My mother practically drags me by my ankles to get me in the silver Passat. It’s a hot July day and I’m headed to my least favorite place—University of Kansas’ main campus for volleyball camp with my high school team. When we drive up to the dorm 45 minutes later, I yank my pink duffle bag and pillow from the trunk and head to my source of torture—crappy food, lame drills, grumpy coaches–for the next week.
That night after the opening evening session, I lie in my bed in the mildew-smelling room. My mind is racing again, analyzing and over thinking everything about the day. I was beyond wide-awake an hour ago.
These panic attacks almost always came out of nowhere with no apparent cause or trigger. The monster sets in and spreads throughout my body.
I press the button on the top right corner of my iPhone. The clock flashes 12:02. What feels like an hour passes. 12:17. I’m restless.
What if I don’t fall asleep? What if I make myself sick in the morning from being so exhausted?
I feel my throat tighten. My heartbeat speeds up.
The monster is coming. He tries to spread out through my entire body, tries to make me tense up. It starts in my chest, then to my shoulders, last it goes for the killer: my throat.
I hate him. I hate him.
I pop out of bed. I need to go call my mom, I tell my sleepy-eyed roommate.
Two seconds later, I’m in the hallway in my white and blue striped boxers and t-shirt. I make my way down the hall, press my back to the wall, slowly sliding down until my knees are to my chest, sitting near the emergency exit door.
“Mom?” I say, my voice shaking. “I need you to pick me up.”
Then I tell her. Tell her how I hate it here. How I want to leave. How I don’t know why but I feel like I’m going to have a panic attack.
She refuses. “You need to get through this,” she tells me. “I know you’re tough enough.”
I’m desperate. Crying. Begging. Pleading for her to just come pick me up, I don’t want to learn anything — I just need to leave. Please mom, I’m panicking. Panicking and I don’t know why.
What caused it? I don’t know. The cocky, entitled upperclassmen? The soggy salad? The stupid drills? I just don’t know.
After my mom refuses for the last time, I creep back into bed, shaking from head to toe.
Tonight, the monster wins.
I can’t remember a time when anxiety wasn’t a part of my life. It’s always been there, ready to come out of nowhere. Ready to ruin the fun.
That stupid monster kept me from living my life like a normal kid would. I would choose to not go to a certain place or do certain things because I was afraid of being afraid; I hated the way I felt when I was anxious. It controlled everything I did.
There was the Friday night in first grade when I spent the night at a friend’s house after a basketball game. At 2 a.m. I woke up for no apparent reason and became restless. After 30 minutes of trying to fall back asleep, I grew impatient. The monster came and I called my mom to pick me up in the middle of the night.
Or the time when I was 12, finally out seeing a scary movie with my friends without any adults there. Twenty minutes into “Cloverfield,” the terrorizing Godzilla imposter had just reached New York when I decided I couldn’t take it anymore; I called my grandma to come save me five minutes later.
Or the time when my volleyball team went to Minneapolis for a tournament. After a day of playing, we went to the Mall of America’s theme park; the monster kept me from going on even the slowest of rollercoasters.
Over the years, my coping mechanisms evolved into three main ideas. The first was distraction; during my elementary school years, I became a master at Mario Kart on the Nintendo DS because focusing on anything else, whether it be something as small as a video game, was better than being engulfed in my anxiety.
The second way for me to cope was breathing techniques. To this day I still have the routine that my mom taught me drilled into my brain. Breathe in slowly through your nose. Breathe out through your mouth. Close your eyes and do this 10 times. Get your heartbeat to slow down.
My most important way to prevent anxiety was getting a good night’s sleep. While most people just get a little crabby if they don’t get enough sleep, it always made me twice as anxious.
All it took was four words to change my life forever.
“You’re not going crazy,” Dr. Gillette reassured me. “Your body just doesn’t make the necessary chemicals to keep you calm.”
In addition to the anxiety, I had had constant stomach and headaches after eating for a solid year. After connecting the dots, Dr. Gillette told me I was most likely allergic to wheat and, with the exception of my anxiety, had been asymptomatic, my whole life until the last few years. Basically, the allergy caused my body to stop creating a chemical that is needed to regulate human emotions.
So, between eliminating wheat from my diet, taking prescribed medicine and a gradual two months recovery time for my body, tada! I’m a human being again. After about four months, panic attacks were no longer a regular part of my life.
Since I was diagnosed nearly a year ago, I have learned how to have control over my mind for the first time in my life. I just don’t think about the things that used to consume my thoughts and actions.
Is this what it feels like to be normal?
In the end I know I’m stronger than I think I am. I spent the first 15 years of my life a paranoid, high-strung mess of a person. Now, I feel like the level-headed one in my family, of all the ironic things. Now, I’m ready to really start my life. No monsters included.