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West Orange Times & Observer Friday, Mar. 16, 2018 6 months ago

COLUMN: What it’s like to be at war with anxiety

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At 10 years old, an anxiety-ridden tantrum isn’t exactly cute, much less socially accepted — but in my younger years it was never something I could easily control.
by: Danielle Hendrix Black Tie Editor

There were mornings during my time in fifth grade where my routine consisted of my mom dropping me off in the guidance counselor’s office against my will — sobbing, crying out, working myself up to the point of being physically sick.

Each time she would have to leave me there to calm down so eventually, hopefully, I could go to class. Each time she would wear that comforting look on her face — you know, the one that every mother seems to have mastered — and assure me that I would be OK. 

But each time she walked out that door and my cries continued, she’d break down in tears herself.

It’s not unusual for separation anxiety to occur on a child’s first day of preschool or kindergarten. At 10 years old, an anxiety-ridden tantrum isn’t exactly cute, much less socially accepted — but in my younger years it was never something I could easily control.

That’s because I was diagnosed with a generalized anxiety and panic disorder when I was just 7 years old. 

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, “people with generalized anxiety disorder display excessive anxiety or worry for months and face several anxiety-related symptoms.” These include restlessness, becoming easily fatigued, difficulty concentrating, irritability, muscle tension and sleep problems.

Panic disorders are similar but consist of recurrent, unexpected panic attacks. These attacks consist of sudden attacks of intense fear, palpitations, accelerated heart rate, sweating, trembling or shaking, sensations of shortness of breath and feeling of impending doom.

While it might seem odd that a young child would suffer from such a disorder, it’s actually quite common. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders are the most common psychiatric illnesses affecting children and adults. 

"At 10 years old, an anxiety-ridden tantrum isn’t exactly cute, much less socially accepted — but in my younger years, it was never something I could control."

An estimated 44 million American adults suffer from anxiety disorders, the ADAA states, and a study by the Child Mind Institute found an estimated 17.1 million American children have or have had a psychiatric disorder.

There’s also a distinct difference between anxious feelings and a legitimate anxiety disorder. Everyone gets anxious on occasion, but disorders last beyond the temporary feeling. It doesn’t go away; it gets worse. People with the disorder will often become preoccupied with worrying about having another anxiety attack. The worrying might also occur over seemingly nothing and can interfere with daily activities, such as work or school.

Anxiety feels different for everyone who suffers from it. For me, it most commonly manifests physically. Although I’ve lived with an anxiety disorder now for 17 years and am much more capable of coping with it effectively than I was as a kid, I’ll never be completely out of the woods with it.

I take medication that helps to keep my brain’s serotonin levels in check, and I’ve seen counselors throughout the years. 

But there are still times when my stomach gets so knotted up that I have to throw up in order to relax the muscles. It’s always at its peak in the morning, so I generally don’t eat breakfast because just looking at food can make it worse.

There are still times, at 24 years old, when I call my mom in the middle of an attack just because I need to hear her voice talking me through it. She’s the only one who has ever truly been able to help me calm down.

There are still times when I get beyond frustrated with lack of control over my constant state of anxiety.

Through it all, though, I like to think it’s made me a stronger person. I can relate to and sympathize with others who face the same challenges I do.

It’s never meant to be a sob fest or a pity party when I talk about mental health. Rather, I’m open about it because I hope others can take inspiration from or tips based on my experience with anxiety. Mental health has been a social stigma for far too long, and it’s about time that things change.

If you think you might be suffering from an anxiety or panic disorder or know someone who does, I encourage you to read more about it. Visit ADAA’s website at adaa.org for more anxiety facts, explanations and statistics. Know the symptoms and learn to recognize them so you’ll better be able to help your loved one or calm yourself during an anxiety attack. Most of all, exercise patience and know you’re not alone in your battle. 

Danielle Hendrix is the Black Tie Editor for all three of Observer Media Group's print publications in Orange County. She is a 2015 graduate of the University of Central Florida, where she earned a bachelor's degree in journalism with a minor in world comparative studies. ...

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