While I was growing up in New York City, I remember being the first one in class to raise my hand when a teacher asked who wanted to read a particular segment next. I jumped up, and was absolutely thrilled when I was allowed the opportunity to show off my rapid reading pace. In elementary school, in second grade if I am correct, my desk and I were sentenced to spend the entire rest of the year in front of the blackboard. I mean, I was literally in front of the blackboard. I was so far up in the class that my teacher’s desk was diagonally behind me. I had potential, but I was too busy being a class clown and running my mouth, said my teacher in one of my report cards.
Then, after moving to Virginia and entering high school, I started becoming more and more hesitant of public speaking. First, I just kept my hand down so I wouldn’t stand out, but after a while, even that began to be a problem. Without raising my hand, I would still be called at random or when it became my turn when we were going around the classroom in order. That is when the worst of my problems became apparent. I began to have anxiety over each imminent display of class participation. This anxiety turned into a kind of fear, which then made way to panic. Yes, panic over reading out loud in class, or giving a simple one-word answer to a question.
At the time, I did not know why I panicked at seemingly minuscule social activities. It appeared ridiculous for me to think that an extrovert like the one in elementary had transformed into somewhat of a recluse in high school. In any class where I had the slightest chance of having to speak up out loud, I would feel extremely nervous every day. When panic attacks, as I would later learn these outbreaks were called, first started appearing, I would try to grin and bear. I would sit in my seat and endure it as my nervousness grew into panic. I brutally pinched myself unsuccessfully while praying and promising God anything he wanted of me as my panic climaxed. I can’t really explain what that feels like, except that I wouldn’t wish a panic attack on my worst enemy. Among the symptoms were dizziness, nausea, extremely rapid heartbeat, rise in temperature, and the feeling that doom was inevitable.
Once the climax died down, I felt like I had just run a marathon. The similarities were certainly there: I was short of breath, my racing heart was beginning to calm down, and most importantly, I had a sense of achievement knowing that I survived another panic attack without the loss of all my social status. However, this feeling of achievement was shorter-lived each and every time it happened. I began excusing myself to the restroom, conveniently timed just prior to my turn to read. I wandered the halls of my high school until the period was over, because returning to the classroom would make me the center of attention, which I feared.
Senior year came along, and my assignments carried more responsibilities. I was handed several assignments where I had to address the entire class in person on a specific subject. For those, I began to skip entire days of school, because you can bet your mother’s life that I would not be seen reciting anything in front a crowd. I purposefully did not hand in homework, just so I would be dismissed from any class review and discussion on it the following day, to the disgust of my teachers. Weekends were only half-exciting to me as an upcoming Saturday meant a reprieve of the school week ordeal, but Sundays would be spent anxiously anticipating the return of Monday. I was a problem child, but no one knew the extent of my problems.
With all my grades falling and my unexcused absences on the verge of causing my expulsion, I somehow made it to graduation. I should have been excited and overjoyed at just passing senior year by the skin of my teeth, but I was facing a dilemma. Some days I felt brave enough to tell myself that I should walk at my own graduation. On those other days, I knew that there was no way in hell I’d get up there, and these days outweighed the days when I felt brave at around the same ratio that there are nights with no blue moon to nights with one. The day came, and I did not walk at my graduation ceremony to be awarded my diploma. I spent the day driving around town and thinking of a story to come up with to tell my friends. I had already told my parents I was not walking, but at the time, I told them that I wasn’t walking because one of my best friends dropped out months earlier, and we had made a pact to make it to that day together. Luckily, my parents were fairly naïve, and they did not press the issue too much.
Even after missing my own graduation, I neglected to seek help for these social anxiety problems that I was facing. At the time, I told myself that having a psychologist put a name to these ailments would make me susceptible to any side effect they might say is associated with this disorder. I was also afraid that any treatment that I receive would cost more than I made at my meager eight dollar-an-hour pizza job. Most of all, I was scared to death that this shit that ailed me had no cure.
However, after making it through school where most of my social altercations occurred, I was no longer compelled to seek treatment. I went on working, with no college hopes, as I did not want to relive those school-day catastrophes. I then went to work at a factory, where I started reliving the past. Every day at the morning meeting, all 600 or so of the employees and I would head into the cafeteria. Safety topics would be discussed, upcoming news would be relayed, and random employees would get recognized for their hard work. It was this recognition that I soon found myself avoiding. When the bell rang that announced the seven minutes until the commencement of the meeting, and everyone headed towards the cafeteria, I hid in the bathroom or found some way to be inconspicuous until everyone was gone. I could not face just the small chance that I might win one of those safety prizes.
There was also a daily huddle that each department held on its own, and this happened at the start of each day. These were more intimate encounters, as each of our statistics and progress would be read aloud by the manager for the whole department to hear. I soon found myself coming in late many days, just to get there after this huddle was over. I was marked tardy many times and had gotten written up for it. I talked to my supervisor about this and the human resource manager, and they referred me to a local doctor who specialized in psychiatry. I finally realized that I could not continue living with this fear of social situations and panic and anxiety. I had escaped high school, but I was still only 19, and I had to work for at least the next thirty or forty years, and every different job would present its own problems for me.
I went to the local family practice and was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, or GAD. I guessed this much on my own, even thinking that I had Social Anxiety Disorder. I went to the in-house nurse practitioner, and I was given medications. I continued seeing her every other week to relay to her whether or not I was improving with these medications.
The National Institute of Mental Health says this about GAD:
“People with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) go through the day filled with exaggerated worry and tension, even though there is little or nothing to provoke it. They anticipate disaster and are overly concerned about health issues, money, family problems, or difficulties at work. Sometimes just the thought of getting through the day produces anxiety.
GAD is diagnosed when a person worries excessively about a variety of everyday problems for at least 6 months. People with GAD can’t seem to get rid of their concerns, even though they usually realize that their anxiety is more intense than the situation warrants. They can’t relax, startle easily, and have difficulty concentrating. Often they have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. Physical symptoms that often accompany the anxiety include fatigue, headaches, muscle tension, muscle aches, difficulty swallowing, trembling, twitching, irritability, sweating, nausea, lightheadedness, having to go to the bathroom frequently, feeling out of breath, and hot flashes.
When their anxiety level is mild, people with GAD can function socially and hold down a job. Although they don’t avoid certain situations as a result of their disorder, people with GAD can have difficulty carrying out the simplest daily activities if their anxiety is severe.
GAD affects about 6.8 million adult Americans and about twice as many women as men. The disorder comes on gradually and can begin across the life cycle, though the risk is highest between childhood and middle age. It is diagnosed when someone spends at least 6 months worrying excessively about a number of everyday problems. There is evidence that genes play a modest role in GAD.
Other anxiety disorders, depression, or substance abuse, often accompany GAD, which rarely occurs alone. GAD is commonly treated with medication or cognitive-behavioral therapy, but co-occurring conditions must also be treated using the appropriate therapies.”
I still have anxiety about things from time to time, but never to the extent that I had in its prime. Anxiety was a major part of my life, because it kept me from doing some major things in my life. Many people suffer from GAD or another of anxiety’s variety of disorders. My only advice is to seek professional help immediately. Forget doing the dumb shit that I did like postpone the medical opinion of a doctor, and don’t settle for making it through each anxiety attack with some temporary remedy(I sometimes brought a shot or two of liquor to work). Life is too short to delay with something that can easily be treated.