateful customer or no response to, "What are we?" threaten that fragile balance between sanity and insanity. There is really no saying in the event that will bring the storm clouds looming over your ill-fated head.
            These occurrences became a pattern and after not too long I began to feel the anxious feelings and depression slip into my everyday life. It was the way that my brain was processing my feelings and the way that the smallest of incidents would alter my entire being that scared me, and those who were closest to me, the most.
            I had once been so laidback and carefree. My dad used to say that I was “Miss Go With The Flow” and that I had once maneuvered through all obstacles in my life with grace. Throughout high school, I managed a job, school and the role of Vice President of choir. I never cracked or broke. I always kept my wits and always came home from the day with a tired smile on my face.
            Maneuvering into my first two years of college was another graceful event and my dad looked forward to the stories and experiences I got to share with him every time I came home for the weekend. He was never the na├»ve one in the parental unit. He knew that drinking and drugs would eventually find their way into my world and was excited for me to experience those things too.
It was the fall of my junior year when our conversations changed. They went from sharing stories about the party I went to the weekend before to asking questions like:
"Are you eating?"
            "Sleeping?"
            "When are you going to see somebody?"
            "Do I need to drive up there tonight? I will if I have to."
He knew the circumstances and he knew why I had become someone he didn’t recognize over the course of only a few months but that didn’t change the fact that he missed the fun girl with the “who cares” attitude I had once been.
            My dad couldn't handle the unknown and the cryptic messages in my blog posts. He knew I was falling apart and that he had no control in it. For a control freak, this was his worst nightmare; he didn't know how to help me.
            Between my parents and me, we concluded that pills were the best way to treat this because my feelings of being “mentally unhealthy” were something we were not used to. Only about one-third of people suffering from anxiety disorders get the help they need and my parents were bound and determined to not let me become just another number in that statistic. I started seeing a psychologist. In all honesty, I started seeing him once it was too late. By the time I was sitting in Carl’s office this past February, I felt like I was too far-gone and that there was no saving my drowning heart. For 45 minutes, I explained the intimate details of the hardest six months of my life. The abuse, loss, overload of classes and stressful job caused him to let out a sigh like I had never heard before. I know, I know. For the first time in a long time though I felt better.
            There are misconceptions about therapy and the way that it all works. You don’t lie on a Lazy Boy lounger and tell a stranger how you feel about this or that. If you find the right fit, you dive into the deepest depths of the ocean and you shine that flashlight into the underwater caves that you had been hesitant to enter. It was the feeling of justification when I left his office and the feeling that I wasn’t actually crazy. He said something before I left that will stick with me for a very long time, “I want to lead you out into those dark, murky, shitty waters, but I won’t let you drown in them.” He had no emotional investment in me and seemed to understand my lost and raw soul.
            Carl wasn’t the end all be all. Those hour sessions sitting in his small office where the leather chairs were never that comfortable and the tissues on the table between us were scratchy, didn’t heal me. The breakdowns and realizations of my own strength in that office didn’t stop my mind from spiraling a week later. The promise that I could somehow work through this and even accept my anxiety for what it was, is what got me through the worst times.
            I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder in late February. WebMD had told me this months before because the everyday feelings of no control, jitteriness and my lack of patience with people who took too long to order a Chopped Salad at work were all red flags. The constant worry, uncertainty, difficulty concentrating and my inability to relax all aligned with the symptoms of the disorder. I was a stranded dinghy in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and the waves were picking up faster than I could paddle to shore. Upon this diagnosis, I thought, “Pills, I need pills. I didn’t know how to ask for them without sounding like a drug addict but I felt that it was the only thing that would cure me. This was until one of our meetings when Carl told me that by using, and in a way masking the pain, I would never figure out how to deal with my emotions and that I would never be able to actually face the things that I was feeling head on. This was said many sessions into our somewhat personal and professional relationship. I trusted him and he knew me. At this point, he knew my darkest thoughts, the way I felt about those in my life and the way that I felt so out of control. He knew that I simply did whatever I could to cover up my feelings instead of really just feeling them. I never asked for those magic pills.
            Anxiety looks and feels a lot like this essay does: drawn out, high strung and all over the place. Naturally, I am surprised that writing this did not bring on any kind of anxiety because trying to explain the inner workings of your mind to anyone but your own brain is one of the most difficult things anybody can do. I can only relate these things to earthquakes and thunderstorms and I can only express these feelings as drowning. Learning to embrace the waves and the sudden shaking is like being in an open field and seeing that spiraling twister heading your way. That is the sink or swim moment and despite how dark, murky and shitty those waters may be, you cannot allow yourself to drown in them. I will not allow myself to drown in them.
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Update: Four months after this was written, I got the help I really needed and got a prescription for those magic pills.
Further Update: Although not completely healed, I am now happy and feel more balanced.