My Anxiety Story: How I Began to Recognize I have Anxiety

I’ve mentioned a few times here that I suffer from anxiety. Back in May, during Mental Health Awareness Month, I shared a little more about my struggle on Instagram. Every since that post I’ve wanted to share more, so I'm getting personal today! My hopes in this is to not only get a little deeper but to also connect to more people.

Today, I want to share the beginning of my anxiety and how it started to shape my life. In the future I want to share more on my journey with it and eventually get into how I cope with it and the steps I’ve taken in my life. Everyone’s anxiety is very different. I don’t expect anyone else to have the same exact same struggles that I have but maybe you can see a connection in parts of my story.

Although I didn’t always know what it was, I’ve had anxiety for as long as I can remember. As I was growing up I would stress at new changes. I loved school but I would worry failing, not having friends or not keeping up with my homework. I could find a hundred things to worry about and it would keep me on edge. My feelings went beyond the typical stress one feels and when I was a teenager started becoming much more intense. On my bad days, the typical social stresses we all have at that age could cause me to have a complete meltdown.

Many times my anxiety wasn’t triggered by something that was happening in my life but by something that could happen. My mind is constantly creating a ton of different scenarios of how things could turn out and what could happen. I would worry and fixate on the "what if’s" in life. Once I had these ideas, I couldn’t get rid of them. I had racing thoughts, feelings of dread and a lot of fear. I would even worry about how much I was worrying! This is when my anxiety changed from situational to more of a constant in my life. Many days I would have this “keyed up” feeling all day.

Like many, my anxiety shows itself in physical ways too. It typically starts with a heaviness in my chest that can move throughout my body. When it is really bad, my heart can race and I can feel short of breath. In High School I had my first panic attack which I can only describe as a mini heart attack with a feeling of a complete loss of control. Obviously a panic attack can be very scary, especially if you don’t know what it is. When I had my first one, my mom was with me and I was lucky that she knew what was happening and could calm me down. Then the worry of having another one added to my anxiety, which creates a vicious cycle. 

Obviously the changes that come with going to college can cause stress and a little anxiety for anybody. While exciting, all the “new” in the life of a college freshman can be a bit overwhelming. I loved my new life and being at OU was so much fun but of course it added many challenges for me. Making new friends, trying to feel comfortable, managing school and trying to have a social life pretty much consumed me. Add to that the unhealthy eating and lack of sleep that is a signature of college life and I had primed myself for more anxiety and panic attacks.

What some people don’t quite understand about anxiety is how people live with it. While I had a high level of anxiety, I could still go about my day, study, have fun and kind of hide the struggles I was having. Not that this is healthy, but I learned to separate the different “boxes” of my life and shut off what I wasn’t focused on in the moment. I would put difficult emotions or what I was dealing with in these boxes and not deal with them. This doesn’t mean the anxiety wasn’t there, it was more that I was ignoring and not working thru it. And in the long run this increased my anxiety. 

Because I was hiding most of my feelings and worries from myself, I was also keeping them from my family and friends. I am lucky to have incredible people in my life but I am naturally someone that doesn't easily share things. So never did I even think that I should be sharing about my anxiety with anyone. I didn't see how sharing could help me, so why would I burden those I loved with this? People in my life could probably see that I was stressed but I think I did a pretty good job at hiding the level at which I was struggling. Having some anxiety herself, my mom could recognize that I did too. She was the only one that I felt even slightly comfortable in being open with my struggle. Her and I always had a close relationship and talked daily so I would give her some details about my anxiety level. But most of the time this only happened when she asked about it several times or when it was so high I was about to burst. 

I really thought my level of anxiety and the constant heavy feeling I had was normal. And honestly it had basically become my new normal. When you have this same consistent feeling most days, it is hard to remember a time without it. Because I didn't really think I could help this feeling, I wasn't doing any work to make it better. I also thought that since I was doing well in school and making friends at college that I must be ok. And since I wasn't sharing with really anyone, no one could tell me that I shouldn't have to live with this intense level of anxiety. One of the biggest symptoms I struggle with is difficulty sleeping. I could lay in bed for hours and not fall asleep, even though I was exhausted. Then on nights when I could fall asleep, I would wake up in the middle of the night and not be able to fall back asleep. 

Only in hindsight did I realize I was boxing up my feelings. It was a subconscious way my mind taught me to cope so that I could live my life. I still had plenty of joy and fun in my life so I didn't see the problem in what I was doing. Not until I started therapy in my mid 20’s would I learn how to break this habit and that dealing with my anxiety, and all the emotions that come with it, was the only way that I could actually alleviate it.

Like I stated before, this is the just the beginning of my struggle. For me, anxiety will be a lifelong struggle and I am thankful that I have the opportunity and platform to share with you. Later this month, I’ll be sharing the next part of my story and how 2 major life events affected it.   

Kara Krittenbrink

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