When I was 12 years old, my parents and I took a weekend trip to Long Beach Island. We were staying in a hotel room that was located directly above the hotel’s nightclub.
For whatever reason, the sound of the bass blaring below me created a sensory overload and I suddenly couldn’t breathe. I was suffocating and I didn’t even know how to respond when my dad asked me, “What’s wrong?”
Was I sick? Was I dying? It sure felt like it.
I had this overwhelming feeling that I was going to die right then and there. I genuinely thought my heart was stopping.
If only I knew this was going to be something I would have to deal with for the rest of my life: anxiety.
When I reached college, I was dealing with daily panic attacks and debilitating anxiety that interfered with my relationships, friendships and my health. I couldn’t bring myself to eat anymore and I weighed a whopping 99 pounds.
It wasn’t until that point where I broke down to my mom and asked to get help. My therapist diagnosed me with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder and a phobia.
I think what many people fail to realize is that anxiety isn’t simply a nervous feeling you have before an exam. Anxiety is the overwhelming feeling of fear of the unknown and losing control of yourself and your emotions. I struggle to do simple tasks without overthinking my every move and action.
Anxiety destroyed some of my relationships and friendships because I could not help but feel the people I loved most were tired of me, and that it was my fault. It made me miss out on life-changing experiences because I was too afraid to travel, worrying that I would have a serious panic attack away from home and not know what to do.
Last year I decided to create a mini-documentary film on teen suicide loss which led me to the Torres family. I met Jeff and Jerri Torres, the parents of Madison Torres, a beautiful 16-year-old girl who committed suicide in 2015.
I went into this assignment hoping to get filmmaking experience, but I gained so much more. Jeff and Jerri Torres were open with me and introduced me to their daughter through the memories they have. I came into their home as a stranger wanting to tell their story and they showed me nothing but love and kindness.
These parents taught me that there is nothing shameful about speaking up about your mental health, they encouraged it. They taught me that mental health should not be this taboo thing people sweep under the rug.
I’ve come to realize that by not talking about my anxiety, I am doing a disservice to people who are silently struggling, like I was.
I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason, and meeting Jeff and Jerri Torres changed my life. I have never have met such positive and supportive people despite all that they’ve been through.
They made me a stronger person, whether they know it or not. Before meeting them, I would have never written this, but they gave me the courage to do so.
Mental Illness is invisible. You can sound confident & have anxiety. You can turn up to work or school everyday appear “fine” & have suicidal thoughts. You can look happy & be miserable inside. You can look so good & still feel ugly. You can smile or make jokes & have depression.
— leai lii aifafarkz (@4vlozz) July 22, 2019
Anxiety does not disappear overnight, and I have come to terms with the fact I will deal with this for the rest of my life, but I am okay with that. I have spent enough years hating the way my mind works and hiding my anxiety, which caused me to feel shameful and embarrassed.
I now realize that having anxiety is nothing to be ashamed of, this is just apart of who I am. It took me my whole life to accept who I am and feel good about who I am.
I’ve learned how to take back control of my life and live the way I want to, not the way my anxiety forced me to. I am not imprisoned by my anxiety, I am conquering it day by day and learning to be proud of who I am.