This post is very personal and something that not a lot of people know about me. I suffered from anxiety and panic attacks. This all goes back to my kindergarten years at a Catholic school in a very small town where I was the only ethnic child in my town. As a result, a lot of people picked on me because I looked different.
Who I was Then
Before I started kindergarten, I was outgoing and always making up stories in my head and acting them out for my parents. I had a lot of fun talking to people and making new friends, but that all changed when I started kindergarten. There was one kid in particular that picked on me and he was relentless. I looked forward to the day that I could start grade one and not have to worry about him picking on me. Boy, was I wrong. If I thought he was bad, I was in for a rude awakening.
Who I Became
From grade one until grade eight I was harassed daily. The girls were physical and the boys were verbal, so life became a living hell and I wished that I didn’t exist. I stood up for myself a couple of times, but all that got me was into huge trouble with my teacher and a trip to the principal whom told my mom that my best option was to leave the school. Guess what the teacher said? It was my fault and that I was lying about the girls and boys picking on me and that I was the one picking on them. Wow.
Around grade 6 or 7, I had a math teacher that was also the assistant principal. I had never understood math, so I asked her for help and stayed after class to get help from her. However, when it came time for teacher parent interviews, when my mom asked her why I wasn’t doing well in her class she said “Oh, I didn’t know your daughter spoke English.”
That was the turning point. My parents knew that something was going on with me, but I started to withdraw into myself more and more. I had developed insomnia because I was afraid to sleep. When I finally fell asleep, I had nightmares about what happened to me at school. Needless to say, I was a zombie in the morning and over the years I had learned to stay quiet. Why would I stand up for myself if my teachers would just take their side?
Life with Anorexia
Finally, in grade eight I begged my parents to let me switch schools. I heard that the high school near our house had an amazing stage for Drama class and since Drama was the only time I could escape reality, I wanted to go to that school. They agreed and in the summer, I developed an eating disorder.
When I looked at myself in the mirror, all I heard was the kids calling me fat and ugly. Slowly, I began to eat less and less, until I was only eating two bites of breakfast and walking on the treadmill for two hours every day. I started out at around 118 pounds (I’m five feet) and went down to 80 pounds. Even at 80 pounds, I still thought I was fat. I continued eating barely anything and throwing out the lunch my mom made me, or I gave it to someone else. I still cut myself, cried myself to sleep every night, and still dreaded going to school even though everyone at the public school left me alone.
Drama class was the only place I could be someone else and immerse myself into my acting. I even joined the drama club after school and auditioned for two plays. The first play I was ever in I played a woman that had a lot of confidence. The second play I was in, I was a girl that was exceptionally organized and liked to give orders. Over time, my Drama classes and club taught me how to act confident, even though I wasn’t.
From Bad to Worse
Fast forward a bit to the first boyfriend I ever had where I noticed I had panic attacks. I couldn’t be myself and I was so scared of being myself around him. After that relationship ended, I went into another bad relationship that messed me up big time. From there, my relationships all were one bad one after the other, resulting in some serious trust issues and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
I won’t give you the details of what happened, since it was a mixture of things, but what I can tell you is that when I started college, I had a huge problem. I wouldn’t talk to anyone in my classes unless I absolutely had to and when the teacher called on me in class, I would have a panic attack. Anytime I needed to talk to someone I didn’t know, I had a panic attack. Anytime I had to speak in class, I had a panic attack. Life was stressful and hard in college. I wasn’t there to make friends, I was there to study Japanese and get a degree so I could GTFO of here and live in Japan. A place I feel a huge connection to and where I thought I could make a new beginning.
My Japanese classes involved me making skits and going up to the front of the class to present. Of course, I had panic attacks and forgot everything, but it was easier when I had a partner with me. My Japanese class forced me to talk to another person in my class, so by the end of my second year at college, I had gotten over my anxiety.
In 2010, I finally transferred to University and all hell broke loose. I got into the worst relationship ever. We fought all the time and he called me stupid, among other things. He even made me pick between him and my dog. The relationship finally ended, but I was worse off than ever. My PTSD was in full swing as well as my panic attacks and anxiety attacks.
Of course, I was still taking Japanese courses, so I had to talk to other people there, but I only did during class. I never spoke to anyone outside of class. That was, until I met one of my first friends in University and we are still friends to this day.
Finally, My Life Began to Change
I decided that I had had enough of being by myself and trying to navigate my life on my own. My TA in Japanese class mentioned a Japanese Conversation Club and even though I had a panic attack approaching him, I managed to ask him for more information. However, the first time I went, I went to the wrong classroom. I felt embarrassed and didn’t bother trying again, not until the next semester when I ran into someone that I had taken my Japanese classes with in college. It was through her that I met and made some other friends and she showed me where the Japanese club was.
After my first visit to the club and having a huge panic attack, I slowly met people and got introduced to more people. I wanted to speak Japanese so badly that eventually, I stopped having panic attacks. However, they came back every time I had a confrontation with my boyfriend at the time. Another crappy relationship that ended with me withdrawing into myself for a while and doing a bunch of stupid, which made me lose even more weight.
I started going out more and drinking more. Whenever I drank, I forgot my problems and talked openly to people for once. I was able to have conversations with people in English and in Japanese without having a panic or anxiety attack. It was great. That’s when one of my close friends learned that I had PTSD and tried his best to help me.
It was because of this friend and other friends that I eventually got over my PTSD. It was hard and I wanted to give up, but I kept going because I wanted to be free. I wanted to stop being so scared all the time, especially since I wanted to teach English in Japan.
Ready to read How I Overcame PTSD, Panic, and Anxiety Attacks Part Two?